Residents in the Austin Bottom Community can expect to see law enforcement patrols a little more often this summer.
The Putnam County Access is among the lakesite areas covered in a new agreement between the county and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers for extra patrols this year.
Sheriff Patrick Ray presented the proposed new contract to members of the county commission during an all committees meeting Thursday night. The commissioners may approve the deal during the regular monthly meeting Monday night.
Under the new contract, the Sheriff's Department will provide lakesite patrols at Johnson's Chapel, Ragland Bottom, Floating Mill, Center Hill Dam Area, Hurricane Bridge, and the Putnam County Access (Austin Bottom Community) on Center Hill Lake. The contract runs from May 6 through September 5, 2016.
The total amount of the agreement under which the Corps pays the county is $23,571, which is more than last year. The deal calls for 97 patrol periods with six area patrols per period along with an orientation meeting. The Corps has also included options that would allow the county to make this a two or three year contract with the county to receive $24,057 in 2017 and $23,814 in 2018.
Sheriff Ray plans to hire a part time officer funded by the Corps under this contract to patrol all the sites and he wants the part time officer to have POST certification. According to Sheriff Ray, when the officer patrols the Putnam County Access, he will also check out the Denny Bottom Recreation area to further heighten a law enforcement presence in the community.
In response to a public outcry, the sheriff's department stepped up patrols through the end of the summer boating season last year at Austin Bottom.
In August many residents in the Austin Bottom community of DeKalb County met with several local officials and the Corps of Engineers at the fire station there to vent their frustrations about public nuisance issues at a boat ramp in the area.
Corps Resource Manager Kevin Salvilla took questions and comments from the group. County Mayor Tim Stribling, Sheriff Patrick Ray, County Fire Chief Donny Green, and Fourth District County Commissioners Wayne Cantrell and Jonathon Norris were also there.
While most of the residents at the meeting said they didn't want the Putco Boat Ramp (Austin Bottom Lake Boat Access Area) closed, they did want to see more law enforcement to keep undesirables out.
Complaints ranged from issues of illegal drug activity, public intoxication, excessive noise during the night, using the area as a camp ground, non-boaters parking on the ramp preventing access, littering the area with beer bottles, cans, etc. One person was wounded in a shooting there last year
A contributing factor to the public nuisance issues is that the lake level is lower than normal due to work on the dam which exposes more beach area for patrons to congregate.
Sheriff Ray said his officers patrol the area but residents are concerned about the time it takes DeKalb County law enforcement to respond if called. Because the community is cut off from the rest of the county due to the lake, residents say it could be as much as forty five minutes to an hour before help arrives.
DeKalb County has mutual aid agreements with surrounding counties including Putnam to assist in case of emergencies.