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Governor considering Bibb-Monroe border dispute

For weeks, Gov. Nathan Deal has been trying to figure out how to handle a Bibb-Monroe border dispute that local officials have been trying to resolve for years.

A Monroe County grand jury’s demand for a new border survey was sent to the governor’s office Dec. 2, under a state law that says the governor “shall appoint some suitable and competent land surveyor, who shall not reside in either county, to survey, mark out and define the boundary line in dispute.”

Deal’s office declined to comment.

A similar grand jury presentment launched a seven-year saga with another surveyor and subsequent legal battle that involved at least one governor, one surveyor, two judges, and three secretaries of state. Monroe County won an early battle, then lost the war, and then its attempt to appeal.

At stake is potentially millions of dollars in tax revenue from land that’s been increasing in value and desirability. Surveyor Terry Scarborough said the line should be farther south than where Bibb County officials think it should be. Had that survey been accepted, part of a subdivision and part of the Bass Pro Shops parking lot, along with other infrastructure, would be claimed by Monroe County.

It’s not clear what the next step will be. Scarborough unsuccessfully sued the Secretary of State’s Office after saying delays in payment were destroying his business. The business closed, and Scarborough’s home was foreclosed on.

Monroe County Commission Chairman James Vaughn said it’s unclear what surveyor would be willing to take up the task.

“It seems to me that something different will have to be done where there’s a schedule of payments. It seems to me what happened with Mr. Scarborough was he had to wait until ‘the end’ to get paid, and Bibb County had a different definition of ‘the end’ than Monroe County,” Vaughn said.

The two counties had talked about locating the line for decades, and had been trying to negotiate a settlement when another Monroe County grand jury ordered a survey in February 2005. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered Scarborough to survey the line.

The fight about Scarborough’s line centered on the Ocmulgee River ferry crossing that marked the eastern edge of the border line drawn in 1822. Scarborough’s line was supported by Special Assistant Administrative Law Judge John Sherrill, who ruled Scarborough had properly and accurately performed the survey.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp rejected the survey, though, saying Bibb County had offered enough evidence to overturn it. Monroe County asked him to reconsider, and Kemp said state law didn’t allow such an appeal.

It’s not clear what might happen next. Vaughn said plenty of uncertainty remains.

“I think Secretary Kemp has acknowledged this: No one knows where the line between Bibb and Monroe County is now, even after all these years in this process,” he said.

Vaughn said commissioners didn’t vote to ask the grand jury to seek another survey. But grand jurors asked him about how the line remained in dispute.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.