Group offers to sell Elks Lake to county


Local News

August 8, 2018 - 10:36 AM

If Allen County commissioners were to agree, the old Lehigh Cement Company quarry just south of town would become a public recreation lake, with areas nearby included.
Jim Gilpin, representing Iola Industries, proposed Tuesday morning the county purchase the property, encompassing about 250 acres, for $1.4 million.
Commissioners didn’t leap at the submission, but did indicate interest.
That suited Gilpin, who was “not expecting a decision this week.”
“If we pass it by, someone else may buy it not to our liking,” said Chairman Tom Williams.
The lake has about 100 surface acres. Dry land is home to Lehigh Portland Trails, a series of biking and hiking opportunities of varying difficulty for users, and undeveloped parcels.
“Several counties have public lakes,” made available for several layers of recreation, Commissioner Jerry Daniels observed. He told the Register commissioners should approach a purchase treaty on the property with caution, though, and make certain each had all their questions answered, a process likely to take some time.
 “I sure want to know what my constituents think,” Daniels added.
County Counselor Alan Weber said liability concerns would be assuaged by tort claim laws that limit exposure for a public body. Iola, for example, is protected thusly for what occurs in Riverside Park, where a number of activities involving all ages of users occur.
Weber also said the property likely would have to be appraised by an independent contractor before a county purchase. Gilpin promised Iola Industries would split any appraisal costs with the county.
As for the price submitted, Daniels said attractive farmland was fetching about $3,000 an acre, which would put 250 acres at $750,000.
The project was discussed with commissioners in executive session a week ago — as Kansas law permits. Williams suggested a sale price of $800,000 might be appropriate, relying on thoughts that came to him during the intervening time,  an amount in line with what Daniels mentioned.
If the sale goes through, Iola Industries would use proceeds to invest in economic development for Iola and Allen County, Gilpin said, as it did when first acquiring the Lehigh complex 45 years ago for $230,000.
‘“We borrowed money (from local banks) then to make the purchase of the Lehigh complex,” he said. Much of the original purchase cost was recovered through sale of personal property, such things as vehicles, equipment and some fixed assets that were moveable.
Iola Industries soon struck a deal with Gates Rubber, which wanted a plant in a right-to-work state, which Kansas was. Initially the plant employed 200, a number that company officials found attractive because each was on a first-name basis with management.
Since the company has been sold — now called Gates Corporation — and employment has increased to well over 600 today.
Allen County has ample funds, primary because of increased assessed value from Enbridge building a pipeline and pumping station in the county, to swing a deal with Iola Industries, if that is what commissioners settle on.
Commissioners and Weber stressed particulars of such a project need more thought and consideration before a vote is taken.
What role Iola Elks might have with the lake, which the organization has leased and held private for years, was not fleshed out.

IN OTHER NEWS, commissioners:
— Put off a decision on whether to provide Thrive Allen County a $50,000 grant for a intense program to encourage tourists and potential residents to visit Allen County. First-year funding is projected at $75,000, with Thrive putting in $25,000.
— Agreed to be a fiduciary conduit for a grant, already approved from Sunflower Foundation, to help improve Allen Countians’ health through purchases of fresh foods at Moran Market.
— Asked for more information before deciding whether to support an effort at the federal level to approve opportunities for highway transports to haul more. The plan would make trailers longer and give option of multiple trailers attached to one tractor.
— Gave approval for County Clerk Sherrie Riebel to purchase seven additional computerized voting machines prior to Election Day, Nov. 6.