by Glynn Wilson
Updated Wednesday below…
A bidder going by the individual name of Todd Palmer submitted the highest bid of $3,750,000 Tuesday for 3,200 acres of land along the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River that had been set aside for a dam in the early 1990s.
The property became available this summer when the Birmingham Water Works Board, held at bay on the dam idea by stringent opposition, voted to permanently remove it as an option as a source of drinking water for Alabama’s largest city.
Water board personnel refused to reveal more information about the bidder. As soon as the bid opening concluded, two men representing the mystery company ducked into a back room and refused to comment on their plans for the land. Their attorney simply said it was “investment property,” and left the building when asked if he thought the public had a right to know what their plans were.
The same duo had contacted the water board after bids were submitted legally by the end of the day on Friday and indicated they were willing to go higher. Water board General manager Mac Underwood opened the meeting by offering to give other bidders an hour to also amend their bids and submit higher offers, but the amended bid from the mysterious duo was never submitted after two other representatives for other companies objected to changes after the legal deadline set for Friday.
Underwood and another gentleman who said his name was Mark Parnell sort of stumbled around trying to explain the bidding process, indicating that the board would have to consider the “highest and best offer” as well as the “terms of the contract” before voting to accept a bid, but they indicated they will start with the highest bid and work down from that.
When asked if the environment in the watershed was a concern as well as cash, Underwood said the board did not own enough property or have a mandate to worry about protecting the watershed, which should come as great comfort to the people who depend on the board for quality drinking water.
Nelson Brooke, the executive director of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper non-profit group, which had tried to set up a deal for the state Forever Wild program to purchase the land to preserve it, said he is still hoping the water board will change its mind and decide to let Forever Wild buy it.
But it is pretty obvious the water board had no intention of cooperating with Forever Wild, which was not able to submit a bid in time since the next board meeting is in September.
Meg Waites, an interested citizen from Blount County who attended the meeting, indicated that some of the original property owners might file for an injunction to try to stop the land sale to the highest bidder, since they were promised by the water board they would be given first option on buying their family farms back when the threat of eminent domain was used as a tool to pressure them to sell the land in the first place.
A number of observers after the meeting indicated it was the strangest bid opening they had ever seen or heard about. From an objective eye-witness point of view, it’s pretty obvious the board had no interest in accommodating the Forever Wild program or protecting the area’s environment. When they decided to give up on the dam, they must have decided to screw the people interested in protecting the environment who had caused them so much delay on building a dam on one of the last free-flowing rivers in the American South.
In response to my direct questioning, the water board’s public communications manager Binnie Myles said the board is not sending out press releases regarding the offers. All she would say about Todd Palmer is that he was listed as an individual bidder.
“We do care about the property,” she said. “However, we can’t tell a property owner what to do with their property.”
She said the board has no financial crisis that would facilitate the rush to sell the property, but the board did have an established process for selling the property.
“No one who was interested in the property was excluded,” she claimed.
She included the following information about the bidders and their offers, in order starting from the highest bid, with an interesting amended bid in the end. No indication whether the board will consider it or take it.
J. Todd Palmer: $3,750,000.00
Joe Brady, Founders Investment Properties, LLC: $3,680,000.00
Barbara Reeves, Cahaba Disaster Recovery: $3,536,000.00
Steven Brickman, Blount Conservation Trust: $3,510,000.00
Van Mulvahill, Travis Creek Energy, LLC: $3,500,000.00
Charles Israel, Outdoor Investments, LLC: $3,401,895,00
Carl Dalton NeSmith, Jr., Terry Phillips: $2,850,000.00
Phillip C. Ledbetter, James S. Hubbard or Assignees: $2,609,790.00
*Note this offer was faxed in about 3:50 p.m. on August 4, 2009
Steven Brickman, Blount Conservation Trust, LLC: $4,010,000.00
Add 2: Attorney Clay Ragsdale says Palmer shows up on the Secretary of State Website on many residential developments over the years…
Add 3: “Essentially what we have now is a bid war,” Nelson Brook said in an e-mail message to interested parties Wednesday afternoon. “Among the bidders, of note is Van Mulvehill with Travis Creek Energy, LLC, who plans on mining part of the property for coal.”
In fact, even though they don’t own any of the property yet, they have already filed a permit application for a surface mine on a portion of the land.
Underwood said they’d be letting everyone know of a future meeting date after their attorneys and real estate agents had time to mull over the offers, Brooke pointed out.
“That is a meeting we need to keep an ear open for and have someone there,” he said.
© 2009, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.