CRAB ORCHARD — The Lincoln County Fiscal Court is washing its hands of the unfinished beach on Cedar Creek Lake.
Judge-Executive Jim Adams told magistrates Tuesday that it could cost around $260,000 to install the necessary facilities and get the beach into operating condition.
It could cost about $30,000 per year after that to maintain the beach and employ lifeguards, which is required by law, Adams added.
A state-licensed engineer estimated the probable costs of opening and maintaining the beach for the fiscal court.
Magistrates David Faulkner, Johnnie Padgett and Joe Stanley agreed the county didn't have anywhere near enough money to go through with the project.
The court voted to send a letter to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which owns the lake and a 300-foot buffer around it, informing it the court will not be renewing a lease on the beach.
Faulkner said even if the county had the money, he doesn't think it would be wise to spend money improving land the county doesn't own and adding to the county's potential liabilities.
Padgett said the lake had always been intended for fishing, not swimming.
"I feel sure we can't spend a quarter of a million dollars out there," Padgett said.
The fiscal court initially leased the land where the beach is located from the Department of Fish and Wildlife beginning in 2005, but members of the court at the time failed to understand the regulations and requirements placed on public beaches, Adams said.
The fiscal court put in sand to create a beach, but didn't have the money for other expensive requirements like bathrooms and lifeguards, Adams said.
The Department of Health and Human Services forced closure of the beach when it didn't meet those requirements, but people still regularly swim at the beach despite signs prohibiting its use.
In late June, Fish and Wildlife began enforcing the beach closure, with officers visiting the beach regularly to tell swimmers they had to leave.
Adams said the enforcement was a reaction to negative press about the beach that caught the eye of Fish and Wildlife.
A man recently got in trouble for leaving children unattended at the beach, and in May an infant at the beach got water in its lungs and nearly died.
"Fish and Wildlife is feeling the heat because they actually own the lake," Adams said.
Lincoln County Attorney Daryl Day said the beach is in bad condition and shouldn't be used by anybody.
Day said a Fish and Wildlife officer has told him based on the kinds of things that he knows have gone down on that beach, he "wouldn't walk across there in flip-flops, let alone bare feet."
"I think at the beginning, it was a good idea. … It was a public swimming place, which we don't have any of in Lincoln County," Day said. "It's just the cost of maintaining it is so prohibitive."
The county's original lease on the beach expired in 2009. Magistrates agreed the county has no further responsibilities for the beach.
Adams said potential solutions Fish and Wildlife could pursue to end use of the beach include moving in large rocks or installing a fishing spot that would prevent people from using the area to swim.