Amy Jo Kinyon

After six years of disputes, appraisals and negotiations, the Eaton County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday night to move forward with the acquisition of a 432-acre gravel pit located between Charlotte and Eaton Rapids along M-50.
The land, referred to as Crandell Lake will be purchased at a cost of $3.9 million, using state grant funds for three-quarters of the price. The remaining money will come through a donation by property owner Randy Crandell.
The land holds the county’s largest body of water – a 160-acre lake. Transforming the land into a park is the goal of the commissioners although Commissioner Kent Austin (R-Bellevue) questioned the costs associated with such a project and wanted further details on the project. He was the sole dissenting vote at Wednesday’s board of commissioners meeting and said his opposition stems from the lack of details for the project and the costs that could be associated with developing the land into a park.
“We were misled by the board and the ways and means committee,” said Austin. “It’s going to take money immediately to get it up and running. I am not opposed to a lake and park, I just want to know how we’re going to fund it.”
The land more than doubles the amount of park space in the county and Austin questions where the funds will come from when there is difficulty funding the parks the county already owns. Austin further explained that cuts to retiree and employee benefits are being threatened at the same time that the county is taking on more costs.
“It’s not responsible when there’s money for a park but not for employees and retirees,” said Austin.
A crowd of supporters attending Wednesday’s meeting spoke to the benefits of acquiring the land and its development as a recreational place that could prove to be a boom for the local tourism economy.
Dee Cassidy of Eaton Rapids said the project is about creating something for future generations and the possibility to become the “jewel” of southern Michigan.
Commission Chair Blake Mulder (R-Grand Ledge) said that while there will be some costs to its development, grants and donations can assist with “minimal cost” to Eaton County.
Wednesday’s vote will allow the county to move forward with the purchase of the land, pending further negotiations. It will be brought before the commissioners for another vote once the agreement is finalized.