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Legal battle over Resource Center continues as county seeks bond money from preservation group

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JACKSON -- Though demolition of the Jackson County Resource Center began Monday, the legal wrangling over the building may not be complete.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners decided Wednesday to pursue the recovery of the $25,000 security bond the Jackson Preservation Alliance posted in its attempt to halt the destruction of the Resource Center.

The county claims the Alliance did not comply with the terms of an earlier agreement, under which Jackson County would only have requested $6,250. According to the compromise signed by both parties, the Alliance agreed to drop a citizens' petition for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) regarding the Resource Center, which had been filed with the city of Jackson.

The Jackson Preservation Alliance, however, denies any involvement with the EAW petition.

"It was never at a JPA meeting... and never should have been included in any kind of settlement with the Alliance or the county," said Cheryl Brooks, president of the Alliance. "To hold the JPA responsible is absolutely wrong, because they had no control over it."

Brooks and 28 others signed the EAW petition -- but the signature list does not include any mention of the Preservation Alliance, although the group is mentioned in passing in another part of the document.

The 29 petitioners never withdrew their EAW petition, which, according to the county, resulted in further delay of the demolition. The city of Jackson finally voted not to proceed with the EAW petition, leaving Jackson County free to demolish the 1938 part of the Resource Center.

"We tried to make an agreement that they would act quickly, so we could act quickly and save some money, and that didn't happen," said Bob O'Connor, Jackson County attorney. "So now the board has decided to go ahead and press its claim for the $25,000."

During a special session Wednesday, commissioners voted 4-0 to authorize attorney Jay Squires to pursue the full $25,000 bond, with Commissioner Bill Tusa abstaining due to a conflicting financial interest.

The county has made several estimates of precisely how much money delaying the demolition of the Resource Center cost Jackson County taxpayers.

According to Pete Filippi, the project manager, additional payments to the contractor alone have cost the county more than $30,000 since the beginning of the legal action, and the total cost to the county is likely approximately $100,000 -- the number county commissioners cited in their resolution Wednesday.

Brooks denied any delay had been caused by the EAW petition specifically.

"It did not delay the project. It did not cost the county any money, so they're just being vindictive against the Jackson Preservation Alliance," Brooks said.

The Alliance had also agreed not to appeal the judge's decision not to grant an injunction as part of its settlement with the county -- and now that the demolition is in progress, it is too late to save the building, Brooks said.

"The agreement that was struck between the lawyers does not appear to have been complied with," O'Connor said. "Whether the judge orders any of that bond money paid out, that's under his discretion."