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Alabama Corrections land sale draws fire again in Hale County

GREENSBORO (AP) — Some Hale County residents are again opposing the Alabama Department of Corrections' planned sale of a 540-acre tract of land, which they say is a sweetheart deal for a wealthy contributor to Gov. Bob Riley.

Coal company executive E.A. "Larry" Drummond, who has farm and hunting property adjoining West End Swamp, has made donations to Riley's campaign and has been trying to buy the land for years. But The Tuscaloosa News, which reported on the latest attempt to sell the land, said Drummond and prison officials denied any improper role by Riley.

Prisons Commissioner Ri-
chard Allen said Monday that corrections officials have discussed land sales with the governor's office, but the decision to sell the swamp that's part of the State Cattle Ranch prison farm was made in his department.

"The governor's not talked to me about any specific properties," Allen said. "The governor asked if we had any property that was excess and needed to be sold. There's been no pressure from the governor or anyone else in his staff."

The property was appraised at $1.4 million, and Allen said it's just one of the parcels totaling 20,000 acres that the department will sell this year to generate $20 million that's needed for the 2008 fiscal year.

Riley spokeswoman Tara Hutchison said that no one was being given an unfair advantage in the sale.

"The department is putting that land up for sale because they have a gap in their budget," she said. "It's one of several tracts that will probably be sold. They're accepting bids from whomever wants to bid on it."

The department is accepting bids until 2 p.m. Wednesday.

and the winning bid is to be announced later that day.

This is at least the third time the issue has come under fire. The land was offered for sale in 1996 and 2002 and was withdrawn both times.

In 2002, the same accusation was made against Drummond, who had been a contributor to then-Gov. Don Siegelman.

Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said he didn't know why the sale fell through in 1996, but that the 2002 transaction "never got to the point where there was a bid awarded."

Drummond said he contributed to Riley's campaign but wouldn't divulge the amount. According to the Web site followthemoney.org, in 2006 Drummond contributed $51,750 to Riley's campaign and his family.

His coal company, Drummond Co., contributed $11,000. His brother, Garry N. Drummond, contributed $50,000.

Drummond has been interested in the property for several years. He told the News that he wants West End Swamp and will bid on it.

"There's no special favor or anything that anybody's doing for me," Drummond said. "Anybody can come in and buy that property.

"The only reason it's being sold is because the Corrections Department needs more funding. It would never come on the market if they weren't seeking revenue."

Sawyerville resident J.B. Morrison called the deal a "sham" and compared Riley's relationship with Drummond to Siegelman's relationship with Richard Scrushy.

"He's got so much money there's nothing you can hardly do except gripe about it," Morrison said of Drummond on Monday. "It stinks to me. I don't trust it. There's a lot of people who've had a lot of enjoyment down there fishing on that beautiful land, but I know they're going to lock it off when they get it."

Greensboro lawyer Nicholas Cobbs points to several things about the sale that seem to tailor it for Drummond: The state put it in a wetlands mitigation program in exchange for some of the land it bought to build the Hyundai plant near Montgomery. The "conservation easement" on it forbids building anything on or cutting timber off of 191 of the 540 acres. That makes it of little use for anything but recreational property.

Cobbs handles land transactions and said it's highly unusual that the legal notice advertising the sale says that access to the property would be provided by permit from the State Cattle Ranch, not an easement or right of way.

"People generally perceive this to be set up for sale to the Drummonds," Cobbs said. "You've got no access clearly defined. I think everybody assumes that access won't be an issue because it will be sold to a neighbor, to the Drummonds."

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, www.tuscaloosanews.com

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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