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Catfish farm makes high bid for state prison land

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The owners of a Greensboro company submitted the high bid Wednesday for a 540-acre tract of state prison system land in Hale County, a sale that faltered twice before amid allegations of favoritism for coal executive E.A. "Larry" Drummond.

John Kynard III and Gary Scott Kimbrel of Double K Farms, LLC offered the high bid $1.625 million for the tract. Drummond's bid was $1.458 million.

The department now has 30 days to complete the sale and could negotiate with the high bidder to get more money for the property, State Lands Division director Jim Griggs said.

Michelle Kynard, wife of John Kynard III, said the couple owns Kynard Logging in Greensboro and has lived in Hale County "since the day we were born."

She said Kimbrel and her husband started Double K, a small catfish farm, as a joint venture about a year ago and have no ties to Drummond.

"It's been a lot of uproar about what was going on and Johnny Kynard and Scott have absolutely no ties to that company or that man whatsoever," she said.

"It's not like somebody has just swooped in to buy it. I've heard of those kinds of deals before and this is no front for anything. This is a legitimate business venture."

Drummond said in a statement through his secretary Wednesday that he was happy for the buyers and was sure they will be good neighbors.

The land is part of the State Cattle Ranch prison farm and was offered for sale in 1996 and 2002, but it was withdrawn both times.

Drummond has farm and hunting property adjoining West End Swamp and has been trying to buy the land for years. Critics said Wednesday's sale had been arranged as a sweetheart deal for Drummond, who was a contributor to Gov. Bob Riley's campaign.

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

Prisons Commissioner Richard Allen has said corrections officials discussed land sales with the governor's office, but the decision to sell the swamp was made in his department.

Greensboro attorney Bob Roseberry attended Wednesday's opening and said he was against the sale altogether but wanted to make sure that it was at least done legally and no one had an unfair advantage.

"I just want to make sure it was done according to the statutes. I had no problem with it going to the Drummonds as long as everything was done properly," he said after the opening. "I feel the state's at fault for selling this beautiful land. It should be preserved."

Deputy Prisons Commissioner Vernon Barnett said the department was "delighted" that both bids were more than the tract's appraised value of $1.407 million, the minimum amount required in the bidding.

He said the concerns about a sweetheart deal were unfounded and the only reason for the sale was to help fill the department's $20 million to $26 million budget gap for the 2008 fiscal year that starts in October.

The money will be used for drug treatment programs and operating costs, he said.

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

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