The fight between a multinational corporation and Baker County over the company’s right to mine sand south of Macclenny has drawn in the unlikeliest of third parties — Little League baseball — into the dispute.
Oldcastle Southern Group has battled the Baker County Commission for more than two years to win sand-mining rights within the county. The commission voted 4-1 against allowing the sand mining in July 2013, and the case has since moved to mediation, which seems to have all but reached an impasse.
Photos: Baker County Ball Fields
However, Oldcastle hopes one surprise — a pinch hitter so to speak — will provide Kirk Gibson-like heroics.
Oldcastle representatives floated a plan for a new sports complex, spurred on by a long-simmering dispute between Baker County Little League and the Baker County Travel Ball Organization over use of Baker’s only county-run baseball facility.
The company is offering to build a mammonth sports facility if it can get the rights to mine the sand.
Beginning with Commissioner Adam Giddens, the only commissioner to vote for Oldcastle’s sand-mining request, those with links to the conglomerate began to seek out interested parties.
Giddens was contacted by Hugh Fish, an attorney who used to represent Oldcastle, and Doug Moore, a large county landowner and member of the Baker County Business Alliance, after a contentious commission meeting over the use of the ball fields.
“Going into the meeting [with Fish and Moore about the ball-field plan], it was mainly intended to be at Shoal’s Park, property the county already owns,” Giddens said. “Then they called me and wanted to meet with me and they had the plans and this idea that it may be possible to get the land off Baker 228.”
The plans are indeed grandiose. A copy of the design, obtained from multiple sources, includes eight adult baseball fields, 14 youth baseball fields, three soccer fields, five concession stands and 800 parking spots.
But the facility’s fate hinges on Oldcastle winning its fight for the sand-mining rights with the county.
Currently, the land to be used for the would-be complex is owned by DuPont. If Oldcastle wins its mining rights, it would buy the mining property from DuPont, according to Oldcastle spokeswoman Elizabeth Revell.
DuPont would use the money to buy other land in the county and give the proposed ball field site to Oldcastle, which would donate the property for the complex.
Revell said Oldcastle had no hand in the specific plans.
“This definitely is not an Oldcastle deal. Hugh Fish had talked to Mark Stevens, who is a buddy of his and also does work for Oldcastle as an engineer and geologist, Hugh talked to him and asked him to do a drawing for him.”
But Baker County residents involved in youth baseball said Oldcastle specifically approached them about the proposal.
“I’ve actually discussed things with Oldcastle representatives and they asked my opinion on things,” said Robert Davis of the Baker County Travel Ball organization. “I specifically talked to them one time when they were willing to donate the land.”
Another member of the organization confirmed Davis’ account. “They had drawn out a picture of a ball field and where they could put it,” Clint Cooper said.
Though Revell said Oldcastle had no hand in the creation of the complex design, she said she had approached youth baseball representatives with the plans to show “what might be possible.”
“There is nothing legally, nor any promises or pressure being applied to the mediation,” she said. “But if that is a tactic that is appealing to the citizens of Baker County of what Oldcastle can do as a good corporate citizen, well, by all means.”
That may not be enough sway citizens of Baker County.
“If it came right down to it, I wouldn’t be on board with it,” Cooper said. “We can get ball fields another way.”
Giddens also struck a doubtful tone as to whether the still unofficial baseball field proposal would sway the commission.
“It would be something,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s enough to convince the other commissioners to vote in favor to allow Oldcastle to mine.”
Clifford Davis: (904) 359-4103