A gentle wind is blowing as Jimmy Key walks along the gravel road next to a row of campers parked in his secluded RV park just beyond Gordon Highway.
Up on a hill, there is a large white tent covering a wooden deck that overlooks the entire park. Just below the deck is a row of bright green banana trees mixed with some other smaller tropical plants.
A large rainbow pinwheel attached to the deck slowly spins as the wind begins to pick up.
“We bought this property about eight or nine years ago from Thompson Building and Wrecking,” Key said, as he pointed to the line of campers that encircle the property. “This area was actually a lake about 20 years ago. Thompson Building and Wrecking had tore down a building and had been dumping huge concrete blocks back here. When we bought the property, there were holes that would go down so deep that you couldn’t even drive over it. So we ended up bringing about 600 loads of dirt in here just to level it out.”
It has taken a great deal of time and money to transform this former dumping ground for broken concrete slabs into now what has become one of the most popular all-male gay camper parks in the country, Key said.
The Jimmy Key Camper Park, also known as the Parliament RV Park, provides visitors with full city water and sewer connections with electric hookups for campers with self-contained bathrooms and showers for $1,325 per year with a $150 utility deposit, according to the RV park’s website.
The camper park is located directly behind the Parliament Resort, which is advertised as the “World’s Largest All-Male Gay Resort,” located at 1250 Gordon Highway.
Key purchased the 70-room hotel, which is a “members-only resort” surrounded by a privacy gate, in the 1990s with his partner, Tim Steedly.
As the Parliament Resort began developing the camper park, word spread quickly and it became an extremely popular addition to the resort, Key said.
But, in 2010, the Jimmy Key Camper Park began a battle with Georgia Power over a
100-foot easement on the park’s property that has resulted in a court case that might ultimately end up in the Supreme Court of Georgia.
“Basically, about three years ago, a female representative from Georgia Power, who is in charge of the easement, came out to look at the easement in the RV park,” Key said. “Apparently, the woman who was originally doing the work for us, she didn’t know we were gay. After she realized we were gay, she called (then) Sheriff Ronnie Strength claiming that we had naked people walking around the property.”
While the Parliament Resort is not a fully clothing-optional facility, nude sunbathing is permitted around the pool area. But Key doesn’t believe anyone was nude during the Georgia Power employee’s visit.
“Then, she called Rob Sherman at the License and Inspection Department to tell him that we had illegal construction going on out here,” Key said. “She even got (then-Planning and Zoning Director) George Patty to come down and check us out. I think she was trying to get us shut down out here.”
According to Key, representatives from the county and the sheriff’s office visited the resort and RV park and found there were no violations. There was no police report filed regarding the incident, Key said.
When contacted about Key’s comments regarding the Georgia Power employee visiting the property in 2010, Georgia Power spokesman Mark Williams said the company could not comment on ongoing litigation.
Following that particular visit, Key claims Georgia Power began to turn up the heat regarding the clearing of a 100-foot easement the company owns surrounding a 115,000-volt electrical transmission line that runs down the middle of the RV park.
“After that complaint, we started having easement issues with Georgia Power,” Key said. “Earlier this year, we went to court over these easement issues. Basically, when it comes down to it, Georgia Power has spent over $200,000 fighting this. They want our easement completely cleared. Banana trees and everything. They are demanding too much.”
In June 2011, Key received a letter from Judy Ledbetter Sarden, a senior staff attorney from Georgia Power, insisting that a number of “campers, hookups, decks and other structures” on the RV park’s property were encroaching on Georgia Power’s transmission line right-of-way.
“As you may recall from the attached encroachment agreement, all parking hookups are required to be located off the Georgia Power 100 foot right-of-way,” Sarden wrote in 2011, adding that Georgia Power was planning on sending surveyors to the site to inspect the right-of-way. “After the survey has been completed, Georgia Power will require that all campers, hookups, decks and other obstructions and structures located on the right-of-way be removed within 30 days.”
Joe Cawley, an engineer and a transmission supervisor for Georgia Power, was sent to property and discovered a number of concerns about the easement, according to a December 2011 letter.
“Based on my inspections, there are several unauthorized structures on the Parliament House Property that lie within the Georgia Power easement area beneath the Fenwick Street-South Augusta line,” he wrote in 2011. “On the portion of the Parliament House Property being used for the Jimmy Key Camper Park, there are approximately 10 mobile homes which have been established, with permanent decks and both water and power hookups. I understand that these homes have been leased for up to a year. The structures appear to have been established within the last year with no approval by Georgia Power.”
“As for the location of these unauthorized structures, a large proportion of the homes and the majority of decks lie within the easement across this property,” he wrote. “Further, a small portion of a utility building also lies within the Georgia Power easement.“
These structures could result in a dangerous situation during an emergency, Cawley wrote.
“In the case of the homes, decks and hookups on the Parliament House Property, they obstruct the right-of-way and restrict Georgia Power’s ability to properly operate and maintain the electrical line as designed,” he wrote in 2011. “During an emergency event, Georgia Power would be required to demolish or dismantle the homes and decks before it could respond to an emergency, and this diversion may restrict or interfere with Georgia Power’s ability to rebuild the line.”
“Currently, the line serves a critical load in the downtown area of Augusta that includes the hospitals and many residential and large industrial customers,” Cawley added. “The restoration of this line in a timely manner is critical.”
The close proximity of the campers to the high-voltage line is also a safety concern, Cawley added.
“With regard to the hookups, in the event the transmission line is damaged and falls to the ground during storm conditions, the hookups could potentially come in contact with a 115 kV energize line causing significant safety concerns,” he wrote.
In June 2011, Cawley requested that Key remove the structures within 90 days.
“On Nov. 2, 2011, I returned to the Parliament House Property. On that date, I found that while a small number of structures had been relocated, the majority of the campers had not been moved,” Cawley wrote. “Further, the decks and hookups remain on the right-of-way.”
By the end of 2011, Georgia Power filed a lawsuit against Key and the Parliament Resort.
But, according to Key, he has offered several compromises over the years and has agreed to the majority of Georgia Power’s requests. Most of the concerns that Georgia Power had in 2011 have been addressed, he said.
“We’ve moved all the RVs off. We’ve moved all the posts off. We’ve already done 75 percent of what they wanted,” he said. “At this point, they just keep going on and on. Now, they want all our banana trees completely cut down. This stuff dies back in the winter.
“But they keep pushing and pushing. They are bullying us. I don’t like to being bullied. Enough is enough.”
A few days prior to Labor Day 2012, which is one of Parliament Resort’s busiest weekends of the year, Georgia Power discovered a National Electrical Safety Code violation regarding the 115,000-volt power lines on the RV park.
According to court documents filed earlier this year, representatives from Georgia Power became aware of the fact that the transmission lines on the property appeared to be hanging too low in one portion of the property.
“Now, it had been like that for years,” Key said. “We all knew about it. In fact, about seven years ago, the lines were low when a truck came out and was dumping dirt. The lines actually arced and blew out the tires of the truck. They fined the truck driver and called me and let me know what had happened, so Georgia Power was well aware of the fact that the lines were low back then.”
But, in August 2012, representatives from Georgia Power observed the low-hanging lines and stated it was a national safety hazard that needed to be taken care of right away, Key said.
In a court hearing held on Feb. 18 of this year, Sonja Tate, an attorney representing Georgia Power, asked Key’s partner, Tim Steedly, about Georgia Power’s visit to the property.
“Do you recall an incident last August when Georgia Power attempted to install a temporary barricade on the property?” Tate asked Steedly. “Do you recall that the reason that Georgia Power was trying to do that was because an NESC violation had been discovered under the line?”
Steedly said he clearly remembered the visit because Georgia Power had only mentioned there might be some Jersey barricades installed sometime in the future.
“They chose to enforce or come down with the barricades on the busiest weekend of the year,” Steedly told Superior Court Judge James Blanchard during the hearing. “In my opinion, it was an act of bullying.”
However, Tate insisted that Georgia Power presented the plan to Parliament Resort’s attorney Victor Hawk and the proposal was agreed upon prior to the barricades being transported to the RV camp.
“And when Georgia Power appeared Saturday morning with the necessary equipment and crew, you got upset; didn’t you?” Tate asked Steedly. “And for lack of a better word, you cussed out the Georgia Power employee who was there?”
Steedly agreed that he was not pleased with the situation.
“I don’t recall the exact verbiage, but I informed him that his actions were very inappropriate to be — for a problem that had existed some years, that they chose the busiest weekend of the year to come down and basically construct some massive barricade,” Steedly said in court. “I recommended they leave.”
Joe Cawley, the engineer and a transmission supervisor for Georgia Power, was at the scene when the company attempted to install the safety barriers.
“Our position is always when you find an NESC violation, we have the responsibility to act and we have to act immediately,” Cawley testified in court, adding that because the lines were hanging so low, Georgia Power decided it should limit the pedestrian travel on the property. “That was the quickest way to get in compliance and protect the public.”
However, Cawley insists he was trying to also accommodate the Parliament Resort and the RV Park because it was the week before Labor Day.
“We were going to do the best we could to give the trailer park the most access they could,” Cawley told the judge. “Well, when I showed up on Saturday morning, we actually had the contractor meet us at our office on North Leg Road — and we got there right at 10 o’clock because we wanted to be prompt and follow what we had already laid out as our game plan. So I went into the property. My line foreman and I and a contractor went into the property and went into the area to start putting out the Jersey barriers.”
That’s when Cawley said he observed Steedly racing from the Parliament Resort towards the RV park.
“He was pretty upset,” Cawley testified. “I mean, he was cursing at me and was telling me that I was obstructing his business and that he knew what I was doing. And that is not the case. I mean, we were trying to do everything in our power to work with Jimmy Key Trailer Park to protect the public and at the same time have his business, you know, still prosper. That’s our goal.”
Cawley said Steedly refused to calm down.
“He threatened to call the police, which really wasn’t a concern to us because we were doing our job,” Cawley said. “But we finally said, ‘This is confrontational. We really don’t want to be in this situation.’ So I just said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll leave.’”
Cawley said Steedly insisted the visitors to the resort wouldn’t respect the barriers anyway.
“We were told that, apparently, there’s a fair amount of partying that goes on and that there was no way to guarantee how (the visitors) might respond at three in the morning when these activities are occurring, to the barriers,” Cawley said.
As a result, Cawley decided to install a new line the following week. Cawley said he went out of his way to make sure the line was installed accurately and with the least amount of disruption to the camper park as possible.
Georgia Power finished the work the Thursday night before Labor Day and Key thanked them for doing such a thorough job, Cawley said.
“It looked like we had never been there when we left,” Cawley said.
Key agreed that Cawley and his team did an outstanding job installing the new line.
His main issue with the barricades was that Georgia Power suddenly declared the power lines a national hazard, even though they had been hanging low for several years.
Key just wants to be treated fairly by Georgia Power.
“Everything aside, they have an easement and they do have the right to maintain the lines, which we are not denying any of that,” Key said. “It’s just, let us run our business.”
One glance at the property located next door to the RV park raises the question as to whether Parliament Resort is being treated fairly, Key said.
The company, Fleetcare, neighbors the camper park and has the same high-voltage power lines running through its property.
But along its 100-foot easement owned by Georgia Power, Fleetcare is allowed to park large tractor trailers and utility vehicles directly under the high-voltage power lines.
“They couldn’t explain to me the difference in the RVs and the trucks next door. And I still haven’t had an explanation on that,” Key said. “My contention was with these movable RVs, there is just no difference between our RVs and the 18-wheelers that are parked directly underneath the line.”
An RV is a temporary structure that can be quickly moved if necessary, Key said.
The only difference is that some folks live at the RV park, but Fleetcare has employees on the site all day.
“They go back and forth to the trucks all day long,” he said. “I don’t understand the difference in these trucks directly underneath the line and our RVs. And most of the RVs the people aren’t living in full time. They leave the RVs and they’ll come back in on the weekends or they might take them off, but they just rent the space.”
But Cawley insisted in court that there is a difference between the vehicles at the Fleetcare site and the RVs at the camper park.
“Well, you know, with all transmission easements we have across the state, we always are out there policing and looking at them and we find violations,” Cawley testified in court. “So we’ve found violations on Fleetcare and every time we’ve asked Fleetcare, they’ve resolved them immediately. So, you know, the difference to us is that when you look at it… the camper trailer, somebody is living in it. It’s got facilities hooked to it. It’s got power hooked to it on the side of the easement and we look at that as totally different than a vehicle that’s parked under the transmission line.”
Fleetcare also has stated that the company has keys to all the vehicles on the property and they can be moved quickly if necessary, Cawley testified. But Key insists the RVs on his property can be moved just as quickly.
Following the hearing in February, Judge Blanchard ruled in favor of Georgia Power, but Hawk has already appealed that decision on behalf of Key and the Parliament Resort.
Key insists he is not going to back down from this fight.
“I try not to play the gay persecution card. But it’s bullying,” he said. “One way or the other they are bullying us. And it begs the question: Why else are they bullying us?
“The whole thing is ridiculous. This thing has been going on for more than two years now, but I’m willing to take it to the Supreme Court if I have to. I don’t like being bullied. It isn’t right and I’m not going to take it.”