Poor North Augusta officials.
They were so enthusiastic last year when Scuttle’s Island developers Benjamin Bell and Andrew Thompson announced they planned to build a new 40-acre water park in North Augusta by Memorial Day weekend that would be home to the “tallest water slide in the Southeast.”
It was another huge economic boost for a city that is already celebrating the fact that it will soon be home to the Augusta GreenJackets’ new ballpark at Project Jackson.
“It is exciting to see an economic development recreational project of this magnitude come to our city,” North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones said following the water park announcement in September. “This will be something that families from across the Southeast will be able to enjoy for generations to come.”
Bell and Thompson pledged to the public that they would build a $21.5 million project off Interstate 20, at exit 5 in North Augusta.
But for the past six months, there has been absolutely no physical movement on the project, which was scheduled to open by May of this year.
Everyone in town was asking, “What is going on with the water park? Is it really going to happen or not?”
Finally, this week the public got some answers.
Thompson, speaking on behalf of the local investment group, Cedar Rock Holdings LLC, held a press conference this past week to announce that the opening date for the water park has been pushed back until at least June.
That wasn’t all the bad news.
Thompson also announced that Cedar Rock Holdings has severed its ties with Bell.
And not just with Scuttle’s Island project, but also with the very popular Lights of the South in Grovetown, Ga.
Cedar Rock Holdings reportedly owns both businesses now and Bell is out of the picture.
So, what in the world happened?
Well, apparently, Bell had been investigated by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office in November after he was accused of writing four bad checks totaling more than $88,000.
Fortunately for Bell, no charges were filed against him because he ended up dealing with the banks privately.
However, according to a recent news report by WJBF News Channel 6, Bell has additional financial headaches in Columbia County.
“His banks were seeking garnishments from him in 2013 totaling hundreds of thousand of dollars,” WJBF reported this week, referring to Bell. “Contractors were also looking for money. All of these items are connected to his business and his home in Evans.”
Bell’s ex-wife is claiming he also owes her more than $400,000.
Now, with Bell off the project, the big question still remains: Will North Augusta ever see the construction and opening of Scuttle’s Island?
Thompson insists it will happen, but as the public has watched numerous problems flowing from this proposed project over the past few months, many people are becoming more and more skeptical.
Some residents are concerned that North Augusta might find itself in the same boat as Columbia County.
In 2014, Bell announced that Scuttle’s Island — featuring 20 water slides, a lazy river, a water playground and a gigantic wave pool — would be built on the Lights of the South property along Louisville Road in Grovetown.
But not long after the announcement, Bell began butting heads with the county officials claiming they were being uncooperative.
County officials disagreed, insisting that Bell hadn’t provided a sufficient amount of information regarding his plans.
By April 2015, Bell pulled the plug on the project in Columbia County.
Only a few days later, Bell began bragging that the developers of the water park were being courted by other local municipalities.
Those “mysterious” municipalities ended up being North Augusta and Aiken County.
“We already have another county who is actually extremely nice to us and hasn’t slammed every door in our faces,” Bell boasted to the Metro Spirit last year.
Well, as it turns out, Bell is the one who ended up getting a door slammed in his face by his own partners.
The public and the city of North Augusta can only hope that Cedar Rock Holdings will be able pick up the pieces and get the ball rolling on this water park.
Otherwise, this project is dead in the water.