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Arsonist won’t clean up his mess so taxpayers will

By Kay S. Pedrotti Clean up of the Lighthouse Restaurant started Monday morning after magistrate judge Karen Jackson gave legal permission to Lamar County to remove the burned debris and place a lien on the property. The site on Old Highway 41, outside Milner in unincorporated Lamar County, was destroyed in 2012 in a fire started by a co-owner, Stephen Brehaut, now on probation for arson. Brehaut and his sister Elizabeth Webb were present at the magistrate hearing last Thursday but made no comments to the county’s case. County attorney Scott Mayfield explained that ‘who owns the property’ had been the main obstacle to completing the process for cleanup by the county after Brehaut made little progress removing the remains of the building. Brehaut had twice been given an order from magistrate court to design and implement a plan for cleanup, but in nearly three years only once has a construction dumpster been filled and debris hauled away. Principal owners of the restaurant, incorporated as a limited partnership called Bedsole Investments, had been the late Loretta Brehaut and the late Sherry Wise. Loretta’s interest passed to her children Stephen and Elizabeth after her death several years ago. The more recent death of Sherry threw the property into a status that had to be handled from the Georgia secretary of state’s office. Once that office gave approval Lamar could take steps to file against the site as a hazardous public nuisance, regardless of who owns it, Mayfield noted. Wise died without a will, Brehaut said. County administrator Bob Zellner, public works director James Rigdon and commissioner Nancy Thrash gave evidence labeling the site as hazardous and unfit for habitation and submitted photos to Judge Jackson. Her comments before giving the ruling included her opinion that, ‘there is no repair possible here, only demolition.’ Rigdon said the county’s costs will be part of the lien amount, which will be collected upon sale of the property whenever it happens. He added that landfill costs could probably be the high item, running ‘as much as $20,000 because of so much concrete.’ Work hours and other costs also will be included, said Mayfield. Rigdon said the county will use its own machinery and will not have to rent it.

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