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Lake Alice aftermath: Sides seek long-term solution

Dam breach nears two-month mark

POSTED: July 8, 2013 12:30 a.m.
 

In addition to dampening holiday plans, the relentless rain of the past week has also served as a reminder of unfinished business.

Several protective measures have been taken since May 19, when Lake Alice’s dam broke, sending water and dirt across Sanders Road into Lake Lanier. But permanent efforts appear to be coming along slowly, with several mitigating factors.

Here’s where the situation stands.

 

What’s been done

 

Following weeks of talks, the city of Cumming was the first to take action to stop dirt from flowing over Sanders into a Lanier cove.

On June 5, a crew sprayed a mixture of fertilizer, grass seed and mulch into the muddy bottom of what used to be Lake Alice. The effort, called hydroseeding, has stabilized the situation, said Scott Morgan, Cumming's planning & zoning director.

“It’s actually been helping the grass grow in the lake bed,” he said.

The next step was taken by the Mashburn family trust, which owns most, if not all, of the dam, as well as a portion of Lake Alice.

The family’s attorney, Michael Carvalho, said a turbidity curtain, a flexible impermeable barrier used to trap sediment, was installed June 17. Two backup curtains were set up June 23. The curtains were the first of several steps toward a long-term solution.

The efforts have been noticed by residents of the affected Lanier cove.

“It is much better,” Mike Leahy said. “It’s not the pumpkin orange or the Georgia red clay color. It’s got a nice green to it.

“There’s still an issue, but I’d say at this point it’s not as much of an issue.”

 

The future

 

Bert Langley, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division, said the next step involves the city and family trust signing a consent order.

“We have been operating under the premise that all parties are agreeable to get this done, and we’re now at a point where it’s starting to drag out longer than we feel it should,” Langley said.

During a June 18 city council meeting, Cumming officials agreed to sign the order. However, a U.S. District Court ruling June 19 was a “game changer,” Carvalho said.

The case against King America Finishing dealt with many issues of polluting, but Chief Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ruled Georgia’s regulatory system doesn’t allow for citizen participation as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

It’s under this ruling that Carvalho said his client plans to appeal to the public for input as it works to find a long-term solution.

“Recently, the [EPD] has proposed a consent order that does not contain a provision for public participation,” Carvalho said. “The Mashburn Family Trust has rejected this proposal in favor of a more comprehensive plan that will allow affected parties the right to participate.”

While the family hasn’t signed the order, it has hired BrianWellington with NewFields LLC and aquatic lake specialist Jim Lanier to craft a permanent solution.

Carvalho said not signing the consent order “doesn’t change how we’re responding.”

“We’re going to do the right thing. That’s the directive I have from my clients,” he said. “We expect the city of Cumming to support any efforts that we have because [it] has responsibility here. We will address allocation of that responsibility [later].”

Cumming Administrator Gerald Blackburn said the city also has engineers “continuing to work out the things that need to be done.”

 

Other factors

 

The development along Market Place Boulevard over the past decade has surfaced in talks, but had yet to be an issue until July 3, when Wellington submitted his assessment to the EPD.

In it, he noted the “primary cause of erosion of sediment within the lake bed [is] the increased stormwater flow velocities that are creating drainage channels within the lake bed.”

“Over the last 10 years, the watershed draining into the lake has been developed resulting in increased stormwater discharge to the lake,” Wellington wrote. “Prior to the dam breach, water impounded within the lake acted as a buffer for increased stormwater flows.”

The development was an issue for Jim Hixson much earlier. Hixson has lived on the Lanier cove for more than 15 years, since only Home Depot and Walmart were on Market Place.

Additional retail development resulted in more silt buildup, though nothing like what has happened since Cumming Town Center started.

Admittedly not an engineer, Hixson said he finds it “hard to believe the dam survived the last 75 years and only since they’ve expanded past Buford Dam toward Mary Alice, that last section, has there really been a major push, or a lot of water getting into Lake Alice,” he said.

“The basin is now impervious to rain and it has to go somewhere … so I feel that’s what really put the pressure on [the] dam.”

Carvalho said the family has identified development, but the priority is fixing the problem.

"[They are] committed to addressing the complex issues presented by the failure of the Lake Alice dam, but expressly reserve the right to seek contribution from those whose actions and inactions caused the dam to fail," he said.

 

Sanders Road

 

The flow of water and dirt after the dam breach damaged Sanders Road, which runs between it and the Lanier cove.

The road was closed between Mable Lake Road and Timberlake Trail, reopening after receiving some patch work.

Sanders has remained closed since June 10 as Cumming and Forsyth County “have discussed permanent repair” of the road, said Jodi Gardner, county spokeswoman.

“At present we are working to schedule a meeting with city and county staff to discuss an engineered solution,” said Gardner, adding that a schedule for repair has not been established.”

Blackburn had few details, saying only “there’s going to have to be some work done there and the city’s engineer and the county’s people are working … to put a design together.”

 

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