The two parties entangled in the aftermath of a dam breach this past spring have reached a proposed agreement to assess the damage and craft a plan for remedying the situation.
While the Mashburn family trust owned the 75-year-old dam that collapsed in May, the city of Cumming owns a portion of Lake Alice, whose water carried sediment and debris over Sanders Road into a nearby cove of Lake Lanier.
As of Thursday, both sides had signed the proposal, sent to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division for approval, saying they share responsibility for the incident.
If the state agrees, the sides would then have 60 days to come up with a plan for removing the sediment from the Lanier cove.
“The city is committed to moving forward as quickly as we can to remediate the situation,” said city attorney Dana Miles during a meeting Tuesday night of the Cumming City Council.
Mayor H. Ford Gravitt described the agreement as “what we proposed all along and now the Environmental Protection [Division] is coming on board.”
The EPD issued a consent order shortly after the incident in May, but neither party could agree to the terms. That prompted the department to issue an administrative order, which both parties could have appealed.
Michael Carvalho, attorney for the Mashburn family, said his clients agreed to this proposal because it includes a public participation component, something that was lacking in the EPD consent order.
“The Mashburn family is pleased that the EPD has agreed to allow the citizens of Cumming to have the opportunity for meaningful participation in the remediation selection process following the failure of the Alice Lake Dam,” Carvalho. “We believe this approach better complies with the obligations imposed by the federal Clean Water Act, and avoids any further delays associated with an appeal of the administrative order.
“We look forward to working with all parties to address the next steps in this process.”
The news of a possible agreement was a relief to Bert Langley, division district coordinator.
“It’s an amicable decision that they are going forward with what they need to do anyway,” he said. “We consider it a good thing.”
The deal doesn’t require the plan to declare how it will be funded, a detail that doesn’t concern the state, according to Langley.
“From the very beginning, the state has made our position clear,” he said. “This is a joint project, you have joint responsibility and how you allocate the cost between the two parties is not something we’re interested in.”
Finances aside, Langley said if the agreement is successful and both parties agree to a plan within 60 days, the timeline for repairs and prevention measures for future damage should not exceed 12 months.
But cove resident Mike Leahy said he’s cautiously optimistic about the arrangement.
“I’m skeptical, but any movement at this point is good,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get something rolling and maybe by the end of the year we’ll see an actual plan in place and progress moving toward that … Hopefully, by boating season next year, the lake will be back to normal again.”
In addition to signing the agreement Tuesday night, city officials also voted to give $100,000 to Forsyth County toward repairing the damage to Sanders Road, which has remained closed since June.
Sanders was closed in the immediate aftermath of the May 19 breach, before briefly reopening after the city and county split the $31,000 cost to patch it.
County officials then decided in June that the road was unsafe to travel.
County Manager Doug Derrer has estimated the cost to repair the road and the culvert beneath the asphalt, at about $172,000.
The county initially floated the idea of giving $100,000 to the city to repair the road, but requiring stipulations that county policies must be followed.
“To try to expedite things ... I’d like to propose to the city council to resolve the issue that the city of Cumming extend the offer through an [intergovernmental agreement] back to the board of the commissioners of $100,000 that will come out of our contingency fund ... to make the necessary repairs and the county take responsibility for the rest of the balance,” Gravitt said before calling for a vote.
The proposal was approved by council members 4-1, with Rupert Sexton dissenting.
Forsyth County Commissioner Jim Boff said he’s not sure how he would vote on the city’s proposal, but doesn’t “see why the county should pay anything to repair the road.”
“We didn’t break it and it’s in the city,” he said.
Boff also pointed to the agreement, which notes that the family and city are responsible for Lake Alice and the dam.
While it doesn’t mention damage to Sanders, Boff said the two sides taking responsibility for the water that flooded the road “just strengthens our position in court if we have to go there.”
Staff writer Crystal Ledford contributed to this report.