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Cumming, Forsyth County renew Sanders Road negotiations
sanders
The Lake Alice dam break sent water rushing along a creek bed, washing out Sanders Road. The resulting mud and debris poured into this Lake Lanier cove. - photo by Jim Dean

CUMMING — The future of Sanders Road remains in limbo, although it appears Cumming and Forsyth County have narrowed the possibilities for addressing their two-year impasse.

The road has been closed between Buford Dam and Mary Alice Park roads since spring 2013, when the dam holding back the former Lake Alice breeched during heavy rain and washed out part of it.

The county owns the road, which runs through heavily wooded residential area east of Cumming and skirting Lake Lanier, except for a 50 foot portion the city annexed.

The two governments have been at a stalemate over the costs of repairs and future liability.

Last month, the Cumming City Council discussed two options. The first involves keeping the road closed, removing the existing culvert and replacing it with a gabion wall, or a wall made of large rocks held in place by wire that allows water — but not large debris — to flow through.

The second proposal involves working with the county to rebuild the road and replace the culvert. Under this plan each government would pay for half of the costs. 

The cost of the gabion wall option has been estimated at $380,000, while the plan to rebuild the road is projected to cost somewhere between 20 percent more or 20 percent less than the wall, depending on the bidding process.

“It takes more than just our 50 feet [of Sanders],” City Attorney Dana Miles told the council last month. “It’s about a 250-foot to 300-foot section of roadway from one side to the other, and the city only has control of 50 feet. So it requires the county to cooperate with us if we want to do more than that.”

The council has postponed a decision on the road plan until later this month, as officials attempt to reach a deal on the cost with the county.

Last week, the county commission discussed the city’s request. Though no formal action was taken, Commissioner Todd Levent was critical of the plan and called it a way for Forsyth to pay for half of a city problem.

“I’m also thinking it’s a ploy that believes this board of commissioners wants that road to be opened and not closed in order to get us to pay half of something we have no fault of,” he said.

Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said the county had not yet repaired its portion of the road due to ongoing litigation by the parties involved, as well as not wanting to add more sediment to the area.

“The repairing of the road and our decisions as a county have always been — and the reason why we have not jumped into the repairing of this road — because of our fear of litigation,” Mills said.

“There was a definite desire of wanting this road to be open. We just felt a very strong obligation to the taxpayers to not involve Forsyth County in litigation unnecessarily.”

The city hopes to hear back from the county by Sept. 10, and did not rule out a called meeting to discuss the issues. The next scheduled meeting of the council is Sept. 15.

This is the second cleanup effort that has developed this summer, after the city brought in a firm to stabilize the stream and bed of the former Lake Alice. 

And in a related matter, the city last month hired River Sand Inc. of Cleveland to dredge the nearby cove Lanier, on the east side of Sanders, which was impacted by the silt and sediment from the dam breech. The contract totaled $247,470.

City officials said the dredging will involve long arm excavators and an amphibious excavator, which floats in water, to take the sediment out of the cove and haul it off in dump trucks.

At first, it was thought the dredging likely could not take place until after the Sanders Road issue was handled, due to the possibility of adding more silt to the cove.

But according to Scott Morgan, the city’s director of planning and zoning, contractors have since said they can add a turbidity curtain, a flexible barrier used to trap sediment, just below Sanders Road.

“That turbidity curtain would allow sediment to be caught from the roadwork, then they would start dredging on the farthest point out in the cove and work their way back up to the turbidity curtain,” Morgan said last week.

Nearby residents want the situation resolved, noting that silt continues to flow into the cove after every hard rain. And a group of them has sued the city, county and Mashburn Family Trust, which owned the dam, over the issue.