By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
EPD settlement clears way for aquatic center
Work could begin in 2010
Placeholder Image
Forsyth County News
Cumming’s $15 million aquatic center will cost an additional $40,000 as a result of a recent settlement with the state Environmental Protection Division.

The amount was made public by the state agency last week as part of a consent order, or enforcement action plan.

The city has paid the $40,000, but must follow through on a list of requirements during construction in order to comply with environmental laws.

The issue dates back to spring, months before the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper sued the city for encroaching on state waters.

The organization sent information about the alleged encroachment to the EPD in April. A local Riverkeeper member described it as “probably the worst” of the thousands of sites he had worked on.

According to the consent order, the city: encroached on a 25-foot-buffer; had an improper erosion, sedimentation and pollution control plan; and did not provide a seven-day inspection letter.

Tony Campbell, EPD Mountain District storm water manager, said the requirements are typical for that type of project. But because the city didn’t follow the proper channels to begin with, it must go back and correct any mistakes.

“They have to remediate a portion of the buffer, and another part of the punishment was the delay in the project,” he said. “I think that was probably the biggest punishment.

“Had they gone through the proper steps to do the project, then they would not have had [a delay].”

The nonprofit river protection group’s attorneys are working with the city’s legal staff, said Assistant City Administrator Steve Bennett.

“We’re still in settlement negotiations,” Bennett said. “If we can’t reach any type of settlement agreement with them, then I guess it will probably go to trial at some point next year.”

Regardless of litigation with the riverkeeper group, Bennett said they will “go to work” once state and federal regulatory agencies approve the project.

The city has signed the consent order and submitted a stream buffer variance request, per one of the requirements.

The variance would allow the city to go within the 25-foot stream buffer zone and redirect part of the stream through a pipe.

The plan calls for city contractors to then put a parking lot over the pipe, Bennett said.

No decisions on the city’s variance request will be made before a 30-day public comment period is complete. The notice was posted Oct. 28.

Once construction begins, the aquatic center could take up to 18 months to build. Between the litigation and consent order, the city will not meet its October 2010 completion date.

While the city wants to get the project done as soon as possible, there is another pressing issue.

The city received $10 million from Forsyth County for the aquatic center as part of an agreement over the 2008 extension of the 1-cent sales tax.

The deal, however, required that the center be substantially complete before 2012.

While there is still some leeway there, Bennett said, “If we haven’t started by the middle of next year, then ... we’ll be cutting it pretty close.”

“Once that public advisory period is completed, then our consultant will address all the comments and then it will be up to the EPD whether to issue the variance,” he said. “Once we get EPD approval on the variance, we should be turned loose to get going to work on grading the project.”