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Less green on Browne
Homeowners may sue over lost landscape
Trees cut 2
A piece of pipe sits at the entrance to Browne Circle from Magnolia Avenue. - photo by Jennifer Sami
In just a few weeks, the deepest intake pipe in Lake Lanier will allow the city of Cumming to withdraw up to 105 million gallons of water per day.

Officials have said the $14 million project will provide enough water to meet customer demand for another 25 years.

By then, new trees at two homes near the lake may have reached the height of ones a city contractor mistakenly cut down in late April.

Stuart Teague, attorney for the three homeowners whose yards were damaged, said his clients have will sue if an agreement cannot be reached by mid-September with contractor W.L. Hailey & Company or subcontractor M&M Labors.

They are taking the legal route after months of inaction to repair their property.

“Basically what happened is the subcontractor came down the street and just cut in without determining where the right of way was first,” Teague said. “Frankly, it’s pretty unusual for this to happen because there is a standard procedure that contractors use to make sure that they don’t do things like this.

“It’s almost like a cut the trees now and ask questions later sort of approach.”

In April, W.L. Hailey started work to run a 48-inch-wide pipeline from the lake to a city water treatment facility. The path included a portion of Browne Circle.

Jon Heard, city water director, said what happened next was a mistake.

“Unfortunately, the contractor didn’t read the plan properly and went out there and removed several trees from the homeowners’ yards,” Heard said.

“This is an excellent contractor, one of the best the city has used. They have done an excellent job in a timely manner ... it’s unfortunate that they made this mistake.”

The mistake was a big one for Roger Henderson.

“You’re talking about huge dogwoods,” he said. “From year to year, that was always a favorite spot to make pictures. It was just beautiful. Beautiful and they’re gone.”

While upset by the damage to his front yard, Henderson also is grateful the city didn’t follow through with its original plan to lay the pipe behind his home.

“That is my prime. It is my location," he said. "It is the best part of my property that they were coming through, so thank God that didn’t transpire.”

Heard said the plan has since changed to lay the pipe on the street in front of the Henderson home.

Despite the mistake, Heard said the construction along the road has continued. It is slated to be completed, along with the entire project, by Sept. 15.

In the meantime, it appears Henderson’s property has become the central point between Magnolia Avenue and the lake access location.

Browne Circle has been torn up to bury the pipe, leaving only a portion of the street paved. The remainder is a combination of dirt and gravel.

Large trucks carrying pipe segments pass “back and forth on this street continuously,” Henderson said.

“My house is vibrating ... it’s been horrible,” he said. “It’s been a bad situation.”

Henderson's next-door neighbors, Jenni and Robbie Hilton, and another couple, Jerry and Susan Ballone, also have sought help from Teague after negotiations on their damaged lawns drew no response.

Both the contractor and the subcontractor, along with the city, have been placed on a notice of claim, Teague said.

The notice gives the groups time to work out an agreement without a lawsuit, he said, adding they already met once to discuss the situation.

“They now seem to be more interested than they were ... since we explained to them that we’re serious about going forward,” he said. “It was actually sort of hard to get their attention until we first started sending letters. It’s amazing how that works.”

Jared Imler, project manager with W.L. Hailey, declined to comment on the situation, other than to say he is negotiating with the homeowners.

Originally, the residents were looking to have one of the parties replace the trees and plant life that were damaged. But now, Teague said, they are seeking financial compensation for their landscaping, which included a thick hardwood tree.

“After thinking about it, my clients decided it probably would not be a good idea to leave the same people in charge,” Teague said. “If they get an award of compensation, they can take that money and spend it more wisely and hire their own landscapers.

“But there’s really no way to replace what was there.”