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Sides get 60 days for cove solution
Rain keeps sediment flowing from dam site
A turbidity curtain, background, has not entirely stemmed the flow of sediment into a Lake Lanier cove. - photo by Jennifer Sami

Upset with what it perceives to be a lack of progress toward a long-term solution, the state has given the city of Cumming and a local family 60 days to resolve the Lake Alice Dam breach.

More than three months have passed since the dam collapsed, washing out Sanders Road and clouding a Lake Lanier cove with sediment.

Turbidity curtains, put in place as a temporary fix, have helped some. But the seemingly relentless rain throughout the summer — according to the National Weather Service, there have been at least 60 days of rain since May 19 in Cumming — has aggravated the situation for the some 50 homeowners along the cove.

Mike Leahy, one of those affected, said any time a half inch of rain is collected “the storm water velocity forces the sediment past the curtain and into the cove.”

“When that occurs, the in-flow of sediment is higher because the storm water is picking up additional sediment, which was contained behind the curtain,” he said. “Settling of the sediment is causing the depth of the cove to shrink on an almost daily basis.”

Until this week, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division had only issued a consent order to Cumming, which owns a portion of the lake, and the Mashburn family, which owns the dam.

The order asked the two parties to work together to fix the problem, but department district coordinator Bert Langley said that hasn’t happened.

As a result, Langley said the state issued an administrative order Tuesday morning. The information is the same as the consent order, except the parties are directed to follow the guidelines within 60 days.

If they fail to do so, the department would ask a Forsyth County judge to order them to comply and, if not, they could be held in contempt.

“It’s a unilateral order. It says ‘do these things.’ It’s not a negotiated settlement, Langley said. “We didn’t want to have to go here.”

Though it’s an authoritative step, he noted the administrative order isn’t the most stable option.

“It’s appealable and we can end up in court for a while,” he said. “But it’s the only process we have to get this thing moving.”

Michael Carvalho, attorney for the Mashburns, said the family also wants a quick resolution and has been “attempting to work with the city and the EPD to come to a resolution on the best approach that will address the impacts from the failure of the dam.”

The attorney said the family is adamant that public input be part of the process to find a permanent solution.

“This can be done without litigation,” he said. “Hopefully, cooperative, reasonable minds can sit down and hopefully work through these issues. We want to make sure that these issues are addressed and that’s the family’s commitment to the community.”

Scott Morgan, Cumming’s planning and zoning director, said the city, much like the Mashburn family, has “our engineer planning a remediation plan.”

“We’re still planning on going ahead, moving forward and fixing the situation,” he said. “The plan should be done in a couple of weeks.

“The city wants to get it resolved as quickly as we can.”

But for Leahy, that can’t occur quickly enough. And despite his property’s proximity to the turbidity curtains, the homeowner said he’s yet to be contacted by either side about why the process has been so slow.

“I continue to hope that someone or some agency will reach out to the homeowners and inform us of some kind of plan to remediate the issue restoring the cove back to where it was before the dam failed,” he said.