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Development rule compliance questioned
A bulldozer sits beside a pile of downed trees at the Villages at Limerick (phase II) where acres of land were cleared without the proper authorization. - photo by Photo by John Deike
Recent construction oversights are building concern among environmentalists who have questioned the efficiency of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, and the state’s Environmental Protection Division.
Chandra Brown, who works for local environmental group the Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper, spoke to the county commission during this month’s meeting, and addressed the issue of local developer Claude Dryden bulldozing multiple acres of forests in Midway without the required permit.
Dryden and officials, however, said Brown was being overzealous, complaining about minor technical errors that did not violate the intent of laws.
The bulldozing was needed to clear land for the second phase of Dryden’s development, The Villages at Limerick, off Limerick Road.
Before land-disturbing activities (such as bulldozing) can commence, the developer, along with others, must sign and submit a notice of intent to the EPD and the planning commission 14 days before they plan to disturb land, Brown said.
The purpose for the 14 days is so the planning commission and the EPD can have enough time to inspect the site and development plans to ensure that no sediment will leave the site, and once that is established, the land disturbing activities can begin, EPD representative Shannon Winsness said.
However, this process was not followed, Brown said.
The land disturbing activities began this past July 31, however, Winsness did not receive the notice of intent until Aug. 6, and as of Aug. 2, the LCPC did not have the notice of intent either, the environmentalist said.
Thus, Brown contends the notice should have been submitted on July 17, and the EPD and planning commission erred in granting Dryden permission to go ahead with the bulldozing.
Sonny Timmerman, the director of the planning commission, said the notice had been obtained and filed by the county engineer before the land disruption began, but he admitted there was a “formality” with the paperwork.
The county engineer, Trent Long, said the notice had been obtained, but following Brown’s complaints at the commission meeting on Aug. 7, Timmerman realized the notice of intent was incomplete because it was missing a signature.
Long fixed the formality; yet he could not immediately recall which signature was missing, but he suspected it was Dryden’s.
Despite the fact the notice had all the proper signatures, Brown argued it was a moot point because the land disturbing activities had still been wrongfully granted.
“It’s really about overall compliance,” Brown said. “If this basic notice information was not properly submitted in a timely matter before (the land disturbing) began, and if people are not being held accountable, what else is happening?”
Brown said that when the EPD and planning commission discovered the error of the notice, then one of them should have issued a stop work order to investigate the error.
“We only have two people in Georgia that review sediment erosion control plans, and it comes down to a matter of limited resources,” Winsness said. “(The land disturbing approval) should not have happened this way, but the LCPC has local jurisdiction. It was the LCPC’s decision to determine if there was an environmental problem at the site, and we didn’t want to step on their toes since they considered it a clerical error.”
Brown made other claims at the commission meeting too, which were countered by Dryden, Long and Timmerman.
She said the nearby Jericho River showed signs of sediment pollution and questioned whether Dryden’s land clearing was causing it, and she said the second phase of the development was probably on wetlands.
Timmerman said in no way was the Jericho being polluted by Dryden’s land clearing, and he said this particular site is in a flood plain, but that no construction will occur on top of wetlands.
Timmerman said there is a road-widening project on 196, which is being funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation. The sediment pollution may be coming from them because the DOT is allowed to dump their sediment in places such as rivers, he said.
“The riverkeepers show more of an obstructionist attitude rather than helping protect the environment. They pick at so many things, they bog down the system and they make it tougher for everyone — the EPD, developers, LCPC, etc.,” Long said.
Dryden said he’s been a developer for years, and he’s dedicated to adhering to the rules.
“Brown is just looking for anything to slow or stop development, and most of the time she doesn’t have the whole story, and I think the commissioners and the LCPC are cognizant of the whole story,” Dryden said.
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