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County commissioners debate safety, cost of helping community fight flooding

POSTED: August 20, 2013 11:28 p.m.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners debated Tuesday whether the county is responsible for addressing sinkholes and massive flooding in the Milliken Mill Village community off Jesse Jewell Parkway.

The roads were dedicated to the county, and the water and sewer service was dedicated to the city of Gainesville.

But there is no record that the stormwater system was dedicated to either government. Milliken and Co. sold the village property off in the mid-1950s, said Public Works Director Ken Rearden.

“They’ve experienced tremendous failures out there,” Rearden said. “Especially during these storms.”

Milliken Mill neighborhood is in the New Holland area behind the Pacolet Mill on Jesse Jewell Parkway. The plant employs about 230 people making string. The streets of Mill, Myrtle, and Branch have about 76 lots with homes.

It’s in the county, but city property surrounds it.

Commissioners debated whether they, Gainesville or individual homeowners are responsible for the cost. Some commissioners appeared reluctant to want the obligation, saying if they do any repairs, they’ll be liable for the whole system.

“You touch it, we own it,” Commissioner Craig Lutz said.

Commissioner Billy Powell asked about the extent of the problem. The cost to fix the entire stormwater system would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Rearden said after the meeting.

“We might as well just buy them all out and turn it into a park,” Lutz joked. “It would be cheaper.”

Commissioner Jeff Stowe said the situation was urgent and worried about someone getting injured.

“We’ve got to address those holes,” he said.

He said he’s not aware of any accidents due to the sinkholes.

“If a child was to come walking along and not happen to see this hole, he’s down 8 or 10 feet, down in the stormwater runoff,” Stowe said. “We definitely have a safety issue we need to address before we end with someone getting hurt.”

Board Chairman Richard Mecum asked staff to talk to Gainesville staff and come up with options. Some of the development around the area is in the city. Commissioner Scott Gibbs asked county staff to check runoff from those areas.

County Attorney Bill Blalock said it was private property. The county would need an easement to do any work.
Powell asked if the homeowners had liability for the sinkholes. Blalock answered it could be considered a private nuisance.

Powell declined to comment after the meeting.

Rearden said he didn’t know which government had fixed problems in the system before. The county has not touched any of the stormwater pipes, he said. The flooding is so bad the water sometimes goes into a resident’s car, he said.

Clermont Mayor James Nix said he owns a house on Myrtle Street that has had flooding.

“The water is coming down and comes across Myrtle Street and goes under our house,” Nix said. “We’ve had mud under our house. We had to replace a water heater the other day, a gas water heater under the house, because the mud under there was about a foot deep and completely filled the bottom of (the water heater) up with mud.”

Gainesville City Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said she was unaware of any safety issues in the neighborhood.

The holes are potholes, not sinkholes, she said.

“What I need to do is know what they’re talking about,” she said. “I need to look at what they’re talking about.”


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