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Hall considers easing rules for erosion control on construction sites
07272020 EROSION 2
Water filled with sediment rushes from a construction site in Hall County into Lake Lanier. A rule change could allow more dirt to be disturbed at a time, which Lake Lanier advocates worry could further harm Lanier. Photo courtesy Dale Caldwell of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Hall County is proposing to allow more land to be disturbed at any given time during construction projects, which some believe will negatively affect Lake Lanier. 

The move would loosen local restrictions and defer to state regulations on erosion and sedimentation control. The county now allows only 20 acres of land to be disturbed at any given time; however, the state allows for 50 acres. Some jurisdictions opt to be more restrictive, according to Michael Berry, manager for the erosion and sedimentation unit with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Developers can apply for exceptions to the rule, Berry said. 

Srikanth Yamala, the county’s public works director, said county staff periodically review ordinances for possible updates, and in reviewing the erosion and sedimentation control ordinance found that Hall’s restrictions were more stringent than other jurisdictions. 

“Since our 20-acre requirement went into place, there were several other enhancements the EPD has done, like introducing the stream buffer requirements,” Yamala said. The EPD website lists guidelines for erosion control.   

The Hall County Board of Commissioners held a first hearing Thursday, July 23, and a second hearing is set for their 6 p.m. meeting Thursday, Aug. 13. Commissioners meet at the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville. 

The Hall proposal has drawn some concerns from local nonprofits about the effects on Lake Lanier and its watershed. 

Jennifer Flowers, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, said the current restrictions protect the lake from erosion, sedimentation and pollution. 

“This is a critical protection against runoff from large acreage sites of open exposed soil during rain events. EPD sets their standards for what is best for the state as a whole,” Flowers said at a public hearing Thursday, July 23. “However, many places in the state don’t have the resource that we have here, Lake Lanier.” 

Flowers said the association opposes the proposed rules for any area in the watershed of Lanier. 

“The protection of Lake Lanier should be job one for every official in Hall County and should be a fundamental precept of every developer who seeks to benefit from the presence of Lake Lanier,” she said. 

Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Higgins and Commissioner Jeff Stowe said Friday they were still reviewing the proposal and considering each side of the issue, while other commissioners did not respond to requests for comment Friday. 

The proposal has also caught the attention of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. Headwaters Director Dale Caldwell said anytime an area is deforested, leaving bare soil during the development of a site, that soil is subject to runoff during rainfall.  

“Here, the most vulnerable place for it to get deposited is Lake Lanier,” Caldwell said in an interview with The Times. 

Caldwell said when the water becomes polluted, it is more expensive to treat if for drinking water. Chemicals bind to sediment, so pollution and erosion often go hand-in-hand, he said. 

07252020 erosion 1
Water filled with sediment rushes from a construction site in Hall County into Lake Lanier. A rule change could allow more dirt to be disturbed at a time, which Lake Lanier advocates worry could further harm Lanier. Photo courtesy Dale Caldwell of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

“Fish need a certain amount of oxygen in the water, just like we need a certain amount of oxygen in the air,” he said. “In the same way that we don’t want to be breathing in a smog-filled atmosphere, fish don’t want to be trying to breathe through chocolate milk.” 

The restrictions can also help avoid civil lawsuits, which can be burdensome for developers and costly for property owners, Caldwell said. 

“If you’re a property owner on Lake Lanier and your cove has been impacted by sedimentation, after the damage is done, one of the only methods you have to do anything about it is to turn around and sue the developer,” he said. 

Brian Rochester of Rochester and Associates, which does land surveying, project management and civil engineering, said the EPD already oversees land disturbance and requires developers to justify disturbing large amounts of land and to control their erosion. 

Rochester said manufacturers in Hall County often need larger facilities and project sites. 

“We need to always make sure there’s a balance between development and environmental concerns, and this isn’t throwing things out the window and not having any of that,” he said. “But it is allowing the process that EPD has in place that the county could oversee and make sure is done. … so that when we do have larger developments like that, that they can move forward and we don’t lose them to another county.” 


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