Columbia County, developers sued over Jones Creek stormwater erosion

Columbia County and several developments near Jones Creek golf course were sued Monday in U.S. District Court over allegations that poor engineering design, lax enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act and other misdeeds have allowed unchecked erosion to damage property and to pollute streams and lakes with silt and litter.

The 175-page complaint was filed by Jones Creek Investors, the owners of the 195-acre golf course and related amenities, and by the environmental group Savannah Riverkeeper Inc.

Named as defendants, in addition to Columbia County, were CSX Transportation, which owns culverts and embankments alleged to have failed and contributed to the erosion damage; the owners of the Marshall Square project in Evans; the owners of Krystal River Commercial Park; and the Jones Creek Partners, which developed high-density townhomes near the golf course.

The townhome project, known as Willow Lake Phase II, involves 10.8 acres, of which 9.3 acres were cleared to accommodate 43 single-family home lots adjacent to Willow Lake, a 6.3-acre pond that provides irrigation for the golf course and is also an aesthetic amenity for Jones Creek, the complaint said.

Since the townhome project commenced, “discharges of eroded soils, sediments, sediment-laden storm water, rock, sand, dirt, debris and other pollutants into Willow Lake have increased, resulting in significant accumulations of sediment and repeated instances of turbid or visually impacted water,” the complaint said.

A network of streams carries sediment from the other defendants’ properties into the lake and other areas of the golf course, the plaintiffs allege, and the problem has affected the golf course’s irrigation system, which uses 280,000 to 350,000 gallons per day of Willow Lake’s water during hot weather.

The sediment has reduced the health of the course’s greens and damaged the sprinkler system and its distribution lines and heads, and caused flooding, erosion along fairway areas and damage to the Willow Lake dam and spillway, the complaint said.

The increasing frequency of floods has rendered portions of the course unplayable and caused the owners lost revenues from fewer rounds played, lost revenue during Masters Week, a “perception” that the course is sometimes wet and unusable, and the costs of cleaning up the repair after floods occur.

Such damages are in excess of $3.77 million and continue to mount because the problems remain uncorrected, said the complaint, in which the plaintiffs are seeking corrective action and damages; they have demanded a jury trial.

The lawsuit was filed only after the plaintiffs “made numerous attempts, through oral, written, and in-person communications with the appropriate State, County and other agencies to stop the discharges complained of herein without obtaining a satisfactory resolution to the problem,” the complaint said.

The defendants will file a response to the allegations at a later date.

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