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Columbia County, CSX and others named in Jones Creek lawsuit

Posted: October 17, 2011 - 3:57pm  |  Updated: October 17, 2011 - 4:05pm

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 pollute streams and lakes with silt and litter.

The 175-page complaint was filed by Jones Creek Investors, owners of the 195-acre golf course and related amenities; and 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; owners of the Marshall Square project in Evans; owners of Krystal River Commercial Park; and Jones Creek Partners, which developed high density townhomes near the golf course.

The townhome project, known as Willow Lake Phase II, is 43 single-family home development on about 9 acres adjacent to Willow Lake, according to the complaint. The 6.3-acre pond provides irrigation for the golf course and is an aesthetic amenity for Jones Creek.

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,” according to the lawsuit.

A network of streams carry 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 also caused flooding, erosion along fairway areas and damage to the Willow Lake dam and spillway.

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

Such damages are currently in excess of $3.7 million and continue to mount since the problems remain uncorrected, said the complaint, in which the plaintiffs are seeking corrective action and damages, and have demanded a jury trial.

The lawsuit was filed only after plaintiffs “made numerous attempts, through oral, written, and in-person communications with the appropriate state, county and other agencies to stop the discharges,” according to the lawsuit.

A lawsuit represents only one side of a dispute. The defendants will file a response to the allegations at a later date.

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