Eleven people reached a settlement agreement Thursday with the owner of an Appling marina whom they brought a civil suit against in 2003.
The trial, which involved 11 people who own mobile homes but rent land at Little River Marina, began Sept. 12 and was a result of legal action against the marina and its owner, Pamela Bugg. At issue was a 2003 accusation against them by the group of property owners, who claimed she cut off the water to their lake-front properties.
"I'm not happy with it," Pat Lord said of the settlement agreement.
Lord's mobile home has served as a family vacation home at the marina for more than 35 years.
"We had a ball," he said. "On holidays, there would be 60 or 80 people up there."
Beginning in May 2003, water began to be cut off to the then-14 property owners who rented the marina land through annually renewing private nontransient agreements, it was revealed through court testimony. The agreement states that Bugg must provide water, among other things, and that any party can terminate the contract with 60 days' written notice. Once a contract is terminated or a land renter defaults on the contract terms and a mobile home is removed, it can never return.
Lord, who removed his home from the marina a few years ago for repairs, said he will not return the home to the property, deciding to return the lot to natural woodlands.
Unknown to the renters, Bugg allowed the marina's well-supplied water system to fall below Georgia Environmental Protection Division standards in 2002 by failing to perform required monthly and daily water sampling, to keep proper records on the water system and to have all wells on the property properly permitted, said Ted Staak, a Georgia EPD program director who testified.
The rented properties were served by two unpermitted wells that EPD capped until they were properly permitted, Staak said on the stand Wednesday. The marina's permits cover one primary well and a backup well, which were limited to 20 connections.
The 11 owners of vacation homes claimed that in April 2003, Bugg asked them to pay $6,000 to install a water system at the marina that would allow a connection to Columbia County's water supply. The complaint, filed in the Columbia County Clerk of Court's office, states that on May 5, 2003, Bugg cut off water to homes of owners who refused to pay the fee.
A jury was chosen Sept. 11, and the trial began the next day. Testimony included that from Bugg and an EPD representative who said that the state agency never required water to be cut off to any resident.
The agreement included 3 years of protection from eviction without cause, "which was one of the huge issues in the case," said attorney Victor Hawk, who represented the property owners.
"(The jury) could only decide damages issues," he said. "They could not have helped them with protection under the agreement."
The settlement stipulated that the fee for connecting to the water system, which is now in place, would be reduced to $2,750 and the property owners would receive a 30 percent reduction in back rent to account for the loss of value of their property for the time they have been without water.
Some of the property owners have continued to pay the $175 monthly rental fee while others have stopped payment at various times since the water was cut off and the fee demanded. Bugg filed a counterclaim against those nonpaying owners for back rent totaling more than $37,000. The 30 percent discount would apply to any back rent owned to Bugg and the marina, said Bugg's attorney, Patrick Smith.
Bugg refused to comment on the case, but Smith said, "I'm somewhat pleased (with the settlement). From an objective standpoint, I think it is a fair settlement for both parties. Both parties are accepting some responsibility. But from an emotional standpoint, that is not always the case."
The settlement also included that a property owner's shed damaged by tree removal is to be repaired and that each party in the case must pay his or her own attorney and court costs.
Glenn Morgan, one of the property owners suing the marina, said he wasn't happy with the settlement but is glad the issue is settled.
"Am I happy? Yes and no," Morgan said. "This is one of those that you don't ever win, you can't win. The best you can do is get some satisfaction.''
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