Walker County commissioner Bebe Heiskell held a brief news conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss a settlement with Georgia Environmental Protection Division regarding alleged environmental violations from earlier this year.
The announcement regarded an EPD consent order sent to county officials on Sept. 7.
The county agreed to a $65,000 settlement regarding the alleged violations, “but also specified that Walker County admits no violations or wrong doing” in the matter.
The county agreed to pay the fine by doing other projects for the EPD instead of paying in cash.
County officials will be allowed to use “in kind” labor on non-recreational environmental projects with an itemized breakdown of expenses and timetable of completion to satisfy the $65,000 settlement arrangement with EPD officials.
“This may be completed with one or more supplemental environmental projects,” the EPD order by director Judson H. Turner said.
“We are happy to agree to that, as we can do it with county forces with little or no out-of-pocket cost to taxpayers,” Heiskell said about the settlement.
The five-page consent order detailed numerous issues as a result of an investigation by the EPD on March 26 of the Durham Trail project conducted.
Earlier that month residents in the area had noticed debris and muddy water conditions on a weekend.
County officials have submitted a corrective action plan that has been approved by EPD and will allow Walker County crews to finally complete the project, according to Heiskell.
Philip Schofield with CTI Engineers wrote the corrective action plan the county will follow in accordance with EPD guidelines.
“Any project under one acre doesn’t require a notice of intent to be submitted to the state,” Schofield said about the disagreement with the EPD investigation. “The county contends that the work that they did out here is less than an acre. The state contends that it was over an acre.”
State officials’ inclusion of a maintenance road near the project brought the work site to 1.2 acres.
The area that county crews were working on had incurred significant damage after two significant floods and a tornado in 2011, according to Heiskell.
The damage had constrained the creek into small pathways that began to have an impact on wildlife.
“During a tropical storm several years ago the old railroad bed washed out and all the rock filled the creek in,” Schofield said. “It inhibited the trout from being able to go up and down stream.”
A 96-inch diameter culvert was installed to divert heavy water flow from future storms and prevent a similar potential blockage of the stream.
Heiskell maintains that all necessary permits were obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers, which was originally disputed by EPD officials.
The permit is overseen by officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Schofield.
County crews will continue to use straw for the trail pathway to keep a natural feel to the environment over hardscaping, according to Schofield.
The trail project is funded by a federal grant that is expanding recreational trails, one of three grants for clean-up projects in the area.
The majority of the trails were formerly roads during the early 1900s when the area was a mining community. One steep portion of road was deemed too dangerous to travel by officials and was diverted by the creation of a short bypass that matches the existing rugged landscape.