A drone photo, reportedly taken this month by an anonymous source, shows massive clearing at the Atlanta public safety training center site on Key and Constitution roads in DeKalb County. A DeKalb commissioner and an environmental group allege the clearing was done before required sediment-capturing ponds were constructed and are threatening a lawsuit about it. The two large ponds visible in the upper left already existed before construction and are not intended to be filled with sediment. The photo was provided by Jon Schwartz, an attorney who sent a letter with the lawsuit threat.

A DeKalb County commissioner and an environmental group are threatening to sue over claims that site-clearing for Atlanta’s public safety training center began without required runoff-prevention ponds, causing nearby stream pollution.

District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry and the South River Watershed Alliance (SRWA) made the claim – rooted in an alleged lack of sediment-capturing ponds – in a May 19 letter of intent to sue that was sent to the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) and contractor Brent Scarbrough & Company. Citing a provision of the U.S. Clean Water Act, the letter gives the recipients 60 days to fix the alleged problem.

The City, the company and APF did not immediately respond to comment requests. APF officials have previously said they are following all sediment control rules.

The warning may play into a pending court appeal of the project’s land-disturbance permit that Terry filed May 10 in DeKalb County Superior Court, which also alleges runoff pollution as a major concern. The SRWA was involved in an earlier stage of the appeal and has opposed the training center. 

Attorney Jon Schwartz is representing Terry in the appeal and also sent the intent-to-sue letter. Schwartz told SaportaReport the appeal is underway in court.

Specific recipients of the intent-to-sue letter include Mayor Andre Dickens, Brent Scarbrough of his namesake company, and APF President and CEO Dave Wilkinson and project engineer Alan Williams.

At a meeting last month of a project review committee, Williams discussed erosion controls at length and mentioned pond construction to the group, though in a way that was not immediately clear as to whether all had been constructed already. That’s the key issue in the letter. Williams did speak at length in the meeting about sediment fence construction, which is another key tactic and is not mentioned as a complaint in the letter.

Photos from the letter of intent to sue showing alleged sediment runoff March 25 into Intrenchment Creek from a tributary that flows from the training center site.

A fundamental environmental issue in the permit appeal controversy is how much, if any, sediment is allowed to run off the site into the nearby Intrenchment Creek and its tributaries, including a stream that runs through the training center site. Opponents argue the project violates a state-imposed cap on sediment runoff in the watershed, where literally no runoff should be allowed anymore. But the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) says that cap does not apply to this project and has issued a permit for it.

The letter says that EPD’s “general permit” for the project includes a requirement that “sediment basins,” or artificial ponds, be created in various spots around the site prior to any construction work. The letter claims that did not happen.

In support of the claims, Schwartz provided SaportaReport with aerial drone photos of the site, taken by an anonymous source, that were superimposed on Google satellite maps, as well as some of the original photos. The photos appear to show massive tree-clearance without all of the ponds detailed on a map taken from APF’s grading plan.

Images provided by attorney Jon Schwartz in support of the claim that training center clearing occurred before all sediment ponds were complete. The image at the top shows where ponds were to be built, as shown in the Atlanta Police Foundation’s own grading plan. The drone photos from May allegedly show clearing without all of those ponds. The photos were superimposed over maps and altered to correct perspective, according to Schwartz.

Pollution is indeed coming from the site, the letter claims. It includes several photos of muddy water where the site’s tributary flows into the creek. The letter notes that there is no other construction project on that tributary.

The letter says that the alleged runoff and permit violations ultimately violate the Clean Water Act as well, which includes a provision for citizens to sue. Terry and SRWA will sue, the letter says, if the alleged violations aren’t fixed within 60 days or EPD or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) file their own court actions to require compliance. The intent-to-sue letter is a required part of the process, according to Schwartz.

Copies were sent to several officials, including the entire Atlanta City Council and its president, and the heads of EPD and EPA.

The letter is yet another controversy related to Intrenchment Creek pollution that is lacking crucial, irreplaceable data due to a federal agency’s quiet shutdown of a monitoring device. The U.S. Geological Survey previously said its Feb. 16 shutdown of live data about turbidity – or how cloudy water is – from an Intrenchment Creek “streamgage” device was due to “safety concerns” about the Defend the Atlanta Forest protests and will continue indefinitely. The shutdown, first revealed by SaportaReport, came 10 days after the original permit appeal was filed. The device’s data also was part of federal monitoring of Atlanta’s sewage pollution under a consent decree.

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