CUMMING, Ga. — After heavy rains washed out Lake Alice in the city of Cumming, officials are working to make things right.
The Mashburn Family Trust and the city of Cumming, along with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have come up with a short-term agreement to remedy the failed dam that sent sediment and sludge along Little Ridge Creek into Lake Lanier.
The earth dam break occurred after about four inches of rain May 19 washed out parts of Sanders Road, carrying tons of mud through the creek bed into a cove on the southeast side of Lake Lanier.
Bert Langley, district coordinator with the state’s EPD, said a consent order was reached on June 3 with the Mashburn Family Trust, which owns a portion of the land, along with the city of Cumming.
In the consent order, the parties agreed to perform certain tasks to stabilize the area. The consent order is an enforceable document.
The city of Cumming has begun to implement stabilizing measures to the wooded area where the dam breached to prevent things from getting worse.
About 50 homes were affected by the dam breach at Lake Alice.
“We had a number of citizens call with this issue and after investigating, we found out it was a violation of the state water control act to discharge material into the water of the state,” Langley said.
Langley said some preliminary sampling of the water in the cove showed no fecal coliform present and results in the cove were similar to fecal samples at Lake Lanier.
“It does not appear to be a significant impact,” Langley said.
Jason Ulseth, technical programs director for the nonprofit Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said heavy rains were what caused the breach of the dam, but nearby development was also a contributing factor.
“A tremendous amount of sediment from the dam itself was washed as well as water rushing through caused a lot of instant channel erosion of the creek, washed out Sanders Road and all the deposit washed straight into Lake Lanier,” Ulseth said.
The city of Cumming has fully repaired Sanders Road.
All of the silt causes a lot of environment and lake problems, said Ulseth, who lives about three miles from the dam.
Ulseth said the impact will be felt for area residents and recreational users of the lake.
“It fills in a lot of the lake, so it decreases the recreational value of the lake for all the lakefront property owners there,” Ulseth said. “It can destroy fish habitat and decrease the level of available storage of the lake for drinking water.”
Ulseth said over development in the area with parking lots and rooftops along Market Place Boulevard has increased impervious surfaces. Instead of allowing water to soak into the ground, it shot into the lake and into the dam, which was washed out.
“Once it hits the lake, it deposits at the bottom of the lake,” Ulseth said.
Prior to the May 19 storm, the 7-acre cove area used to be filled. Now, all that can be seen is the empty lake bottom.
What is important now is the next step, which includes finding who is the responsible party and how will this be made right, Ulseth said. He’d like the deposit sediments be taken out of the lake, stream areas restored and the dam stabilized.
Langley said it will take longer than most people would want to have this accomplished, simply because it is a complex thing to do and the logistics become an issue.
Depending on the volume of material that is determined, they may run into permit issues with the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
A dredge and fill operation could slow things down, and it will be well into the summer or later until this is completed, Langley said.
“When we finally get to this point, our intent is to share with the public and show people what we are intending and have public input into that,” Langley said.
The Mashburn Family Trust is owner of a portion of Lake Alice and part owner of the dam that failed.
The city of Cumming is also owner of a portion of the dam and lake, said Mike Carvalho, an attorney who represents the Mashburn Family Trust.
Interim and longer-term plans have been proposed and the family trust retained civil engineer Brian Wellington, of Newfields. Wellington, who has stormwater and hydrology expertise, will advise on the immediate response and actions.
A sediment survey of the stream channel will be done to come up with a plan to remediate the silt that is in the stream channel and to install a turbidity curtain, a flexible, impermeable barrier to trap the sediment from spreading in the water. This will not require a permit from the Corps.
The city of Cumming also began to hydroseed the soil. The grassing of the 7-acre empty lake and exposed soil is expected to stabilize that soil and use the roots to hold sediment in place.
Right now, there’s no immediate plan to rebuild the dam.
“The important thing is to address the sediment loss to the stream channel and the lake and at some point we will have to come back and determine why the dam failed,” Carvalho said.
The Mashburn family has enjoyed that property for five generations, he said.
When the dam was built in the 1930s, it did not contemplate the area’s growth.
Right now, the focus is being responsive, Carvalho said.
“It’s a complicated problem that is going to take time, but it’s very important that it be done as expeditiously as possible, but also as responsibly as possible,” Carvalho said. “We’ve got to get it right.”