County agrees to settle with lake project contractors
Both the Grady County Board of Commissioners and the Grady County Lake Authority took action Tuesday night to settle a collection action filed against contractors and individuals involved in the wetland and stream mitigation projects related to Tired Creek Lake.
The suit was filed on behalf of the county and authority in September 2016 and this week’s action concludes the collection action, which was begun by former Grady County Commission attorney Kevin S. Cauley in 2015.
Following a brief closed door session that included the county commission and members of the lake authority with attorneys Rob Howell and Cauley, Commission Chairman Ray Prince was authorized by the county commission and the authority to execute a resolution to settle the matter as agreed to by the parties in an approximately 10-hour mediation held in Macon last Thursday.
Based on public records, the county’s total recovery in this action was $1,392,500.00. In February 2016, the county hired Howell, Cauley and attorney Laura Benz to represent the county in the collection effort at a fee of 25 percent of the total settlement.
After disbursements to the three attorneys of $112,916 each and other expenses, the county will net $1,006,626.04.
The county and lake authority were seeking to recover in excess of $6 million in damages from Kent Campbell, Eco-South Inc., Environs Design Studio LLC, Georgia Civil Inc., Steven M. Jones, Meanders River Restoration Inc., Cal Lauder and Cal-Mart Inc.
The plaintiffs claimed negligence and breach of contract related to the work on the mitigation portion of the lake project.
The mitigation plan developed by defendants Kent Campbell and Eco-South during the lake’s permitting phase was ultimately approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The county contracted with Campbell and Eco-South to implement the plan. Subsequently, on the recommendation of Campbell and Eco-South, the county also hired defendants Steven M. Jones and Meanders River Restoration Inc., to assist in the construction phase of the Brumbley Creek mitigation site. The county also hired defendant Cal Lauder and Cal-Mart to perform construction services on the mitigation sites.
Work on three separate perpetual easements, which were acquired by the county, known as “Brumbley Creek site,” “Old 179 site,” and “Lake Douglas site,” began in 2013.
In the suit, the plaintiffs alleged that Campbell and Eco-South oversaw the work of defendants Jones, Meanders, Lauder and/or Cal-Mart.
In December 2014, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and its Interagency Review Team completed an onsite inspection of the mitigation sites. During that inspection, Corps officials discovered multiple and “serious discrepancies” between the approved construction plans and the actual construction work completed.
As of December 2014, Campbell had become an employee of defendants Environs and Georgia Civil. Campbell and Eco-South transferred its contracts with the county to Campbell’s new employer and he continued to do work for the county.
The suit stated that Campbell, following the Corps inspection, told the county that any “redesign or modifications to the permit regarding mitigation will not cost the county.”
However, in a letter dated Feb. 17, 2015, the Corps notified the county the mitigation sites had not been built in accordance with the approved plan and the county was not in compliance with the conditions of its Federal 404 permit, which authorizes the construction of the 960-acre lake.
On or about March 10, 2015, the county provided the Corps with a revised mitigation plan developed by defendants Campbell, Eco-South, Environs and Georgia Civil. In the revised plan, Campbell explained his reasoning for the deviations from the approved plans. He acknowledged that he revised the approved plan based on his professional judgment and without any prior coordination or authorization by the Corps.
The revised plan was not accepted, and the county was notified by the Corps in April 2015. In an April 6, 2015 letter from the Corps, the county was notified that due to the defendants’ actions, the county was left with a deficiency of 136,963 stream and 1,022.9 wetland credits needed prior to the Corps granting the county authorization to impound the lake.
It was in this same letter the Corps suggested the county purchase the necessary credits from an approved mitigation bank.
The county responded on April 27, 2015, by demanding defendants Campbell, Eco-South, Environs, and Georgia Civil provide the deficient mitigation credits or bear the costs associated so that the impoundment of the lake could occur.
On Sept. 8, 2015, the county was notified by the Corps that a stabilization plan for stream channels on the three mitigation sites would be required, as well. It was at that time the county became aware that defendants Jones, Meanders, Lauder and Cal-Mart’s design and/or construction work on these sites was defective, had been performed in a “nonskillful and non-workmanlike manner” and had been rejected by the Corps.
Left with no other choice if it wished to impound the lake, the county in March 2016 purchased $5,980,000 stream and wetland credits to meet its permit requirements and the Corps ultimately granted authorization to impound.
Based on the settlement agreement approved this week, defendants Kent Campbell and Eco-South will pay $905,000; Environs Design Studio LLC will pay $400,000 and Cal Lauder/Cal-Mart will pay $50,000 for a total settlement of $1,355,000. In November 2017, the county and authority released defendants Steven M. Jones and Meanders River Restoration Inc., in consideration of their payment of $37,500 to Grady County.
“The resolution adopted tonight completes the settlement process and will net the county just over $1 million. In exchange, the county is dismissing the litigation and ending the collection process,” attorney Howell explained to the public following the vote of the board and authority to authorize Chairman Prince to execute the resolution.
Representing the authority Tuesday night were chairman LaDon Toole, and authority members Ray Prince, Eric Cohen, Steven Childs and Randolph Wind.