Would You Build a Shopping Center Here?
The photo at left shows deer grazing on a portion of land slated for conversion into a regional shopping center in Rome. The development will destroy four acres of wetlands and fill nearly 50 acres of floodplain forest.
In Spring 2012, after four years of advocacy efforts by CRBI, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended the original permit issued for this project, agreeing with CRBI that the permit was no longer valid for the project. As of August 2013, the developer was in the process of creating a new site plan for the shopping center. CRBI expects the developer to apply for a new permit from the Corps before soon.
Burwell Creek Update Aug. 1, 2013
However, this concession was tempered by statements warning the city commission that protecting the wetlands may make the project "financially infeasible."
At the meeting CRBI encouraged the commissioners to be arbitrators and facilitate a compromise between Ledbetter Properties and citizens who wish to see the 60-acre city-owned natural area preserved.
When CRBI Executive Director Joe Cook tried to explain to the commission that a failure to achieve a compromise would force CRBI to oppose the project outright and could lead to legal appeals of environmental permits issued for the project, Committee Chairman Kim Canada interrupted and refused to let Cook speak further.
Ledbetter Properties is expected to develop new site plans in the near future, and apply for environmental permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia's Environmental Protection Division. The company's memorandum of understanding with the city expires in December 2014.
Read more about this meeting in the Rome News-Tribune: RN-T.com - Citi Center is focus of Redevelopment Committee meeting
At the April 24 meeting of the Redevelopment Committee, CRBI urged the Commission to adopt a resolution urging Ledbetter Properties to protect wetlands at the building site so that they could be used as natural and recreational corridors connecting Ridge Ferry Park and historic Jackson Hill. The Commission has refused to take action on this resolution. Click here to read the resolution.
At the April 24 meeting, 30 CRBI supporters showed up to show support for the preservation of the Burwell Creek site. Again, Chairman Canada interrupted a CRBI representative and refused to allow them to speak.
Click here to read a Musselhead Blog report on the meeting in which Rome Mayor Evie McNiece dismissed the show of support for the Burwell Creek wetlands as "meaningless."
Click here to read CRBI's letter to the CIty Commission following the meeting.
Burwell Creek Floodplain Paddle
Contact Rome's City Commissioners
If you are opposed to this proposed development and want to see the Burwell Creek wetlands preserved, please contact your Rome City Commissioners. Tell them you support preservation of the Burwell Creek property:
Bill Irmscher 706-234-6555 email@example.com
Milton Slack 706-291-6811 firstname.lastname@example.org
Buzz Wachsteter 706-291-0678 email@example.com
Sue Lee 706-235-2067 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamie Doss 706-295-4008 email@example.com
Bill Collins 706-291-0208 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Canada 706-291-7844 email@example.com
Evie McNiece 706-237-6070 firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2001 the Rome City Commission authorized a study of city-owned property at historic Jackson Hill which overlooks the Oostanaula River and the city's premiere park--Ridge Ferry Park. That study recommended development of Jackson Hill as a passive recreation park connected to Ridge Ferry Park via trails and boardwalks through wetlands and floodplain forest along Burwell Creek. The study concluded by recommending development of the property into a "Central Park" stretching from the Oostanaula River to Jackson Hill.
But in 2005, local developers, Ledbetter Properties, approached the Rome City Commission with a plan to develop Burwell Creek's wetlands and associated floodplain into a regional shopping center--a plan that would divide "Central Park." Shortly there after, the Commission entered into an agreement with the development company allowing them to explore the property and create a development plan.
Aside from holding four acres of wetlands, nearly 50 acres of floodplain and almost a half mile of Burwell Creek, the land also is home to an abandoned city landfill. Development of the site will require the capping of the landfill.
Despite the fact that this property was publicly-owned and development involved significant impacts to wetlands, in 2008 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) approved the development proposal without a public notice or public comment period.
Since that time, the Corps has extended the permit through March 2012 (again without public notice) and the Rome City Commission has twice voted to extend its agreement allowing Ledbetter Properties to pursue development of the property.
In 2012, CRBI successfully petitioned the Corps, arguing that the initial permit was issued improperly because there was no public comment period. Furthermore, since that time the developer had significantly altered site plans and abandoned a plan to relocate and restore Burwell Creek--a portion of the project that was instrumental in the Corps approving the project. In Spring 2012, the Corps suspended the permit and the developer voluntarily withdrew its permit.
What's Wrong with this Plan?
Wetlands and floodplains play critical roles in keeping our water clean. They help control floods, collect sediment, prevent erosion, sustain stream flows during droughts and provide wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. That's why federal and state laws are in place to protect them.
But, in this case, those laws are being manipulated.
PERMIT ISSUED WITHOUT PUBLIC NOTICE
When development projects involve impacts to wetlands, developers must obtain permits from the Corps. Generally, the permitting involves a lengthy process that includes a public notice and 30-day public comment period, especially if the project has significant impacts to wetlands. Generally, the Corps considers any project impacting more than 0.5 acre of wetlands or more than 300 linear feet of stream as having significant impacts.
This project impacts four acres of wetlands and 2,705 linear feet of stream, yet inexplicably the Corps issued what is called a Nationwide Permit No. 38 (NWP)--a permit for a hazardous waste clean up that does not require a public notice or comment period. When the Corp issued the permit in June 2008, no one in Rome, including city staff or elected officials, had the opportunity to review the permit application which contains critical information that would enable interested parties to evaluate the merits of the project.
ABANDONED CITY LANDFILL AND HAZARDOUS WASTE
The Corps determined issuing a NWP was appropriate for the project since it involved the capping of an abandoned city landfill presumably containing hazardous waste.
However, a careful evaluation of tests conducted on material in the landfill shows limited contamination. In fact, the site is not included on Georgia's Hazardous Site Inventory List and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after reviewing all the data available on the contents of the landfill, labeled the site "no further remedial action planned." Some 1,695 analyses for various hazardous waste have been conducted at the site. Of those, only 16 turned up hazardous material at levels that would trigger a hazardous waste clean up.
In the permit application, Ledbetter Properties petitioned the Corps heavily for permission to relocate Burwell Creek to prevent "further potential contamination" due to the creek's proximity to the landfill. However, in the application the company provided no evidence that Burwell Creek is contaminated, nor any evidence to prove that potential for contamination existed. In fact, despite having spent more than $1 million on the project, the developer has never tested for hazardous waste in the creek.
Since securing the permit based on the presumed benefits of relocating the creek, Ledbetter Properties has now altered the site design so that the creek will not be relocated.
During the past year, CRBI has collected five composite sediment samples from the creek and had them analyzed for mercury, arsenic and lead--contaminants associated with the landfill and groundwater beneath the landfill. The tests show no elevated levels of these contaminants.
After reviewing all the available data on tests conducted in and around the landfill, CRBI has concluded that because of the limited contamination present on the site, the benefits of this project do not outweigh the negative impacts of destroying on-site wetlands and filling nearly 50 acres of floodplain.
Of the 60 acres in the development site, nearly 50 acres lie within the 100-year floodplain. Rome City ordinances prohibit the kind of massive fills of floodplains that this project will require, yet the City Commission continues to support the project. When the Oostanaula River rises, its floodwaters push into the Burwell Creek wetlands. In 2009, the development site flooded on 15 occasions. In December 2009, the site was under water for 25 days. During these floods, some portions of the site were covered beneath more than nine feet of water. The chart below shows the times during the last 10 years in which the property has flooded.
The photos below show the same location at the city's "Burwell Creek
Property" during dry weather and after a 4-inch rainfall in December 2008
that flooded much of the proposed building site. To view additional photos of the site during January 2009 flooding, click here.
Important Links for More Information