Walker County residents will have to pay thousands in environmen - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Walker County residents will have to pay thousands in environmental fines

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WALKER COUNTY, GA (WRCB) - Walker County has some large fines coming from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The total could cost taxpayers more than $100,000.

The fines stem from a trail project the county started in 2012. The state says the county did not seek the proper permits to extend the Durham Trail, which runs along Rock Creek, and it missed the deadline to correct construction mistakes.

The state issued a September deadline for Walker County to fix the Durham Trail project. That deadline passed and the work did not wrap up until mid-February. Every day past the deadline meant a daily fine of $1,000.

"'Cha-ching.' A thousand dollars every day," says Jill Wyse.

As freely as Rock Creek flows, so have the daily fines for Walker County government. Jill Wyse contacted the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in 2012 when the creek along her property went from crystal clear to a muddy mess.

"I looked in the creek and it was so muddy it was like chocolate milk," says Wyse. "This creek has been here a really really long time and it should not be abused. And it especially shouldn't be abused by Walker County."

"Walker County made an error in judgement," says Bert Langley, compliance director for EPD.

He says had the county applied for the proper permits to extend Durham Trail, the $1,000 a day fine could have been avoided.     

"If they had come in and applied prior to the construction we would not be in the situation we are in now," says Langley.

While working to extend the walking trail, county workers broke state law by covering rock creek with mounds and mounds of dirt. The county faced a $65,000 fine after initial repairs of installing a culvert did not meet state guidelines. But EPD gave the county a break, telling it to spend the $65,000 on repairs, instead of paying a flat fine. It set a September 2014 deadline to finish the work and install a bridge but that did not happen.

"It's an example of government waste," says Ales Campbell.

Campbell is a lifelong Walker County resident. She and her husband run a private land surveying company. She says the county should have to abide by the same rules individuals do.     

"They chose not to do that in the time frame that was given to them by the EPD and because of that we're incurring fines again," says Campbell.

EPD is still adding up the total fine amount and has to take into account days work could not be done because of the weather.

Both county attorney Don Oliver and Commissioner Bebe Heiskell did not want to make an official comment about the fines, only to say they are confident EPD will be fair in the review process. 
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