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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

Navigating zoning disputes not always an easy task for developers

We have previous written on this blog about the zoning and land-use challenges real estate and business developers can face in moving forward with a project. In some cases, these legal challenges are rooted in environmental issues, with neighbors opposing development in favor of environmental preservation.

A good example of this kind of situation is a dispute over the development of coastal property in North Naples. A Detroit-based developer who was approved under a 2008 settlement to build five high-rise towers along the Cocahatchee River and establish a golf course later changed plans and decided that it wanted to construct 62 single-family homes in place of the golf course, which would apparently not have been profitable. In order to approve the change in plans, zoning rules would have to have been changed. 

Work with experienced attorney when exposed to toxic substances on the job

Exposure to hazardous chemicals can have serious effects. Benzene exposure is a relatively common form of chemical exposure which one hears about in the news from time to time, and often involves workers who claim to have been exposed to the toxic substance in the course of their work.

Benzene is used to manufacture a variety of products and to make other chemicals used in manufacturing various products, so it is a common substance for workers to be exposed to in some settings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzene, which may be absorbed through the skin or through inhalation, can have serious long-term consequences on one’s health, including decreasing one’s red blood cell count, leading to anemia, uncontrolled bleeding and depression of the immune system. Women who are exposed to benzene over a long period of time can notice irregular menstrual periods. Long-term exposure can also lead to cancer. 

What is the Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act?

In our previous post, we spoke about the legal issues surrounding an ongoing Department of Transportation project in Augusta and Columbia County. As we noted, some have filed lawsuits under the Clean Water Act in connection with the problems, and it is possible that there may be litigation under the Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act.

The purpose of the Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act, passed in 1975, was to create a comprehensive program to control soil erosion and to protect vulnerable environmental resources disturbed by excavation, dredging and other activities that disturb the integrity of land. The law works in concert with the Clean Water Act and other state programs aimed an erosion and sedimentation control. Local governments are able to adopt standards for erosion and sedimentation control and thus become “local issuing authorities,” though the law is overseen by other agencies as well. The primary agency responsible for enforcing the law is the Department of Natural Resources. 

DOT construction project causing problems with stormwater runoff and pollution

Construction can have a significant environmental impact on residents living near project sites. An ongoing Georgia Department of Transportation project on Old Evans and Petersburg roads from Augusta to Columbia County is a good example of this. The aim of the project is to build a four-lane highway that will include bike lanes, sidewalks and a bridge to help make traffic flow more efficient.

The problem, say residents, is that the project is resulting in sediment pollution due to stormwater flooding that isn't properly draining away. As a result, some local residents are dealing with sediment pollution and raising concerns about potential stream and soil contamination, as well as pest infestation. Residents have also filed complaints regarding large stormwater drain holes which have not been filled as well as problems with clay clogging up plumbing lines and fixtures. 

Pursuing a Superfund citizen suit

In a previous post, we commented that private citizens have the ability to play a role in making cleanup of contaminated sites possible through the EPA’s Superfund program. Here we want to talk a bit about what we meant.

First of all, private citizens can help in alerting authorities to site contamination. This is important, because it is often private parties who first become aware of site contamination rather than the EPA or some other authority. By being informed about the Superfund program and reporting suspected contamination, private citizens can have an active role in EPA enforcement. 

Negotiating Superfund cleanup agreements: work with an attorney

We’ve been speaking in recent posts about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, which has the goal of identifying and cleaning up sites contaminated with toxic waste, and then holding responsible parties responsible for that cleanup. In our last post, we spoke briefly about how the EPA generally approaches Superfund cleanup liability.

It is important to point out for readers that the EPA, in handling the issue of liability for toxic waste contamination, always aims to reach a settlement agreement with potentially liable parties rather than to issue an order for payment. For this reason, negotiation is usually part of the process of resolving these cases. Taking an active role in Superfund negotiation is important not only because there may be special circumstances which impact a party’s liability for site cleanup, but also because it can help a party to reach a form of settlement which takes their interests into account. 

Liability for cleanup of Superfund sites, P.2

In previous posts, we’ve been discussing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Program, and how liability is assigned to parties for the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous waste. As we noted, there are various parties that may be potentially responsible for funding a site cleanup effort. Not all parties will face the same liability, though.

Parties which are faced with potential liability for Superfund cleanup efforts should not necessarily assume that they will automatically be on the hook for the entire cost of the cleanup. Some potentially responsible parties have unique circumstances impacting their liability for Superfund cleanup costs. For example, some potentially responsible parties are simply unable to pay for the cleanup, in which case the EPA tries to make special payment arrangements or to reduce the settlement amount. 

Liability for cleanup of Superfund sites

In our last post, we mentioned that there has been opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal cleanup of a contaminated site in Brunswick, Georgia. As we noted, the area has already been designated as a Superfund site, meaning that it will be subjected to cleanup by the EPA.

Superfund cleanup efforts, for those not familiar with them, are not ultimately the public’s financial responsibility. Rather, the parties responsible for the contamination are held responsible. According to the EPA, Superfund liability is both strict as well as joint and several. This means that a potentially responsible party may be held responsible for the entire cost of the cleanup when the harm caused by each party cannot be distinguished. 

Brunswick EPA cleanup proposal is too little, too late

A total of 801 acres in Brunswick, Georgia is currently the subject of an environmental dispute involving the question of how ambitious the government should be in cleaning up contaminated grounds. While the site involves extensive contamination involving a number of chemicals, there is a particular concern about dangerous levels of PCBs, lead, mercury, and so-called polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons.

On the positive side, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to clean up the grounds, which is currently designated as a Superfund site. The cleanup proposal, however, has sparked criticism from both environmental activists and local residents for its lack of ambition. While the EPA’s current proposal is to clean up only about 24 acres on the site, one environmental group is saying that at least 81 acres needs to be addressed. 

How does the EPA enforce the Clean Water Act, and how can I help?

Having already looked briefly at the topic of enforcement of the Clean Water Act in our last post, we would like to briefly discuss the issue of how private citizens and organizations may become involved in enforcement of the law.

Private citizens and organizations are able to take legal action for violations of the Clean Water Act standards governing the discharge of liquid waste or sewage or to hold the EPA Administrator accountable for failing to enforce such standards or a specific order. We have previously spoken briefly about the issue of standing in connection with citizen suits, but here we want to mention the issue of notice. 

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