News 12 at 11 / Friday, January 31, 2104
COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW) -- A little bit of dirt could come with a great big price-tag, $3.7 million to be exact.
That's the cost of a lawsuit filed by Jones Creek Golf Club and the Savannah Riverkeeper against Columbia County. The lawsuit started with 13 defendants. Now, all but two have settled, but the fight's not over yet.
It's a legal battle that started in 2011, one that's a little like David versus Goliath.
"In 2011 we teamed up with Jones Creek Golf Course and filed a clean water act suit and a trespass suit," explained Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatiubus.
Fast forward two years and all the defendants have settled except two.
"All the defendants except for CSX and Columbia County have settled," she said.
So what caused the lawsuit in the first place? Dirt, and a lot of it. It's been pouring into Willow Lake, the sole water source of irrigation for the golf course. Jones Creek says the lake is supposed to be six to eight feet deep. Today it reaches about two feet deep.
"The much bigger issue, especially this year, is rain. There's houses that go all around it. Well, when you fill a pond in that much, there's water still coming and it's still going to go somewhere," said Bonitatibus.
When it rains, a fairway looks more like a lake and houses become in danger of flooding. The lawsuit alleges it's because construction sites upstream aren't stopping sediment from flowing downstream, filling up the lake.
"Now, creek beds that were only 2-3 feet deep are 7-8 feet deep. That's the reason some of our droughts are as bad as they are," she said.
Most recently, a judge ruled on expert testimony in the case.
"At the end of the year, we went in front of the judge and the defendants were asking that a lot of the experts we provided were thrown out. I'm happy to say that they were unsuccessful," said Bonitatibus.
Bonitatibus says only one expert was removed from the list and says that's just one more step in the right direction.
"This isn't just a little bit of dirt. This isn't just tree huggers trying to say we've got to save the birds and the fishes. This is a very strategic economic decision for Columbia County, and if we're going to continue this county's growth in an appropriate way, a sustainable way, then this is a problem that has to be fixed," she said.
News 12 reached out to officials in Columbia County, but they said they couldn't comment on pending litigation.