Neighbors in Forsyth County became concerned when crews began work to tear down a dam near Lake Lanier, a move they believe could contaminate the lake.

Forsyth developer dismisses fears of project contaminating Lake Lanier

Concerns about new construction sending chemical contamination from an old golf course into Lake Lanier have reached high tide in Forsyth County.

“Every single extra moment it takes,” Laura Semanson said Thursday, “is time that destruction could be occurring.”

Semanson is the Forsyth County commissioner whose district includes the former site of the Lanier Golf Course, a long-controversial property where a developer has now begun work that will clear the site for more than 300 homes.

The commissioner wants that work to stop because, like other advocates and neighbors in the area off Buford Dam Road, she’s worried about how it could affect Lake Lanier — the primary source of drinking water for most of metro Atlanta.

The developer, Danny Bennett, says the concerns are for naught, the allegations bunk.

“Commissioner Semanson doesn’t tell the truth,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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At issue are a pair of irrigation ponds and an earthen dam leftover from the golf course days. The dam is what creates the ponds, which some believe are likely to contain chemicals and heavy metals from fertilizers once used at the golf course. And it’s just about the only thing separating them from the lake.

The dam has not yet been removed.

People like Semanson and Joanna Cloud, the executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, want more testing done on the soil in and around the ponds, which also collect runoff from the surrounding area.

Cloud, whose organization advocates for a “clean, full and safe” Lake Lanier, said that, decades ago, golf courses were known to use a variety of chemicals that are either prohibited or greatly restricted today. Arsenic is one of the biggest concerns.

“We’re not opposed to the development itself,” Cloud said. “We just think that the water should probably be tested.”

One of the former irrigation ponds on the former site of Lanier Golf Course, on which developer Danny Bennett is hoping to build more than 300 homes. SPECIAL PHOTO / JULIE ALLEN
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A recent letter sent to Forsyth from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division offered technical assistance but called the county the “primary entity responsible for regulating” the project. Semanson said the county is not staffed to complete the level of testing that is desired.

Bennett, meanwhile, said he does “all the testing that’s required by law” and monitors “what every other site in the state of Georgia monitors.” He said environmental studies have been performed.

Bennett also said he was directed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Lake Lanier, to remove the decades-old dam because it was in an area designated for them to use for flood control. Semanson and Julie Allen, an outspoken resident of the townhomes overlooking the development site, refute that claim and others made by Bennett.

But a spokesman for the corps confirmed Bennett’s account to the AJC.

“[Bennett] is responsible for removing the dam as it is encroaching in our flowage easement,” E. Patrick Robbins wrote in an email. But, Robbins said, “he needs to be in compliance with state, local, and federal law to do that.”

It may be the latter that folks like Semanson and Allen are questioning. No special testing conditions were required when the golf course property underwent its initial rezoning under a different developer, the duo contended, because the original proposal called for keeping the ponds and dam intact.

Semanson alleged that Bennett has never submitted an updated site plan or a new engineering plan.

“I have presented my case to staff as well as to our legal counsel as to why I think we have the legal standing to put a stop work order on it,” Semanson said.

As of Thursday afternoon, such an order had not been issued.

“If I was out there doing something wrong,” Bennett said, “don’t you think they would give me a stop work order?”

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