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Clayton County examines drained lake

By Ed Brock

The attorney for a man who drained a lake, upsetting neighbors, is scheduled to appear before the county commission Tuesday.

The attorney, Matt Mashburn, is on the agenda to speak to the commissioners at Tuesday morning's regular meeting which starts at 9 a.m. at the County Commission Board Room in the County Administration Office at 112 Smith Street in Jonesboro.

Meanwhile, Clayton County employees were on the scene early Wednesday morning to examine the impact that the draining of Lake Tara may have had on county property.

Several residents of the neighborhood that surrounds the lake appeared at a Clayton County Board of Commissioners meeting last Tuesday night to complain about the draining of the lake. Along with arguments that the man who claims ownership of the lake, Michael Adamson of Suwanee, had no right to drain the lake, some of the residents complained about the way it was done.

"My concern is why was the damage allowed to take place," said Carol Gaddy who lives on Lake View Drive. "Who did this? Who had permission to dig that trench?"

Gaddy also insisted that trench, dug through the dam that contains the lake near Tara Road, seemed to have gone onto the county's right-of-way.

The workers found that the work did come close to the right-of- way, within a few feet, said Wayne Patterson, director of the county's Transportation and Development Department.

"However, the break has not actually gone on to the county right of way," Patterson said.

And the survey did determine that the lake itself is not on county property, Patterson said.

Residents like Deborah Ybarra say the lake was drained between late June and the week before the Fourth of July weekend. The receding water left behind a mud flat littered with baseball bats and barrels of oil, Martha Kemp said at the meeting.

The trench in the dam was dug near an emergency spillway that the county did repair a few years back because, during some heavy rains, the lake had overflowed the dam and was washing the earth out from beneath Tara Road, Patterson said.

Patterson said the spillway was able to handle the amount of water coming from the breach, but cutting the trench was not what Patterson would have done. Though admitting he is not an expert on the subject, he thinks it would have been better to siphon the water out rather than cut the trench because the flow of the water could have opened the trench wider than expected and caused a problem.

The level of water in the lake is now lower than the roadbed so Patterson said he doesn't expect a future threat to Tara Road or the neighborhoods on the other side of the road from the lake.

The county required Adamson to put in some more sediment erosion control around the breach. Erosion screens were installed by Friday.

And Patterson shared some of the concerns voiced by residents that the trench is a safety hazard.

The banks of the trench are almost completely vertical and there are trees on the edge of the trench with their roots exposed.

"In my opinion he needs to cut some of those trees down and lay those banks back a little," Patterson said.

If children play on the property and are injured it's possible that Adamson could be held liable, Patterson said. And the county workers noticed a great deal of trash in the trench.

"It's obvious people are going up in there daily," Patterson said.

That was a complaint Frank Reagin made at Tuesday's meeting. Reagin said he's seen 20 to 30 people in the lake area at a time.

"They throw everything they bring with them on the ground," Reagin said.

During the meeting Commission Chairman Crandle Bray told Ybarra and the other residents that, while the county would do all it could to help them, the draining of the lake was a private dispute between landowners.

Ybarra has been doing research on the ownership of the lake and contends that it was deeded to the now defunct City of Lake Tara in the early 1950s. The lake should still be public property, Ybarra said, and the residents and she plan to meet with an attorney in preparation for filing an injunction in the case.

Adamson did not return phone calls seeking comment on the case. His attorney Mashburn said they would have no official comment until they see a lawsuit.