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Attorney urges county to disclaim lake

By Ed Brock

The attorney for the man who claims ownership of Lake Tara, which was recently drained, is urging the Clayton County Commission to officially disclaim ownership of the lake.

In late June or early July Michael Adamson of Suwanee began draining the lake that is at the center of what was once the City of Lake Tara just north of Jonesboro, stirring up a controversy among the people who live around the lake. Adamson, who said in an e-mail to one resident that his grandfather built the lake and that he took over possession because the City of Lake Tara was dissolved, also claims the county urged him to fix the dam that contains the lake.

Fixing the dam would be tremendously expensive so currently Adamson is leaving the lake drained. Residents like Deborah Ybarra dispute Adamson's claim to the lake and his right to drain it, saying their property has now been devalued.

During a Tuesday commission work session Adamson's attorney Matt Mashburn told the commission that, though it has made no current claims to Lake Tara, they should file a "quit claim" to make that position official.

"The purpose of a quit claim would be to protect the county from liability in the future if the dam should be rebuilt," Mashburn said.

Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said he wondered if the quit claim was really necessary, since in fact the county has made no claim to owning the lake. And Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer asked Mashburn why he, an attorney in Atlanta, is so concerned with Clayton County.

"I've never heard of anybody from Cobb or Fulton county coming down and trying to protect Clayton County," Rhodenizer said.

Mashburn said he considered it his moral duty to share information he thinks can prevent another person or entity from being harmed. For the same reason, his client had to take the step of draining the lake.

After the meeting Mashburn said that he had struggled with state officials with the Georgia Safe Dams Program in an attempt to maintain the lake, but the state officials were concerned that the dam, which has been overrun before, could be a danger to a neighborhood across Tara Road from the dam.

"When the question is between beauty and safety ? I think the side you have to go down on is the side of safety," Mashburn said.

And the dam is unlikely to be saved, Mashburn said.

"Trees are the death of a dam, and that dam is overgrown with trees," Mashburn said.

Mashburn also addressed an issue brought up by Ybarra concerning the deeding of the lake to the City of Lake Tara and the status of the dissolution of the city.

While in 1951 a deed giving the lake to the city was filed naming C.M. Mendenhall as the owner of the lake, Mashburn said Mendenhall, a friend of the Adamson family, only had title to some lots surrounding the lake. Therefore the following year a similar deed was filed, this one in the name of E.L. Adamson.

While a clause in that deed states that no descendant of Adamson can reclaim the land, Mashburn said that no longer applies.

"The ultimate purpose of that deed, to develop the area (for the City of Lake Tara,) failed because there is no more City of Lake Tara," Mashburn said.

As for Ybarra's contention that the status of the city's dissolution was never confirmed, Mashburn showed the commissioners a 1954 letter from attorney Lee Hutcheson that states that the residents of the City of Lake Tara voted to dissolve the city.

In that letter Hutcheson is writing to a Ben Fortson, Jr. regarding a letter Fortson had addressed to the mayor of the City of Lake Tara.

The letter proves that the city was dissolved, Mashburn said, and that supports a previous argument by Mashburn that the property then reverts to the original owner.

Ybarra said after the work session that the homeowners around the lake held a meeting over the weekend and have been consulting with an attorney.

"We have quite a few homeowners with their ears perked up," Ybarra said.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday work crews from Southern Land Resources, hired by Adamson, were working to level off the sides of the dam cut. The county had recommended the work be done because the steep sides of the original cut, which had left several trees perched precariously on top of a deep ravine, posed a possible danger to children and others who might come on the property.

"I'm trying to make it as safe as I can," said Southern Land Resources supervisor Alan Smith. "I have kids myself."