Developer sues regents over waste

Source:, September 20, 2011
By: Lee Shearer

An Oconee County land development company has sued the state Board of Regents, claiming a University of Georgia construction waste landfill spilled over onto its property.

According to Phoenix Development and Land Investment LLC of Watkinsville, UGA contract workers accidentally buried construction waste on the company’s land, as well as allowed hazardous or toxic waste to seep across the property line.

The company has knowledge that those toxic or hazardous materials have leached from the UGA landfill onto the company’s property, near the UGA club sports fields across South Milledge Avenue from the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, according to papers filed for Phoenix in Athens-Clarke County Superior Court by the law firm of State Sen. Bill Cowsert, a member of the state’s Higher Education Committee.

The lawsuit — which Cowsert filed on behalf of Phoenix’s registered agent, Conway Broun, brother of U.S. Rep. Paul Broun — claims the university’s mistake has prevented the company from developing the South Milledge Avenue property it acquired in 2008. UGA officials have admitted that university workers unknowingly went over the property line, burying construction waste on about 2.4 acres of neighboring land.

But lawyers for the regents say the university never buried toxic or hazardous waste there and deny that the land, compacted and graded after the construction waste was buried, is unsuitable for development.

The university system lawyers have asked Superior Court Judge David Sweat to dismiss the case, saying Phoenix can’t sue because it didn’t meet a legal deadline for notifying the state of a potential lawsuit. State lawyers also say UGA is protected by sovereign immunity, a legal principle that says the state or its agencies can’t be sued unless the state gives consent.

Sweat has set an Oct. 17 hearing for lawyers on each side to argue whether the lawsuit should be dismissed or not.

According to the complaint filed by Phoenix, UGA began disposing of waste in the landfill in 2000 and continued for several years, but failed to follow state rules for such landfills.

And sometime during the next several years, workers actually dug into about 2.4 acres of a 45-acre tract Phoenix owns, removing about 92,000 cubic yards of soil to bury waste.

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