Foreclosures leave erosion problems

21 11 2008

By Debbie Gilbert |  The Times, Gainesville

The foreclosure crisis has been devastating to the U.S. economy, and now it appears the environment is suffering as well.

Bert Langley, manager of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Mountain District in Cartersville, said he’s seen numerous cases where a developer or builder abandoned a property, leaving no one to monitor erosion control at the site.

“It’s a situation we’ve never dealt with before,” he said. “We have cases where massive amounts of sediment are going into streams.”

Normally, once the EPD becomes aware of a problem, an inspector visits the site and notes any violations. A consent order is then issued, requiring the responsible party — usually the developer — to correct the problem and sometimes pay a fine.

But now, it’s difficult to figure out who’s in charge. “From a regulatory standpoint, it’s a very confusing set of circumstances,” said Langley. “The former owner is often in bankruptcy and the chance of recovering any money is very slim.”

If the property is already foreclosed on, the bank assumes responsibility.

“But the bank may have no record of what’s been done on the site,” said Langley. “And the EPD in general will not be looking for a bank to pay a fine for something they didn’t do. Our main interest is getting the site into compliance.”

Environmental attorney Jimmy Kirkland said the situation is creating yet another headache for banks.

“It’s an issue that all lenders are facing now, having to take back properties that are partially constructed,” he said. “Banks aren’t accustomed to dealing with environmental permits. They need legal advice, but they also need assistance from consultants on developing plans for stormwater and erosion and sedimentation control.”

Kirkland was hired by BB&T to help the bank handle this issue. “The banks now own lots of properties that I’m sure they wish they didn’t,” he said.

Environmental problems occur when a developer clears and grades a property, but then abandons it before most of the construction is done.

Read on here.

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