The Big Canoe Property Owners Association has been issued a notice of violation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for an unpermitted surface mining operation in western Dawson County.
"Basically, they were caught surface mining without a permit. It looks like they were clearing the land and selling some of the soil," said Kelly Adams, surface mining unit manager with EPD. "Once they start removing it off site, it's considered a surface mining operation."
The property owners association was also cited for unpermitted solid waste disposal activity at the Hubbard Road site, according to a certified letter dated March 17.
General manager Roger Klask said the association was surprised to receive the letter.
"We have used that [land] as a source of fill dirt for years," he said. "We have also used it as a place to store and burn tree limbs and such with permits."
The association has until April 1 to respond to the letter and advise EPD of its plan.
"We have no intention of being a bad citizen," Klask said. "I would hope by the end of the week that we're able to meet with them [EPD] to get some clarity about the letter."
Surface mining operations have been regulated by EPD since 1968 and require a permit prior to starting any soil removal or land disturbance on lots larger than 1.1 acres.
"Once we were notified of the mining violation, we visited the site and confirmed that it was indeed the operation, so we wrote a notice of violation for mining without a permit," Adams said.
"We also noticed they were taking waste products from other property and bringing it to their site and burning some of that waste."
No fines have been assessed at this time, though noncompliance could result at a later date.
"What we're more interested in is if they want to continue their surface mining operation, they've got to file an application with us within 45 days. Or if they don't want to do a surface mining operation, they have to reclaim the land within 180 days," Adams said.
He added that his office learned about the potential violations from Dawson County code enforcement. The local office has in the past received complaints about smoke from debris being burned on the lot.
Adams said the impact on people from the operation is minimal.
"I know there were some discussions about environmental concerns," he said. "The biggest concern would be the smoke from the fire, but even that [is] more of a nuisance than an environmental issue from a public health standpoint."
The surface mining unit's primary function is protecting natural resources and preventing "the sediment from reaching public waters."
"A big part of our program is to make sure they have soil and erosion control measures in place and that they properly reclaim the land after they are finished mining it," Adams said.