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Standing water at school causes alarm
6 Gold Creek EPD pic
Construction on an underground drainage pipe for water run-off was completed this week to replace the former ditch that ran through the property. - photo by David Renner Dawson Community News

What could have been a much worse problem for Robinson Elementary is working its way to a resolution.

According to Dawson County Superintendent Keith Porter, an issue with the property line adjacent to Gold Creek Foods, Inc. arose in mid-July.

"Stacy Gilleland, our facilities director, and I had been talking to Robinson Elementary about putting up a privacy fence down the line. When we went out there to look at the property line, we noticed water standing in a ditch that had a slight odor to it as well as whitish-gray color," Porter said. "When we saw that, it concerned us, because it was coming from run-off from Gold Creek Inc."

Porter said the board immediately contacted the City of Dawsonville regarding the run-off. The city then started the process of having the soil tested.

"I had our inspector go out and inspect the area. He recommended certain things they needed to do to keep the water from going on school property," said Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan. "At the same time, we had samples taken and sent to an independent lab. It came back indicating that further steps should be taken."

Laboratory reports to the city from Analytical Services Inc., an environmental monitoring and laboratory analysis service, in regards to the tested storm water that both standing water sites tested positive for several minerals as well as E. coli, naturally occurring bacteria found usually in the stomachs or feces of living organisms.

"The Gold Creek Foods facility is a secondary processing plant, and there is no source of fecal coliform bacteria at the facility," said Dan Centofanti, founder of Mill Creek Environmental Services Inc., the company hired by Gold Creek Foods to handle all of its testing and compliance measures.

"It is our conclusion that the fecal coliform detected is from natural sources, and the drips of water from the trucks added nutrients to standing water in the ditch behind Gold Creek Foods causing the natural fecal coliform to multiply and then be washed downstream during flood events."

The Environmental Protection Department was then contacted by the city and began working with Gold Creek Foods to resolve the issues.

"A lot of this standing water was due to the heavy rains we have been having lately," said Mark Sosebee, president of Gold Creek Foods. "We have been working with the EPD to get this under control. Since then, we have put in underground piping to control the standing water. They have also asked us to expand the truck drainage system, as well as putting in drainage pads to capture any ice and drainage from the trucks."

Centofanti believes the cause of the incident has been taken care of for the immediate future with the piping laid.

"Fecal coliform bacteria does not live very long in dry conditions, so we do not expect any more concerns at Robinson Elementary now that the pipe is installed in the ditch and the soil will remain dry," he said.

Porter said the food plant has been keeping in touch with the board regarding its plans and readings regarding the property.

"Everyone that we have contacted has been very responsive. All the government entities have done what we have asked them to do," he said. "Our main goal in all of this is to make sure it is safe for anyone to enter that area without any fear of any contamination. Also, we want to ensure that the soil is tested over a period of time to make sure that the situation doesn't come back."

Porter said that the board has since spoken with the EPD about making sure something like this does not occur again.

"We've talked to the EPD and asked that they let us know when it is suitable for children to return to that area," Porter said. "We did make a request that the property be tested regularly for three years and bi-annually for years four through seven."

Until Gold Creek Foods' fixes are put into place, Sosebee said the company has redirected the bulk of its shipping and receiving to its Gainesville plant.

"We've also scaled our truck receiving down to a minimal amount and backed off production. We've moved most of that to Gainesville until the finalized work on the pads can be done. That should take care of the problem," he said.