Sandra Tucker, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Supervisor, and Pete Pattavina, FWS Biologist, say they have not received re-evaluation reports from GDOT concerning the results of a 2010 study that showed sulfide-bearing rock, with the potential to produce acid runoff, could be present within the cut in Dobbins Mountain.
"A little over a year ago, we raised the potential of acid drainage at the cut in Dobbins Mountain with Fish and Wildlife Service," said attorney Henry Parkman, who represents the Rollins family, owners of the Dobbins Mountain property. "GDOT's preferred route is called Route D-VE, and it's proposed to go directly through the Cartersville Ranch property and directly through the Dobbins Mountain, which consists really of two ridges just west of I-75.
"What GDOT is planning to do with this route is cut through Dobbins Mountain from west to east to tie into I-75, and aside from other issues, such as disturbing hardwood forests and habitats for migratory birds, we raised an issue that cutting through all that rock had the potential to cause acid drainage to flow into these little streams that originate at Dobbins Mountain. And one reason that Fish and Wildlife is involved is that they have jurisdiction to protect species that are listed on the endangered species list."
Pattavina and Tucker said they are concerned of the effects of potential acid runoff into Cherokee darter streams -- a fish native to the Etowah River Basin.
"The funds cannot be released from the Federal Highway Administration until [GDOT] and [FHWA] determine the potential for acid runoff and the effects of acid runoff," Pattavina said.
He explained test borings are geological investigations to determine whether there could be pyritic rock in the mountain, which he said produces low pH water when it is exposed to air and water. Parkman said pyritic rock is extremely toxic and that GDOT has completed studies on the pH level of nearby soil, but has not completed the necessary studies on the mountain.
"When we were notified by the Rollins family there was potential for acid producing rock, we had asked [GDOT] to produce a detailed plan that would not only discuss the potential for acid runoff, but also what those effects would be to the Cherokee darters," Pattavina said. "What [GDOT] has completed to date has been test borings that don't quite go down to the full depth of the Dobbins Mountain cut."
He said he feels the repercussions of the runoff cannot yet be determined without re-evaluations by GDOT.
"The difficulty is we've never encountered a situation where we've had acid runoff and what the effects would be to the Cherokee darters. Just receiving raw geological tests isn't exactly what we were looking for," Pattavina said. "What we want is a plan in place. We certainly want a risk assessment to whether or not there could be acid runoff from the site and two, if there is acid runoff, how they would counteract that acid runoff not only to protect the streams at the darters, but the streams in the area."
He said other environmental issues with the project include determining whether the Euharlee easement and mine on Dobbins Mountain are eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act.
"From our perspective, we've had a flag raise that there's additional information needed that affect critters we have to look after," Tucker said. "We're in a waiting mode for that [information]."
Both Tucker and Pattavina said the cost has been high to address damage in other road projects across the U.S. that involved sulfide-bearing rock.
"It's important for [GDOT] and federal highway to know what they're getting into," Tucker said. "There may or may not be a problem, but if it is a problem our experience tells us it's going to be an expensive problem."
Jeff Lewis, the 11th Congressional District representative on the GDOT board, said the department hopes to move forward with the project once the necessary studies are completed. He said he will be meeting with FHWA Tuesday to discuss specifics of the studies.
"GDOT is aware of further studies and is working with the Federal Highway Administration to look at those alternatives, and once they do some type of supplemental environmental impact statement study and a few other things federal highway is requiring, assuming that goes smoothly, we might be up to the batting plate at that time," Lewis said.