Contractor pays $800K settlement

COVINGTON -- Malcom Grading Company Inc. and its president, Christopher Malcom of Newton County, have agreed to pay $800,000 to settle claims made by local residents alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Georgia law.

The award represents one of the highest settlements in Georgia history against a grading contractor for causing erosion, according to environmental lawyer Michael P. Carvalho of Atlanta, the attorney for the plaintiffs.

"For too long irresponsible developers and builders have acted without regard for the property rights of others as they seek to profit from their misdeeds. This case shows that no one is above the law," Carvalho said in a prepared statement.

Malcom Grading was hired by H. Roberts Family LLC to conduct grading activities at Glen Echo subdivision off Ga. Highway 81. After development began, lots were sold to Ross Mundy Custom Homes.

Downstream property owners John and Celine Draper and Rodney and Mamie Martin allege that the development of the subdivision caused silt and sediment-laden stormwater to be discharged into streams and onto their properties. They filed a civil lawsuit in 2006 alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act. On March 30, 2009, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled that the Malcom and Roberts defendants were in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Based on court documents from that time, on more than 30 separate occasions, Newton County, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the Georgia Soil, Water and Conservation Commission found violations and failure to maintain best management practices for erosion and sedimentation control on the Glen Echo property. Those included failure to install or maintain silt fences, install ground cover, keep mud and sediment out of storm drains and stabilize soil.

Carvalho said the settlement, reached on March 3, is a recognition by Malcom Grading that "this is not a case to take to trial." Civil penalties for violating the Clean Water Act can reach up to $37,500 per day per violation, he said, noting that "this has been going on for years."

The agreement is subject to review by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The property owners previously settled with Ross Mundy Custom Homes Inc. and Ross Mundy for $150,000 after the builder filed for bankruptcy.

They will proceed to trial with H. Roberts Family LLC on June 1 in federal court.

"The Draper and Martin families look forward to having their day in court," the families stated via an e-mail from their attorney.

Christopher Malcom's wife said they will not comment at this time.