Lake pollution results in lawsuit against Riverchase church

Published 4:42 pm Thursday, October 25, 2012

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

RIVERCHASE — A Shelby County couple is suing Riverchase United Methodist Church after environmental violations that happened while the church was building an addition resulted in the couple’s lake being polluted.

Randy and Mary Harper live adjacent to the church, and the couple claims their 4-acre lake, Carl Raines Lake, has been continually polluted by runoff from the church’s construction project since late October 2010. Construction is ongoing on the project.

Construction on the church addition began the first week of October 2010. A few weeks later, after a “significant rainfall,” sediment began rapidly washing from the construction site and into Carl Raines Lake, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that runoff from the construction site continues to flow into the lake, and “to date, RUMC has removed no sediment or debris from the Harpers’ lake,” even after the church agreed to clean up the damage.

The lawsuit also claims while a detention/retention pond has been constructed, it is not large enough to control the flow of rainwater from the construction site, which is a violation of Alabama Department of Environmental Management regulations.

Church Senior Pastor Jim Savage said church officials want to clean up the lake, but were told by Southeastern Pond Management, a pond management company, not to do so until the construction project was complete in case more problems occurred. Construction is almost finished, he said.

He said Southeastern Pond Management gave church officials information on the “perfect scenario” for the lake, including the types of fish that would be available in the lake, and the church planned to follow that scenario.

“We were willing to do everything that Southeastern Pond suggested to make it the best pond possible,” Savage said.

Church officials had several thousand small feeder fish placed into the lake and installed an automatic fish feeder before ADEM halted the process, asking to review the plan. ADEM has not approved or rejected the plan at this point, Savage said.

“Even if ADEM approves our plan of action, (the Harpers’) lawyer would have to agree to it, and their lawyer would have to approve that plan of action and the final settlement,” Savage said.

The Harpers are claiming the runoff has polluted the lake and forced major lifestyle changes.

“Prior to the damage inflicted by the RUMC project, the plaintiffs spent many evenings outside looking at the lake, enjoying their surroundings,” the lawsuit states. “They no longer find it enjoyable to look at the ugly, mud-filled lake.”

Also, the Harpers cannot catch and eat fish from Carl Raines Lake, swim in the lake, boat the lake or feel comfortable inviting friends over to enjoy the lake, according to the lawsuit.

Earlier this month, Savage said the church will pay ADEM $12,000 in civil penalties for the environmental violations.