VALDOSTA -- City Council postponed a decision on making drainage improvements to Chadwyck Place subdivision on Thursday pending advice from City Attorney George Talley on potential litigation over who should shoulder the costs of the improvements.

Council met in closed session for 20 minutes, but took no action.

The motion to close the meeting was challenged by The Valdosta Daily Times on the grounds that the rationale for the motion failed to meet the criteria established by the Georgia Open Meetings Act. Council voted unanimously to close the meeting "to discuss pending or potential litigation."

Council has previously discussed potential litigation in open session as recently as Oct. 10, when Talley advised Council that litigation might be necessary to resolve a dispute with Georgia Power over who would pay for utility relocations necessitated by city traffic improvements.

Council has yet to decide if and who to sue in order to recover the estimated $350,000 required to mitigate a drainage design problem that causes substantial flooding in portions of the 156-lot subdivision during periods of heavy rainfall.

Talley said Council would ultimately decide whether to sue the developer of the subdivision, Jerry Stoker, or the engineering firm that designed the development, ASA Engineering.

The problems in Chadwyck Place stem from the fact that a retention pond design woefully underestimated the amount of stormwater runoff. More than 117 acres of adjacent land sends water into Chadwyck Place during storms, but the subdivision's retention system was only designed to handle runoff from 11 acres.

The plans were approved by the city officials in 1996, but the city was without a designated city engineer. According to a memorandum from City Manager Larry Hanson, ASA asked to be removed as the engineer of record prior to the start of construction, but Stoker used the development plans anyway.

Hanson said that while the city approved the plans it potentially does not resolve either party of liability.

"It would be impossible and impractical for the city to recalculate and redesign every set of plans submitted. ... I do not believe the city's acceptance of these plans relieves the other parties of responsibility," he wrote.

City Engineer Von Shipman's proposal was for the city to build an interceptor ditch and berm along the northwest corner of the subdivision to catch the water flowing in from outside the development. That water would be diverted toward Inner Perimeter Road where it could be moved downstream without affecting any of the nearby subdivisions. A set of different options allow the city to choose whether to use an open ditch, a high-capacity pipe or a grassed waterway.

Shipman suggested the city contribute $100,000 toward the project to pay for other needed drainage improvements in the area that are not connected to the Chadwyck Place situation.

While Council could have approved one of Shipman's mitigation plans, Hanson said the body worried that approving the project before liability was established risked compromising the city's legal position. A non-litigative solution is still possible and preferable, he said.

"I think there was some concern legally that the city initiating action might confer fault on the part of the city and the decision makers felt strongly that that wasn't the case," he said. "What I sense from them is that they at least want to see legal proceedings initiated before they made a decision. The first thing to do is to allow the party responsible to have a chance to have the problem corrected."

Hanson estimated an mitigation solution could be back before the Council in January.

Council also discussed whether the city itself could be a party to the lawsuit, or whether affected residents of Chadwyck Place would also need to be involved in any court proceedings in order to give them legitimacy.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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