After nearly a decade of repairs being ordered by the state for the Lake Forrest Dam, Sandy Springs approved a contract for the repair design at an Oct. 1 meeting. The design could restore the lake, but the process could take as long as two-and-a-half years and involve a 12-month closure of Lake Forrest Drive.

Because of the current condition of the now-drained private lake, two Lake Forrest Drive homeowners are suing the city of Sandy Springs, among other dam owners, for negligence in dealing with the lake and the dam.

A dock in one of the Lake Forrest Drive homeowner’s backyards, which used to have water surrounding it before the lake was drained in 2016 by the city of Sandy Springs. (Hannah Greco)

On a recent visit to a homeowner’s back yard on Lake Forrest Drive, the Reporter saw an unmaintained landscape of trees sprouting from the ground. The backyard once had a lake dating to the 1950s, as well as a dock with a rowboat, which now rests on a hill overtaken with shrubbery.

“When the owners purchased the property, it was lakefront property,” the identical lawsuits said. “As a result of the city’s decision to drain the lake though, the property is no longer lakefront. Instead, as the water level drops, a mud pit is emerging in place of the lake.”

The lake was drained by Sandy Springs in 2016 in response to the state’s decade-long “high-hazard” classification of the Lake Forrest Dam. The dam runs directly beneath the 4600 block of Lake Forrest Drive and rests on the border of Atlanta and Sandy Springs.

Anthony and Mitra Smith and Sara and Spencer Lambeth, property owners on Lake Forrest, have sued the five owners over the condition of the dam and lake for the last four years, claiming negligence and improper management.

The two identical lawsuits were filed in May in Fulton County Superior Court and claim the other owners have failed to ensure proper maintenance of both the dam and the lake. They also claim property values have diminished significantly due to the lake being partially drained for dam control.

“These lawsuits have been filed…after almost four years of waiting for substantive action on the dam without seeing any progress,” Martin Shelton, the plaintiffs’ attorney said.

The Safe Dams Program, the state agency that monitors dams, ordered repairs of the Lake Forrest Dam nearly 10 years ago. It is on the state’s list of “high-hazard” dams, meaning that if it failed in a worst-case scenario, the flood would likely kill people downstream.

Dam ownership is determined by the Safe Dams Program. The five ownership entities at Lake Forrest, according to the state, are the city of Atlanta; the city of Sandy Springs; the Three Lakes Corporation, a homeowners’ association; and two independent owners, Gilbert Aleman and William Harrison.

The plaintiffs are a part of Three Lakes but do not believe the corporation has been representing their best interests, Shelton said.

According to Sandy Springs City Attorney Dan Lee, the city plans to file a motion to have the lawsuits dismissed.

The city of Atlanta and Todd Rinck, president of Three Lakes, declined to comment.

At the Oct. 1 meeting, a design contract for the repairs of the dam was awarded to Schnabel Engineering for $756,800.

A boat lays on the ground in what used to be the pond behind Lake Forrest Dam. (Hannah Greco)

The new design would create a spillway — a passage for surplus water — under the road and could potentially refill the lake. The design could also close Lake Forrest Drive for 12 months during construction.

According to city staff, the design process will take about eight months; an Environmental Protection Division review and permitting will take about four months; a land acquisition process will take about four months; and construction will take about 15 months.

The project’s design and construction is estimated to cost $4.8 million. That does not include the right of way and temporary construction easements needed from nearby residents, which have yet to be determined, city staff said.

The cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs have agreed to split the cost of the project because the dam rests on the cities’ border and Atlanta has agreed to the proposed design. But it is still unclear what amount the other three entities that own the dam will contribute to the repair.

The plaintiffs would agree on the current plan should it move forward, Shelton said, but would seek monetary damages for the temporary absence of the lake.

“They seek restoration of the lake as it was before and are seeking monetary damages for the absences of the lake temporarily or permanently,” Shelton said

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.