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Land owners in dispute over flooded property
EPD investigating after men claim neighbor's road repair backed up waters of Mill Creek
Land owners in dispute over flooded property
Benji Ellis, right, and son Branson, 3, inspect some of their family's land that's been affected by a neighbor's damming project. An old carriage/turpentine road that winds through the woods is now inundated with water. Two weeks ago, Ellis said he would have been standing a foot deep in water in an area that is not natural wetlands.

The Environmental Protection Division is investigating claims that a private road repair project caused the waters of Mill Creek to back up, flooding the property of at least two other land owners.

When Steve Taylor decided to repair a road on his newly purchased property near Ray Howell Lane, the efforts caused Mill Creek waters to back up on other property.

This caused concern from Grayson Ellis and Edgar Deal, both of whom own land adjacent to Taylor's.

EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers confirmed Wednesday that EPD agents Beth Stevenson and Alice Vick visited the site and said the investigation is ongoing. He could not divulge details due to the open case, but Ellis, Taylor and Deal all spoke to the Statesboro Herald about the matter.

Taylor said he repaired an old road across the creek that had "blown out." However, the new road does not have culverts to allow creek water to flow through, like the previous road did, Deal said.

He and Ellis both said water is still backed up on their properties. Taylor said the water level is decreasing, but that decrease is delayed due to Sunday's significantly heavy rainfall.

Deal's brother, Hugh Deal, said he walked his brother's property around 8 a.m. Wednesday, and the land was still flooded.

"It is high on up the line going towards Highway 25," he said. "In fact, Mill Creek isn't within its banks anywhere from the dam (Taylor's private road) back up to Highway 25 above Hopeulikit."

Although it isn't a county issue, Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson, county manager Tom Couch and code enforcement officer Ricky Helton are familiar with the case. Helton has inspected the road that allegedly has dammed the creek.

"You cannot divert water onto someone else's property," Thompson said.

Taylor denies there is a problem and disputes the Deals' claims that he intentionally formed a duck pond for his hunting use. 

"That pond has been there 80 years. It is a wet-weather pond," he said.

While he said he repaired the road to EPD standards and will report to them Monday, Taylor said the previous road didn't have culverts. But Ellis and Edgar Deal say it did.

"They replaced the dam with no pipes," Ellis said. "It backed water up into my field."

Deal said he remembers the old road well. Both he and Ellis own property that has been in their families for generations.

"There were two sewer pipes there before," he said. "Now we can't get to (parts of) our property. The water backed up into the swamp can damage pines." 

He said an island that has always been in the wetlands is now submerged.

Ellis has pine trees on the flooded part of his property, too. 

"Timber can't stand that water. It will kill it," he said.

Taylor said he doesn't want trouble with his neighbors and that he repaired the road because it is the only access to his property except for across Deal's land. Deal has asked him to stay off his property, Taylor said.

"The road has been fixed and the water will be down like it is supposed to be," he said. 

He had to make some adjustments as required by the EPD, and a "low-water runaround" was improved to allow creek waters to drain, he said.

Taylor said he met with EPD agents Tuesday and plans to report his actions to them Monday.

"I have to let the water come down gradually" so it does not erode the land, he said. "I could put a culvert in and it wouldn't do any different." 

He said the water level has come down several feet, but Ellis and Deal disagree.

Each said the water may have come down some, but not enough, and they still have areas of their properties they cannot access. Surveyors even had to use boats to determine property lines when Taylor had them survey the land, Ellis said.

"It's not right," he said. "We have been living here all our lives, and we don't like the changes. It would have been fine if he had put in pipes. We have been here 150 years. He has only been here (owned his property) 90 days."

Taylor said he feels the issue is resolved, but Deal and Ellis do not.

The EPD is "trying to help resolve this issue," Chambers said. While the Army Corps of Engineers has been advised of the conflict, the case has not yet been turned over to them, he said. 

"We are still investigating," Chambers said.

Hugh Deal said he waded in water that was "up to knee deep" in areas on Edgar Deal's land Wednesday morning — land that is not supposed to be underwater. The water level may be lower near Taylor's property, but it isn't further upstream, he said.

He provided the Statesboro Herald photos that he said show "water up on the large pines and other trees (that) were taken about 200 yards or so above the dam upstream. I am willing to testify in a court of law that water is still backing up on both parties' land about 200 or 300 yards upstream from (Taylor's) dam."

Taylor said he is following EPD direction regarding the issue and expects the floodwaters to recede.

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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