Homeowners in Dunwoody’s Mill Glen subdivision feel stonewalled by what they view as the city’s lack of accountability for a stormwater issue that has been unfolding for years – an issue the city says it bears no responsibility for. 

According to Mill Glen residents, the issue involves sediment build up in a privately-owned pond in the neighborhood. Homeowners say the city’s attempts to fix stormwater infrastructure and erosion problems in the area have instead led to an excess amount of sediment reaching the pond, causing an island of sediment to build up towards the pond’s north end. 

Joan and Owen Dwoskin, who have lived in the area for 18 years and whose backyard contains part of the pond, said the issue ramped up in 2010 when the city replaced a stormwater pipe that leads to the pond. 

“The pipe that had been there under Dunwoody Club Drive, for we don’t know how long … was crumbling,” Joan Dwoskin said. “It literally was falling into the creek.” 

After the city replaced the pipe, the streambank immediately downstream of the pipe began experiencing erosion, said the neighbors. The Dunwoody City Council approved a roughly $123,000 restoration project for this issue at an April 13, 2020 meeting. 

In May of 2020, Joan Dwoskin emailed the city about the restoration project, taking place just upstream from her home and the pond. In her email, Dwoskin worried the project would have a detrimental effect on the pond.  

“I understand the City is planning to begin work soon on restoring this stream, and I have concerns that the project is too limited in scope and could have unintended consequences for the pond into which the stream drains,” she wrote. “As the work on the stream begins, it is critical that sediment that will be produced by the work is removed from the site, and not allowed to flow downstream, adding to sediment at the mouth of the pond that is choking the life out of it.”

Stormwater Utility Manager Carl Thomas responded to Joan Dwoskin’s 2020 email saying that the design engineer for the project had developed an “erosion and sedimentation control plan,” including silt fences, mulch, and temporary seeding. But neighbors say the plan has done little to help.

“We’ve been saying, hey look, you’re hurting our pond,” Owen Dwoskin said. “The rocks that you’re putting up are flowing downstream still, the mud is still coming, our pond still has sediment in it from when you started this project. When are you going to come help us?” 

In an email from August of 2021 to the city, Joan Dwoskin said when she complained throughout the 2020 construction period, she was referred to the city attorney. The city eventually referred the issue to its insurance company. 

“I am reaching out to you with a plea for the City to simply do the right thing with respect to this failed stormwater management system and attempted restoration project,” Joan Dwoskin wrote in her August 2021 email. “The City has enjoyed for decades (and continues to enjoy today) the use of portions of our private property with its stormwater management facilities but refuses to accept responsibility for the impacts of this system on our private property rights, the health of the ecosystem, and our property values.”

City spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said the city’s insurance company found that the city bears no fault for the sediment build up in the pond. 

“Our stormwater project improved the quality of the water going into the pond,” Boettcher said in an email. “Our insurance company reviewed the claim and found the City is not at fault. We have been in communication with the neighbors throughout this process.”

Homeowners say that communication has been limited. In November of 2021, Dwoskin received an email from Amy Cowan, an attorney working on behalf of the city’s insurance company. The email stated that the city held no liability for the neighbor’s claims. 

“The City is not agreeable to participating in the proposed dredging of Mill Glen Pond, and we have not been authorized to negotiate further with respect to this matter,” Cowan said in the email, provided by Dwoskin. “As I have indicated previously, the City maintains that it is not responsible for any alleged damage to Mill Glen Pond.”

In a Jan. 26, 2022 email to Dwoskin, City Manager Eric Linton once again stated that the city was not liable for the sediment build up, and referenced an engineering report which he stated found that the city did not increase the “natural accumulation of sediment” in the pond.

A city-conducted sediment study concedes that construction inevitably contributed to sedimentation in the pond and that multiple construction phase perimeter controls were insufficient during the 2020 project. It also states that the estimated sedimentation from construction projects in the area would have been about one ton, which it says would have been less than 1% of the total sediment contributions from other sources. The report also states that while the sediment “may have recently (last several years) become an ‘island’ the deposit has been accruing for approximately two decades.”

The report suggests that the homeowners in the area are responsible for dredging the pond. Dwoskin said she does not dispute the claim that the residents surrounding the pond have not dredged it in the past, but thinks it is indisputable that the city’s actions led to more issues. Other neighbors feel the same. 

Neighbor Amy Wang said she worries about the environmental impact. 

“Every single year, we would have a new family of baby ducks, and now we don’t have any,” Wang said. “We haven’t had any in the past, probably two years.” 

Jessica Wilson said she worries that the worsening of the pond will impact her and other neighbors’ property values in the long run.

“[The city] has done all this work to help everybody else,” Wilson said. “That doesn’t fix the main problem. So now that middle area … it’s now going to become this large mud hole and then all seven houses on that, it’s going to drastically affect our property value. And it’s going to look bad on Dunwoody.”

Neighbor Wayne Keil, who moved to Dunwoody in May of 2021, said part of the reason he moved to a smaller town rather than a big city was to have a better relationship with local leaders. He said he thinks the best solution would be one the neighbors and the city decide upon together.

“You expect this kind of stonewalling if you live in Atlanta proper, or you live in Miami, or you live in a huge city,” Keil said. “Dunwoody’s not a huge city. This is the exact type of problem that is supposed to be able to be solved by incorporating a place like Dunwoody.” 

Neighbors said they don’t want to sue, but they worry it might be their only option. 

“I think we would consider doing it,” Joan Dwoskin said. “We don’t have any other options. But it’s expensive, and it just doesn’t feel like how a local government should be communicating with its residents.” 

Writer and Journalist Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.