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In Georgia, Water Pollution Has Devalued Lakeside Properties By $1.8M

Taylor Dobbs
Enid Letourneau's children learned to swim in St. Albans Bay, but after years of blue-green algae blooms she doesn't allow her grandson into the water. Thirty seven properties on her road have been devalued by $50,000 due to pollution, officials say.

Enid Letourneau has had a house on Ferrand Road since the 1970s.

Ferrand is a small, private road tucked between a corn field and St. Albans Bay, and most of the residences are summer camps; all of them are built right on the bay.

In those earlier years, Letoureau says Ferrand and the areas all around St. Albans Bay were a great summer community.

Her family spent lots of time on the bay, and she says her kids made friends with the neighbors.

"They used to go down there, they'd have sing-a-longs at night," she says. "There was music playing, one lady played a piano and the kids would go down there for sing-a-longs. It was great."

Her children are fully grown, but on the summer days when she watches her grandson, there are no sing-a-longs. The camp that hosted those is abandoned, as are three other houses on the road.

In the 1990s, Letourneau bought the camp next door to rent it out, but for the last two years no one has rented. This year, some of her friends from Florida rented it, but Letourneau said she had to lower the price so much that it won't even cover the property taxes.

Some neighbors down the road have stopped putting their dock in the bay and sold their boat.

The community of summer camps centered around St. Albans Bay is nothing like it used to be, Letourneau says. She's not sure if it will ever rebound.

"It's got to be cleaned up. We can't waste any more time talking about it. It may be already too far. I don't know." - Enid Letourneau, St. Albans Bay resident

"It's got to be cleaned up," she says. "We can't waste any more time talking about it. It may be already too far. I don't know."

Runoff from farms, paved roads, sewage plants and other sources has loaded the bay with phosphorus, which has caused blooms of blue-green algae for years in the bay where Letourneau watched her children learn how to swim.

So when Letourneau got a letter from the town, in some ways, it told her what she already knew.

"The letter basically told me that the evaluation of the property was down $50,000," she said.

The same is true for her rental camp next door. The assessment for 37 properties on Ferrand Road went down $50,000 because of the problems in the bay, according to town officials, shrinking Georgia's grand list by $1.8 million.

Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR
At least one property owner along Ferrand Road in Georgia is trying to sell; other properties have been abandoned.

Georgia is the first town to lower values because of water quality since St. Albans Town did so during a routine reassessment in 2008. Assessors and others are waiting to see if assessments for other properties on St. Albans Bay or Mississquoi Bay, which has had similar problems, will also have their assessments lowered.

Bill Hinman, the town lister, says the decision came after consulting with appraisers from across Chittenden and Franklin Counties and checking home sale data from the area.

"I got different numbers from different people," he says, "but overall consensus was, in general, approximately 25 percent difference between a property that's not seeing a water pollution problem and those that are."

"Overall consensus was, in general, approximately 25 percent difference between a property that's not seeing a water pollution problem and those that are." - Bill Hinman, Georgia town lister

Hinman said the reductions in the assessed values aren't any sort of political statement; his job is to make sure the listed property values match the market, and the market for property along the troubled bay is down.

Letourneau said she doesn't plan to sell, so the lower tax bill is a welcome change.

For the neighbor down the road with a realtor's "For Sale" sign posted at the roadside, Letourneau says she's not sure the lower assessment will come into play.

"That has been for sale now for I believe two years," she says. "I don't know if they'll ever sell it."

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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