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How to take a filthy creek and make an Emerald Corridor

Project developers await federal approval

In northwest Atlanta, from the Chattahoochee River to Maddox Park, runs Proctor Creek, a long-polluted waterway that plenty of people think is worth investing money into.

Eco groups have studied retention ponds to handle flooding. The city wants to transform Joseph Boone Boulevard into a green street that helps water seep back into the soil. And plans for parks at Bellwood Quarry and the Atlanta Waterworks are showing signs of life.

The most ambitious and uncertain proposal is a total restoration of about 11 miles of the waterway and its tributaries with a walking trail alongside, led by Emerald Corridor, LLC, a group of Atlanta developers. The plan would also create more than 400 acres of new parks. Once complete, it could become a public-works project not unlike the Atlanta Beltline, only along water and without a streetcar. The city, developers, and a nonprofit are finalizing an agreement that could help the project move forward.

The plan is to "really put back a stream the way God intended it to be," said Joel Bowman, a landscape architect and EC manager. The company and its principals are in the middle of a network of related organizations that want to restore the creek, change the neighborhood, and turn a profit.

Restoring streams can be a profitable venture. Every time someone builds something big, like, say, a stadium or a grocery store, they must pay to have a stream restored somewhere to offset the environmental damage they cause. It's called "mitigation banking," and EC depends on the Army Corps of Engineers granting them a permit to do it. Notification could come within the next few weeks.

Bowman declines to estimate a dollar figure on the project because it's so early in the process. A Securities and Exchange Commission filing suggests developers are soliciting up to $70.6 million dollars; investors carrying less than $1 million need not apply. The return depends on the price of mitigation credits once the work is done. Bowman said it's not going to be a big money-maker, but it has attracted "socially conscious capitalists." EC execs have also set up the Emerald Corridor Foundation to help adjacent neighborhoods.

There's an additional silver lining for some property owners and longtime investors if the project succeeds: property values will rise. According to property records, several LLCs are big landowners in the area. That's including the Ayn Rand-inspired "JohnGalt Holdings," managed by one of EC's organizers.

The seven-mile creekside trail would be built by the Trust for Public Land and would cost "north of $10 million," says Debra Edelson of TPL.

The city is in favor of private money helping to pay for creek cleanup, trails, and other amenities, said Denise Quarles, the city's sustainability director, though it is not wedded to any particular proposal. If EC gets the Corps' OK, the Atlanta City Council must give permission to use the roughly 30 percent of the needed land that's owned by the city. Eventually EC would give the whole corridor to the city. Bowman said that he hopes all the parties will have some "framework and structure" on how this project will work within the next four months so they can start construction planning and another round of permitting.



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