This story was updated Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019, at 10 p.m. with more information.
Construction of the biggest development project in East Ridge history was halted this week after the Red Wolves' team owner began construction without a permit.
Bob Martino, who also owns Utah-based building company Star Community Builder, received a notice of violation by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation on Monday. The Hamilton County Water Quality division requested onsite workers cease operations until an investigation into the matter is completed, according to county spokesman Michael Dunne. The county department began its investigation after learning of the TDEC violation.
Developers obliged and all activity at the site has been temporarily suspended, according to a spokesperson representing the developers. Star Community Builders President Jeff Sikes did not answer a list of questions submitted to the company but issued the following statement:
"We did receive a notice from TDEC and Hamilton County regarding our development, and we are in discussion with both government entities. We believe that all parties will come to a quick resolution, and we will quickly proceed as planned."
A TDEC Division of Water Resources inspector examined the site last week after receiving a tip from an organization dedicated to protecting the area's waterways. The investigator found "that greater than one acre of soil had been disturbed" without a proper permit for stormwater discharge from construction activities.
Supporting photos show site clearing had already begun and crews were constructing a haul road without proper coverage, according to the notice of violation.
"Failure to comply with the requirements of this Notice of Violation may result in additional enforcement actions," it reads.
The purpose of the permit is to ensure stormwater discharges during construction are protective of water quality, according to an agency spokesperson.
The developers face enforcement actions if they do not meet the requirements of the notice of violation, according to department spokeswoman Kim Schofinski. However, the agency "cannot speculate on potential actions," she wrote in an email.
East Ridge community members were already concerned about the project's environmental impact. The 100-acre site is in a low-lying, wooded area. Citizens raised questions about flooding and the impact to the wetland during an East Ridge City Council meeting in June, during which local officials approved a zoning change for the stadium project.
Mayor Brian Williams did not respond to a request for comment by press time Tuesday.
The South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance has been vocal in its hopes that the development is either moved or done in a way that doesn't impact the wetlands. Its members are concerned about the potential flooding that will be caused when the wetlands are removed. An alliance member noticed the illegal work being done on the site and notified organization chairwoman Sandy Kurtz. She notified TDEC, which sent out an inspector and issued a notice of violation.
"We're interested to see if the designers can come up with a design that doesn't hurt the wetlands and does control the floodwaters. We're waiting for that," Kurtz said. "By golly, they ought to do it right while they're getting the designs together. They should at least get the applications and follow them. We'll be monitoring all along."
The group is also concerned about the endangered species on the site such as the Florida hedge-hyssop, lanceleaf wakerobin and others. There are also birds and other species that live in the 18 wetlands, two streams and other features in the surrounding area.
The notice mentioned the club's owner applied for coverage but had not received it prior to starting development. Martino has until Aug. 23 to submit an updated permit application reflecting the current site conditions.
The team hosted a ribbon cutting event where Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and more than a dozen state and local government leaders tossed a ceremonial first shovel of dirt to usher in construction of the 5,500-seat facility. Martino plans for the stadium to attract up to $125 million of entertainment, housing and hotel projects on the roughly 100 acres he has under contract to buy along Interstate 75 and Interstate 24. The low-lying area would be converted to apartments, hotels, restaurants and commercial spaces.