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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chattanooga Red Wolves SC owner Bob Martino speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Chattanooga Red Wolves SC stadium on Tuesday, July 9, 2019 in East Ridge, Tenn.

A Hamilton County investigation into improper practices at the site of the largest development project in East Ridge history concluded Tuesday morning, resulting in a permit to resume construction after the company overseeing the project appealed the initial decision.

The Hamilton County Water Quality division began investigating the owners of the Red Wolves development site earlier this month. The company, Star Community Builders, had received a notice of violation from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for beginning construction without a permit.

The county's notice came with a stop work order and $285 civil penalty.

The engineering company in charge of the project, ASA Engineering, challenged the ruling, stating it did not disturb as much soil as claimed and was using a dirt access road that has existed for 26 years. The company was accused of disturbing more than 1 acre of soil and constructing a haul road.

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Letter from TDEC to Red Wolves owner

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There are no additional repercussions at this time. Developers may begin work whenever they choose, according to county spokesman Mike Dunne.

"We are glad to see that this misunderstanding was quickly resolved and the project is moving forward without impacting any overall development deadlines," Jeff Sikes, of ASA, said on behalf of the developers.

The developers, including team owner Bob Martino, did not have any additional comment at this time, according to Albert Waterhouse, the owner of the public relations firm representing the developers.

Water Quality Program compliance inspector Buddy Smith issued a land disturbance permit Tuesday morning for the 100-acre site west of Interstate 75 at Exit 1.

Martino plans for the stadium to attract up to $125 million of entertainment, housing and hotel projects. The low-lying area would be converted to apartments, hotels, restaurants and commercial spaces. It will be anchored by a 5,500-seat stadium for the Chattanooga Red Wolves, a professional soccer team owned by Martino.

TDEC issued a general permit for stormwater discharges associated with construction activity on Monday.

"In this phase of the project, there are no wetlands or stream impacts proposed, so no additional permit coverage from TDEC is required at this time," department spokeswoman Kim Schofinski wrote in an email. "The developers have complied with the requirements of the notice of violation, so no additional enforcement actions have been issued."

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In this Friday, April 26, 2019, staff file photo, North Mack Smith Road is shown where it dead-ends with a wooded area in East Ridge, Tenn. The road is one proposed access point for the Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer complex.

However, TDEC included a letter to property owners warning of environmental stipulations they must consider. There are threatened and endangered species in the area of the project. The department will deny coverage if construction discharge impacts those species or doesn't follow guidelines of the general permit.

TDEC also "considers the potential for degradation to the receiving stream from the discharge to be significant," so developers must meet additional prevention requirements.

East Ridge community members have been concerned about the project's environmental impact since the onset. The site is in a low-lying, wooded area now integral for flooding prevention and ecosystem health, according to South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance members.

Those members have vocalized their concerns to Tennessee and county leaders, hoping the development is done in such a way that it doesn't impact the wetlands.

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 the notice of violation earlier this month.

Contact Mark Pace with questions, comments, concerns or story tips at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.

This article was updated Aug. 28 to clarify the civil penalty came from Hamilton County.

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