Clear-cutting causes a stirLocal rules satisfied; state fine possible
MAGGIE VALLEY — Land-clearing activity in both a trout buffer area and critical watershed is causing a stir in Maggie Valley.
Most of the trees on a narrow strip of land along Campbell Creek Road just before it crosses Johnson Branch were clear-cut several weeks ago, leaving nothing but large stumps in their swath.
Neighbors are heartsick that a once-scenic riverfront area in their midst appears as if it was struck by a tornado. They are hoping those responsible will be held accountable for the visual wreckage, but regulators say the issues have been resolved.
Clear-cutting trees along Campbell Creek technically violated the county’s erosion control ordinance because work was done without first securing the required permits. The action also violated a state law that requires a minimum 25-foot undisturbed buffer zone on trout waters. Certain activity can be allowed in the zone if it is minimal and temporary, but work was too extensive in this case to be approved locally, said Marc Pruett, the county's erosion control officer.
Developer Jimmy Fisher, who lives in Atlanta, is the point of contact for the property owner, the Grace C Fisher Family Limited Partnership, said Nathan Clark, Maggie Valley planning director. Fisher went through the town’s planning department to secure a flood development permit and create a minor subdivision on the riverfront property for two lots which are about one-half acre each. Maggie business owner Colin Edwards handled the land-clearing work for Fisher.
Because the property is in a highly restrictive watershed area, the setback from the river had to be 30-feet, Clark said, and before anything can be built on the two parcels, another review is required.
Since the plats are in a critical watershed area — just several hundred feet from Maggie Valley's water supply intake — County Planner Kris Boyd also reviewed the plats. He said the timber-clearing work complied with the county ordinance wording that requires only a vegetative buffer, not the stricter "undisturbed buffer" as is required under the state trout water law.
Pruett said Fisher contacted him as soon as he learned of the problems and was issued land-disturbing permits after the fact. This is not unusual, Pruett said, noting the county emphasis is on education and keeping sediment out of the streams. State erosion officials denied a permit for the tree-clearing activity in the trout buffer zone.
Instead, Gray Houser, state sediment specialist, required a corrective action plan — one that was ultimately outlined by the county’s soil and water conservation district personnel. The plan included replanting 140 seedling trees and seeding some grass in the area where dozens of fully matured trees had been cut down.
“There could have been a civil penalty of up to $5,000 a day until the violation was corrected,” Houser said, “but they were cooperative in restoring the area, so no fine was issued.”
Neighbors expressed the most dismay about the large, jagged stumps in full view, but Pruett said removing them would result in dirt getting into the stream, so he advised leaving the stumps in place.
Because no grading was done, the work had no impact Campbell Creek, Pruett added.
Regulators agree the land-clearing activity on the lots was, or now is, in compliance with regulations dealing with erosion, trout buffers and watershed regulations.
While the developers could have been dealt with more harshly, Pruett cited the state push to encourage business development as part of the reason leniency.
“We have to inject some level of reason in these times of customer-friendly regulations,” he said, adding that Fisher's good-faith effort to do what is possible to address the concerns will help.
One N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory's key issues is to create a business-friendly climate in the state, a stance that is being bolstered by dozens of bills in the General Assembly to reduce regulations, particularly those relating to development and environmental permitting.
Fisher is working with long-time associate and Prudential 1st Choice owner Ben Glover to market the property.
Glover said the problems on the property originated from a “bad misunderstanding” between Fisher and the party he hired to work on the lot.
Glover stressed he had no involvement in the development part of the project, and is only working to sell the parcels.
”There was no intent by either party to do anything wrong, but what happened happened, and who’s to blame is not up to me to say,” Glover said. “The trees are gone, and I know my sales client moved quickly the moment he realized a mistake was made.”
Glover said he has had numerous conversations with upset neighbors, who call him because his number is on the sign on the property. As it stands now, there is enough space on the parcel to build two homes with a footprint no larger than 1,100 square feet, he said. While it will be possible to build on the property, the plans and construction will be very restricted.
”I’m hoping a year and a half from today, there will be two small cabins that are nicely landscaped there and that’s the end. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t make a penny,” he said.