State inspectors say Jackson County hasn’t been enforcing state and local laws designed to prevent erosion and sedimentation problems at R-5000 dirt-dumping sites.
Additionally, Permitting and Code Enforcement didn’t go deeply enough into haulers’ pre-dumping plans to ensure state guidelines were met, according to a March 3 memorandum by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. A local watchdog group triggered what DENR, in its document, termed an “informal” inspection on Feb. 9.
“Four projects were evaluated during the local program review,” DENR’s report says. “Three plans were reviewed and all three had inadequacies.” Two of the sites potentially required notices of violation, according to the report.
County Permitting and Code Enforcement Director Tony Elders said large fill sites such as these should be permitted and monitored by state, not county, officials, because local government does not typically supervise sites involving public dollars.
“It was (DENR’s) opinion that the sites should have been permitted through the DOT as well, however, at this stage we should continue to supervise the fill sites to completion,” Elders wrote in a Monday (April 20) email.
DOT says that the county knew DOT wouldn’t oversee the waste sites. DOT’s Roadside Environmental Unit determined Jackson County was responsible because the county issued the 15 waste site permits that are associated with R-5000, DOT Division Construction Engineer Brian Burch said.
R-5000 will tie N.C. 116 to N.C. 107 through Southwestern Community College. The connector road, as envisioned, is supposed to make SCC safer by providing a second exit off the campus. But, at a taxpayer cost of $24.9 million for seven-tenths of a mile, there have been questions about whether the road is needed by either SCC or motorists. DOT projects a traffic count of 6,700 vehicles per day by 2035.
Despite his feelings that responsibility more rightly falls on the DOT, Elders said his department is acting on DENR’s recent recommendations, as outlined by Regional Engineer Laura Herbert in the March memorandum. She says the county needs to:
• Issue a Notice of Violation at the Locust Creek waste site, and for any fill slopes steeper than 2:1, making sure a licensed geotechnical engineer has reviewed the site and issued the necessary slope stability certification. Elders said a notice has been issued and the owners, John Brooks and Winston Reed, are working toward compliance. He said DENR officials advised the county to maintain the notice until adequate ground cover is established.
• Make sure the county’s inspection report for Tinsel Town Inc. (owner is Wayne Smith) waste site off U.S. 23/441 in Savannah identifies items of concern, including inadequate ground cover and inadequate slope stabilization -- and require corrective action and issue a Notification of Violation if necessary. A notice has not been issued, Elders said, because there have been corrective measures to mitigate the site. He said the county is monitoring the waste area.
• Require a geotechnical slope stability certification for slopes steeper than 2:1 before issuing permits for more structures (storage sheds) closer to a steep slope at the Inez McDowell c/o Wayne Smith project off Old Cullowhee Road. No new building permit has been applied for, according to Elders.
Building R-5000 requires the contractor move up to 628,000 cubic yards of soil, with about 95,000 cubic yards of it shuffled about on-site and the remainder trucked away. There were other, non-county related erosion problems early on. Since spring 2013, when construction began, sediment made its way three times into the Tuckaseigee River. In January, Burch pinpointed heavy rains, not design flaws or contractor sloppiness, for allowing the sediment to escape.
Reports of mud in the river from R-5000 construction led to citizen watchdog efforts, and ultimately, DENR’s review of county monitoring efforts. Builder Ken Brown of Tuckasegee Community Alliance partnered with Roger Clapp of The Watershed Association of the Tuckaseigee River, and the men formed a team of volunteers (in the end, mainly Brown, Clapp and one other county resident) to monitor area streams. They sampled for turbidity and reported the problems they found to DENR. Brown, however, believes the agency was aware there were potential issues even before the men acted.
Brown doesn’t buy the argument Jackson County is being wrongly targeted on R-5000: “The county has a responsibility because it permitted the sites. It must monitor,” he said.