Swain County commissioners recently decided it’s time to review the county’s erosion and sediment control ordinance and designated a new committee to the task. The move, however, does little for the landowners still awaiting a resolution over damage to their respective property on Earls Cove Road this summer caused by erosion upstream.
Jim Nations and Mark Davis spoke before the board in August about the damages and with concerns that the ordinance wasn’t being adequately enforced. They also said in October, it’s gotten to a point they are ready to take civil legal action against the owner of Bartlett Glen Cove, Chester Bartlett. Any legal action would name the county commissioners as well, they said.
Both landowners spent several hours on cleanup after a culvert was clogged up and the runoff then took a damaging path down the driveway. While Davis noted the pipe did get stopped up twice before, the heavier damage wasn’t until this year on the night of July 31.
“There was a storm on a Friday night, and we spent the next two days cleaning up. After that, there was another one Aug. 3 on Monday morning, and we did the same thing again: digging the culverts out, fixing the driveway,” Davis said. “We finally got it all repaired and showed it to Mr. Bartlett.”
While the development has been on the top of the mountain for over 10 years, Davis and Nations pointed out that grading and development only began on their side of the ridge this year. With a lack of adequate erosion control measures, they said the land clearing is directly tied to damages downstream.
Bartlett visited Earls Road and made note of the damages, but the landowners were seeking for him to take responsibility and share in the expense of the repairs.
“Jim handed him a bill for what it cost us for the repairs,” Davis explained. “It was a fair bill for the hours we had in it: track hoe time, materials pipe gravel and grading time.”
Nations received a letter back from Bartlett that claimed no responsibility and said pointed responsibility to other adjoining property owners. With no counteroffer from Bartlett, Davis and Nations brought their concerns before the commissioners.
“In our opinion, he is responsible, and the county is complicit because they didn’t enforce the ordinance,” Davis said, adding, “Yes, we will take legal action.”
“Mark and I have said all along we want two things. The problem at its origin to be fixed that’s soil and water conservation the way it should be done on the mountain,” Nations said. “The second thing we want is for Charles Bartlett to pay the expenses we put in just to bring our property back to functional level.”
In raising their concerns to the county, Davis said they also requested that the development upstream be put on hold until it is in compliance.
Swain County Building Inspections issued Bartlett a stop work order on the project Oct. 27 due to all the citations not having yet been met. According to Bill Marr, inspections office director, “No new ground is to be opened up or disturbed. He is allowed to work or address previous violations issued by the Notice of Violation.” Marr shared the news by email on Nov. 3.
Subdivision ordinance needed?
Davis has also been an advocate that for large developments like the Bartlett Glen Cove development, the county should be enforcing that the developer have a working erosion control plan for the entire development, not something piecemeal.
The same development ran into trouble with a landowner on the other side of the mountain last year who experience damage to his property from runoff after heavy rains.
Davis also said it’s time the county revisit a subdivision ordinance. He was actually on a committee in 2007 that worked on developing an ordinance, but at the time there was too much public opposition to the idea and it was never adopted.
“They need to take another look at that now. It’s 2020, and all the surrounding counties have good, strong subdivision ordinances,” Davis said. “I’m not anti-development, but there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.”
Nations also raised concern over what he considers a potential conflict of interest on behalf of county commissioner Kevin Seagle. For years, Seagle worked with the county building inspections office. Until he resigned in July, he also enforced erosion control. The concern is that now he’s serving as a consultant for Bartlett.
“It appears to be a conflict of interest if he’s going to be a county commissioner but consulting with a developer who habitually does not respect soil and water conservation measures,” Nations said.
“Not one time has that been brought to my attention as being a conflict of interest,” Seagle said when reached by phone this week. He said he’s working as a consultant to help resolve the issues.
Smoky Mountain Times left a message for Bartlett at his office on Wednesday but had not heard back by press time.