Tree-Cutting on U.S. 1 Brings Action
A Southern Pines property owner has been accused of illegally removing vegetation from the N.C. Department of Transportation's right of way on U.S. 1.
A contractor hired by John O'Malley allegedly cut down 706 trees in the right of way in front of his property, without permission. The property is near the the highway on Trimble Plant Road.
The trees had a "caliper inch total," or total trunk diameter, of 2,175 inches. NCDOT has determined the value of the trees to be $75 per caliper inch, or $163,125 total.
O'Malley declined to comment for this story when contacted by The Pilot.
Steve Ingold, NCDOT division roadside environmental engineer, said Thursday that the trees removed ranged from between 2 and 10 caliper inches in thickness. Most of them were closer to 2 inches in thickness, he said.
O'Malley was contacted by NCDOT Division Engineer Timothy Johnson -- who works out of the department's Aberdeen office -- by mail on June 24. A copy of that letter was provided to The Pilot.
Johnson wrote that the illegal removal of vegetation from the right of way was discovered by the town of Southern Pines "in or around the month of January 2009" and was apparently done to improve visibility to O'Malley's property and a sign.
NCDOT is demanding O'Malley replace the trees or compensate it for the loss.
"In order to rectify the illegal vegetation removal, a tree plant-ing plan suitable to NCDOT or a check in the amount of $163,125 should be provided to the NCDOT Division 8 office by July 10, 2009," Johnson wrote. "If this matter has not been resolved by July 10, 2009, it will be turned over to the office of the North Carolina Attorney General for appropriate handling."
Johnson wrote that the cutting is in violation of N.C. General Statute 14-128, which states:
"Any person, not being on his own lands, who shall without the consent of the owner thereof, willfully commit any damage, injury, or spoilation to or upon any tree, wood, underwood, timber, garden, crops, vegetables, lants, lands springs, or any other matter or thing growing or being thereon, or who cuts, breaks, injures, or removes any tree, plant or flower, shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor."
According to Johnson's letter, Greg Davis, the Southern Pines building and grounds superintendent, contacted O'Malley by mail Feb. 3. He made O'Malley aware of the situation, quantified the number of trees removed at 706 and asked O'Malley to provide a planting plan to replace them.
Since Davis' letter was sent, Johnson wrote that NCDOT and town of Southern Pines personnel have witnessed continued removal of vegetation and illegal herbicide spraying within that same NCDOT right of way despite several warnings "not to remove any vegetation, alive or dead, from this area until the matter is resolved."
The incidence of illegal spraying has been referred to the Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
According to an e-mail sent to town staff, provided to The Pilot, the situation appeared to come to head June 18, when representatives from both the town and NCDOT visited the property that morning and discovered O'Malley's employees removing old trees that had been cut down from the right of way, with the intent of chipping them, as well as spraying of herbicide on the undergrowth within the right of way.
NCDOT ordered any and all activities within the right of way be stopped.
However, about 4 p.m. that afternoon, NCDOT discovered a contracter of O'Malley's continuing to spray herbicide on the right of way, as well as evidence that several small trees had been removed since that morning, the e-mail said. NCDOT then called the Southern Pines Police Department and a police report was filed.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office said it had not been notified about the case. Johnson said Wednesday that NCDOT was giving O'Malley more time because he was working towards a resolution.
Southern Pines Town Manager Reagan Parsons said Wednesday that "multiple situations" have developed between the town and O'Malley for some time but was hopeful that the two parties could work things out.
"We have continued to work diligently with John O'Malley and his representatives and are very happy that he has taken an unused structure and is revitalizing it and utilizing it," he said. 'We have had occasional pitfalls subject to code violations, but we are trying to get back on the same page."
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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