July 28, 2008

Developer to Pay for, Fix Marshland The McIntosh Site Will Be Restored and $40,000 Will Go to the DNR.


A northern McIntosh County developer cited last year for bush- hogging marshes and filling wetlands has signed off on a final agreement to reverse the damage.

Owners Anthony Silva and Joseph Soares of Waterfront Paradise LLC agreed to pay a $40,000 fine to the Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Resources Division and to restore the site's damaged marsh and tidal areas.

Last month, Waterfront Paradise said it would pay a $30,000 fine to DNR's Environmental Protection Division and restore a 25-foot vegetation buffer between marshes and uplands that had been mowed. In a contract last week with the Army Corps of Engineers, the developers agreed to return graded wetlands to their former elevations and replant native trees.

This third and final consent order closes the chapter on a case that cut across the jurisdictional lines of four government agencies and drew some of the largest penalties area regulators have seen in a decade.

"Our salt marshes are highly valued for the many functions they provide," said Coastal Resources director Susan Shipman. "The penalties and marsh restoration requirements imposed on Waterfront Paradise should send a strong signal that the state does not and will not condone violations of the public's tidelands."

Silva has said the violations were unintentional. The waterside property was being developed for vacation homes and Silva had instructed the contractor not to break any laws, he said.

In March 2007, workers began grading the waterside property along Young Man Road, but had not applied for required permits to develop near marsh and wetlands. Trees and stumps were pulled, vegetation was cut and soil graded all the way up to the waterline. Rains eroded soil and sent plumes of muddy water into the nearby Julienton River.

The work violated the Clean Water and Coastal Marshlands Protection acts, according to Coastal Resources. Marsh vegetation and tidal flows protect habitat and filters sediment before it reaches streams.

In August 2007, regulators shut work down on the property.

Coastal Resources inspector Buck Bennett said it is not enjoyable to either party when enforcement action has to be taken.

"The biggest tragedy is this whole situation could have been avoided if they had contacted an environmental consultant or the Coastal Resources before beginning work to mark the jurisdictional line," Bennett said.

The jurisdictional line shows a developer where the sensitive marsh ecosystem begins, and anything beyond that line must not be touched. Coastal Resources will provide the site survey for free.

"We're sorry it had to get to this point," Bennett said. "But the lesson people should take away with this is, before you do any work near the marsh, make sure you're not in the marsh."

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