Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Gordon Road subdivision catches heat for lackluster erosion control

County engineering staff sent a fiery notice up the chain of command, spearing the developers of the Landing at Lewis Creek for failing to meet erosion control standards. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A residential development in New Hanover County has caught the ire of staff in the engineering department, who accused the builders of failing to abide by erosion control requirements, lacking effective surface water protections in new construction areas and avoiding pleas from county regulators to bring the site into compliance. 

The subdivision referenced in internal emails written by county staff is the Landing at Lewis Creek, a large-scale project that marks the western edge of Gordon Road. The Landing was green-lit in 2017 for more than 400 dwellings on 85 acres — a mix of single- and multi-family options. The development originally had the backing of State Senator Michael Lee, who represented The Landing in his role as a private attorney. While Lee is no longer involved with the project, Amy Schaefer, an attorney at Lee’s firm, represented the Landing in its most recent expansion request last year. 

READ MORE: Gordon Road development project seeking permission to boost capacity with 17 more units

Land disturbance is an endeavor regulated by a patchwork of government actors, from the federal level to the local scene. The N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources helms the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Program. In New Hanover County, like many other territories in the state, this authority has been delegated to county officials. 

Sediment entering a stream through stormwater runoff can degrade water quality and harm aquatic life. “Each year, thousands of acres of land in NC are exposed during the course of construction and development,” according to the program’s website. “Without protective practices, the land is left vulnerable to the ravages of wind and rain.”

Last Friday, a county erosion control inspector emailed a colleague regarding the ongoing construction of new units at the site. “I do not typically push for [Notice of Violations], but in my opinion this site is beyond the point of needing one,” the inspector wrote. 

According to Julie Coco, the state sediment specialist, such violations are not an enforcement tool, but serve to put the developer on notice that a project is noncompliant with erosion-related mandates. They sometimes come with a fine. Jim Iannucci, the county engineer, said this device is not deployed often. 

“After having met with [the builders] on this site, multiple times, the site remains noncompliant and has been the entire time,” the inspector wrote. “At this point, I feel like they are forcing us to issue a violation or this noncompliance will just continue into the next phase when it starts.”

An engineering specialist for New Hanover County, after receiving this email, forwarded it to Iannucci, who leads the department. They chided The Landing, its contractors, McAdams Homes, Honeycutt Construction Services, and its consultant, GSP Consulting, in the internal email. 

“This site has been a struggle since the beginning,” the engineering specialist wrote to Iannucci. “We can’t get [the builders] to do much of ANYTHING.” 

Further, a May 21 field inspection report concludes The Landing’s builders “have never abided by the NPDES requirements” — a reference to a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, required to control point source discharges into surface waters to remain compliant with the Clean Water Act. The Landing’s stormwater system discharge into Smith Creek, classified as secondary swamp waters by the DEQ.

The field inspector identified more than a dozen corrective items and three potential NPDES violations. “They add things as they please without us having plans showing such,” the inspector wrote. 

The Landing did not respond to a request for comment made through the development’s website. 

Pictures included in the inspection report show wonky silt fences that fail to prevent sedimentary escape, and a pond invaded by sediment, among other issues. The report observes all inlets are missing protection, with images showing the drainage system overcome by sediment.

Three years ago, New Hanover County Engineering reduced red tape associated with erosion control. 

“After listening to and addressing both concerns and suggestions, there have been numerous changes and revisions to the New Hanover County Local Sediment and Erosion Control Program,” according to a Jan.1, 2018 county memo. “Our objective is to minimize requests for additional information and to reduce the amount of time needed to issue Land Disturbing Permits.”

According to the memo, multiple fees previously required of developers were dropped. Further: “The plan review process is being revised to expedite reviews and to reduce the amount of time required to begin land disturbing activities.” 

Iannucci said Tuesday afternoon his office had not issued a notice of violation at the site and will continue to follow up on the concerns.

An county sedimentation inspection report for The Landing at Lewis Creek shows the development's inlet protection barriers are ineffective at preventing sediment from entering the drainage system. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy New Hanover County)
An county sedimentation inspection report for The Landing at Lewis Creek shows the development’s inlet protection barriers are ineffective at preventing sediment from entering the drainage system. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy New Hanover County)

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