Several Citizens Speak on Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Ordinance at County Meeting

It was standing room only at this week’s meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners. Concerned citizens filled the boardroom Tuesday night for the scheduled public hearing to express their uneasiness about the proposed amendments to the Macon County Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Ordinance of the Code of Ordinances of Macon County.

Following the recommendations of the planning board, the county commissioners are considering amending the ordinance “in the public interest and to promote the public health, safety and welfare pursuant to authority vested in it by North Carolina General Statutes, and that the control of erosion and sedimentation is deemed vital to the public interest and necessary to the public health and welfare.”

After a recommendation by Commissioner Paul Higdon to evaluate the grading license program in Macon County, the commissioners decided to send the task to the Macon County Planning Board. After months of discussions and work with County Attorney Chester Jones and Commissioner Carl Gillespie, county liaison to the planning board, not only on the licensing program but also on the Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Ordinance, the planning board made the recommendations to commissioners to make amendments to the existing ordinance. Prior to making the decision to propose the amendments to the existing ordinance, the planning board held a public input session in which all contractors were invited to attend.

The proposed changes are not a new ordinance but rather an amendment to add license requirements to the existing ordinance. County Manager Derek Roland explained to the board and citizens that the proposed amended ordinance must be considered in light of the full ordinance which contains important definitions and explanations of words, terms and phrases found in the ordinance.

The purpose of the Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Ordinance is to regulate land disturbing activity in Macon County. As stated in the ordinance, “land-disturbing activity means any use of the land by any person in residential, industrial, educational, institutional or commercial development, highway and road construction and maintenance that results in a change in the natural cover or topography and that may cause or contribute to sedimentation.” To be considered in violation of the ordinance, a two-part test must be meet, namely it must change the natural topography as well as contribute to sedimentation.

According to Roland, the Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Ordinance that regulates land disturbing activity has been in effect since 2001. The only proposed addition to the Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control Ordinance is the addition of the grading licensing program which is currently under consideration by the county.

“Nothing else has been added to or taken away from this ordinance,” said Roland. “I can right now with 100 percent certainty say that any activity a homeowner is currently conducting on their property which is not regulated by this ordinance today will not be regulated by this ordinance following the passage of this amendment. We have done nothing to change the purpose of this ordinance; we have done nothing to change the definition which comprise the purpose of this ordinance.”

With the amendment, the ordinance will require all person performing any grading or and disturbing activity in Macon County, except land disturbing activities specifically excluded in the ordinance, possess either a valid North Carolina state issued license that authorizes such grading or land disturbing activities or a valid Macon County Grading and Land Disturbance License. A valid NC state license is required for all grading and land disturbance projects where the single project cost is equal to or more than $30,000. A valid Macon County Grading and Land Disturbance License authorizes the licensee, within Macon County, to conduct grading and land disturbance with the single project cost less than the project cost threshold requiring a NC state license.

To obtain a Macon County Grading and Land Disturbance License a person must meet the following requirements: (1) must appear in person at the administrator’s office at 1834 Lakeside Drive; (2) present a valid driver’s license or a current photo ID issued by their state of residence; (3) take and pass an open book test developed and proctored by the administrator or other staff members; and (4) pay a fee of $100 to take the test (first time license is included in this cost).

The license expires December 31 of each year regardless of the date of issue. To maintain the license, persons must complete the following specific requirements: (1) Successful completion annually of one of the two, four-hour continuing education courses offered by the Macon County Department of Permitting and Development, or four or more hours of training annually given by an agency and course approved by the administrator; (2) Pay the fee for attending the continuing education course of $25, this fee includes the annual renewal fee to renew the license. Persons using approved outside sources to fulfill the required four-hour annual continuing education will be required to pay an annual renewal license fee of $25. A late fee of $10 a month or portion thereof shall be added to the renewal fee if the license is not renewed before the date of expiration; and (3) Any person in possession of a license that has been expired for more than one year shall follow the requirements to obtain a new license.

Any persons conducting grading or land disturbance activity that does not posses a license authorizing such activity shall be required to pay a $500 fine. For each day a person continues such activity before complying with the applicable license requirement an additional fine of $500 will be added to the original fine. Any person in violation of the ordinance will be issued a Notice of Violation by the Administrator. Any such person receiving two such notices of violation shall have their local license revoked for a period of a year.

Exceptions to the license are that it will not apply to anyone who is actually performing the grading or land disturbing activity on property they personally own and do not sell or offer to sell or transfer to another party for a period of one year after completion of any activity regulated by this ordinance. A signed affidavit shall be required stating the property owner does not own the property and will not sell or transfer or offer to sell or transfer this property for the one-year period previously stated. In order to qualify for this exception, the owner must pass a grading contractor and land disturbance license test, but will not be required to pay the $100 fee or will they be issued a license.

After listening to the public comment about the proposed amendments to the ordinance, county commissioners did not take any action on the matter. County officials will consider all comments made at the meeting and evaluate them. In addition, any changes Macon County makes to its soil erosion and sedimentation ordinance will have to have the approval of the state.