06/21/04 — Corps of Engineers orders clean-up of debris; owner complying

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Corps of Engineers orders clean-up of debris; owner complying

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 21, 2004 1:57 PM

A Goldsboro businessman apologized today for the way his land looks, even though he doesn't figure it's his fault.

"I am ashamed of the way that it looks, but I am more ashamed that our tax dollars caused it to look like that," Jack Bennett said.

Bennett was referring to "the mountain of concrete" that's next to Bennett's nighclub, Whitetail Landing. Over the past few months, Bennett has been dredging construction debris from two acres that are beside U.S. 117 and near the Neuse River.

Large pile of dirt and concrete

News-Argus/Kaye Nesbit

This large pile of dirt and concrete has been hauled in to be used as fill on the north side of the Neuse River bridge on U.S. 117 South.

In January the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered the land restored as wetlands. Bennett was first given 90 days to complete the work, but he has been granted two extensions.

The Corps of Engineers is "very satisfied with the cleanup effort," said Penny Schmidt, public information officer for the Corps' Wilmington district.

But Bennett is not happy that he had to do it.

For four years, Bennett had allowed construction firms to put debris on the land, filling in an area where a previous owner had excavated the clay. The Corps was aware of the work and approved it, he said.

At the start of this year, the property was leveled off, he said. "I had it looking very, very nice. I thought I had done this town and county a favor by enhancing the view."

But a new official at the Corps decided that Bennett's property should be restored as wetlands, Bennett said. "He told me the property was wet about 5 percent of the time."

Bennett has spent around $30,000 to clear out the debris, he said. One construction firm has given him $5,900 to defray the cost, but others have not been willing to help.

"I would have never put that stuff there if they'd hadn't told me that it was fine," Bennett said. "Probably 99 percent of that concrete is from demolition at Seymour Johnson. But what can I do? I am a small individual here."

Mrs. Schmidt said that many property owners make the mistake of believing they can do anything they want with their own property. "But wetlands are a national resource," she added.

The Corps protects and restores them wherever possible both to protect water quality and to preserve land for wildlife. If landowners contemplate filling in or disturbing wet areas on their property, they should consult first with the Corps, she said.