05/22/07 — Don't feed the ducks in Goldsboro; you just might get a ticket

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Don't feed the ducks in Goldsboro; you just might get a ticket

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 22, 2007 1:45 PM

Rex and Mavis Gibbs never guessed that feeding the ducks living on the lake behind their Woods Mill Road home would land them in trouble, but late last year, it did.

Now they are worried that a new amendment to Goldsboro's city ordinances would make it illegal for people to not only feed squirrels in Herman Park, but also to have bird feeders in their backyards -- even though city officials say that's not true.

In November, the Gibbs, who have lived on or around the lake in the Hunter's Creek neighborhood for nearly 30 years, received a letter from then-Goldsboro city attorney Tim Finan, ordering them to stop feeding and remove the domestic fowl -- the ducks -- living on the lake.

Rex said the order apparently came after neighbor Zeb Regan -- who refused to comment, saying only that he didn't want any ducks in his yard -- complained that the birds were defecating in his yard and accused him of being the cause of their presence.

"I fed them, but I don't own these ducks," Rex said. "They go where they want to. I don't know why you even move on a lake if you don't like ducks."

So, with the help of Goldsboro attorney Billy Strickland, the couple protested the order and was led to believe that the matter had been resolved -- at least until one morning two weeks later when Rex was handed a ticket by city police as he prepped his school bus for departure from Eastern Wayne Middle School.

He said they told him that they had watched him feeding the ducks under the cover of darkness in his backyard down by the lake, and that he was being charged under the city ordinance prohibiting the harboring and stabling of wild animals.

Eventually those charges were dropped.

To be on the safe side, though, Rex moved his homemade feeding trough to the water's edge, well within the easement of Bear Creek Watershed No. 4, which is just outside the city limits.

But that still wasn't the end of the matter.

Two weeks ago, the Goldsboro City Council passed an amendment to its animal nuisance ordinance expanding it to include the feeding of wild and domestic animals that threaten the public health, safety and welfare or cause damage to real or personal property of anyone other than the person harboring, keeping, possessing or feeding them.

Two days later, a copy of that new statute was hand-delivered to the Gibbs' home.

Strickland calls the two new clauses the "Gibbs ordinances."

"It seems like an awful waste of government time and money," he said.

And on top of that, he thinks it's simply a bad policy.

"Basically what they've done is outlaw feeding animals in the city, including domestic," Strickland said.

The problem, he continued, is that the ordinance leaves itself open to a broad range of interpretations.

"What does it mean?" Strickland asked. "Pet owners beware. Your dog craps in my yard, you're in violation of this.

"If you put a bird feeder in your yard and the birds crap on my car, you have violated this ordinance.

"You feed the squirrels and one comes and eats my pecans, you have violated this ordinance.

"It's quite ridiculous."

Goldsboro officials, though, say none of those people are the target of this ordinance.

"We did have some complaints and we found we needed some enforcement procedures a little better than what we had, so we tried to implement a measure to at least control what we saw as a potential problem" City Manager Joe Huffman said.

But Maj. Mike Hopper with the Goldsboro Police Department said that doesn't mean nature lovers need to be looking over their shoulders.

"It'd have to be an extreme case for us to even step in," he said. "People should feel safe feeding the rabbits, squirrels and birds in the park."

He did say, however, that a person in the Gibbs' situation, could find themselves in violation of the ordinance.

"Say you live on a lake and there are some wild ducks and you feed them to such a degree they go into your neighbor's yard and defecate, then we'll probably charge you," Hopper said.

After all, he indicated that it was the Gibbs' situation that motivated the writing of the ordinance in the first place.

"We've been rewriting city ordinances to update them anyway, but we did have one incident in Hunter's Creek where a man's yard was fouled by water fowl," Hopper said.

Today, the Gibbs won't say if they're still feeding the two dozen or so ducks that live on the lake, but on Monday even with the feeding trough empty, there were several sleeping by the water's edge in their yard and at least one mother duck waddling along with her babies behind her.

"We do enjoy the ducks and the neighbors enjoy the ducks," Mavis said, showing several letters of support from others on Woods Mill Road. "Somebody on this lake has always fed the ducks. They've been around for forever."