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Audit: Forestry professor took pricey trips to beach

Posted December 6, 2012

An N.C. State professor could not account for data he collected while staying at a pricey beach-front hotel, according to a report issued today by the Office of the State Auditor. 

Stacy A. C. Nelson is an associate professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. According to his profile, his research focuses on using geographic information system and remote sensing technologies to answer questions about land use changes and its impact on inland lakes and coastal ecosystems. 

In 2009, Nelson submitted a grant proposal the Department of Transportation to study "whether remote sensing1 could be used for the monitoring of submerged aquatic vegetation in the Currituck Sound of North Carolina," says the audit report. The report does not name Nelson, but a staffer with the state auditor's office confirmed his work was the subject of the audit. Nelson also confirmed the audit looked at his work. 

In 2011, Nelson took two trips to verify data. However, the auditor found: 


An Associate Professor of Forestry and Natural Resources (Professor) spent $3,359 from state grant funds for two trips to the North Carolina Outer Banks.  According to the Professor, he traveled in July and August 2011 to validate data obtained from plant and water samples taken from the Currituck Sound in 2010. However, the Professor could not provide documentation to support the sampling and validation he said he performed on both 2011 trips. Additionally, quarterly research progress reports submitted to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) did not mention sample validation activities during July and August 2011.


Nelson said Thursday that he did conduct the research in question. A response letter from the university included with the audit does indicate his work is on way to completion.

"In closing, the university is pleased to note that the grant in question is on track to be completed successfully and to provide important understanding of our coastal resources," concludes the university's response. The university has also reinforced guidelines on archiving and reporting research, the university response said. 

"This is all just sour grapes from a divorce," Nelson said. "I'm going through a nasty custody battle and she's made false claims and allegations."

Nelson said that it was his wife who complained to the auditor's office. But, he said, a final report has been issued to DOT and the work has been completed.

"We did produce the data, but it's not in a form that they would normally accept," Nelson said.

Asked why he stayed at hotel that cost as much as $587.69 per night, he explained that his research area was in a remote location on the Outer Banks. 

"There's not options out there," he said. "That hotel is the closest to our study site. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of options."

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