HOKE COUNTY — Wetlands rank as one of the state's most precious resources. They are a prime habitat for animals and a natural filtration system for our waterways, but many of them are being destroyed, some say because of lax regulation.
Next week, regulators will investigate whetheran area in Hoke County, that was drained by a developer, was an environmentally-sensitive wetland.
The engineer for the subdivision project in Hoke County insists everything was done by the book. A consultant determined the property did not have wetlands.
However, consultants who consider what areas should be considered wetlands do not have to have any certification. If they determine a site does not have wetlands, nothing has to be filed.
Environmental attorney Derb Carter says that is one reason why North Carolina has lost half of its wetlands.
"We know that we are losing cumulatively, a significant amount of small wetland areas from activities that should have required some type of permit authorization," Carter says.
Regulators stop big projects before wetlands are bulldozed. In Fayetteville, aproposed route to the Crown Coliseumwas rejected because it would destroy too many acres of wetlands.
Carter says as long as the honor system applies for smaller projects, the destruction of wetlands will continue.
"The state has probably not as aggressively enforced the wetland laws as we would like to see them enforced," Carter says.
The state says more wetlands enforcement is on the way, but that may not be enough.
"Certainly the smaller projects, we rely on local citizens to report those kind of things," says John Dorney, wetlands program supervisor. "We don't have enough staff to drive around looking for wetland fills that don't have permits."
Violators can be hit with fines of up to $10,000 a day, plus the cost of restoring a wetland.
Some developers are challenging North Carolina's laws in court. They recently won a challenge to federal wetlands regulations.