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Fran Long-Gone; Massive Debris Remains

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TOPSAIL BEACH — Although the sound of hammers andsaws is often heard as Topsail's homes and businesses are rebuilt, anearby marsh may never be put back as it was before September 5, 1997-- the day Hurricane Fran came to town.

Air conditioners, tires, washing machines, a piano and even two housesare still sitting in the sounds and marshes between Topsail Beach and themainland as reminders of Fran.

Several agencies, including the U.S. Fish and WildlifeService, think it's probably wise to leave the debris in themarshes and let nature take its toll.

The beach towns are cleaning up the canals and soundside shoreline,but the homes, walkways and other debris in the marsh areas may have tostay for a while -- or forever.

``The stuff in the marsh and wetlands is not on the towns' land,'' saidJay Eaker, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Much ofit is private property. "It would be best left in the marsh tonaturally decay," Eaker said. "It'll do less environmentaldamage that way than taking a whole bunch of bulldozers over there."

But with tourist season only weeks away, area residents areconcerned about the debris that litters the area. The debriswashed up in an 11 foot wall of seawater that carried a wide rangeof items from the garages and carports found under many beachhomes, and from streets and business areas.

But it's not just that the debris is unsightly. Included, besidesoutdoor grills, porch furniture, lumber, broken glass panes, pieces ofroof and door, flowerpots and the occasional doghouse, are hazardouswaste items like liquid propane gas tanks, and containers of charcoallighter fluid, lawn chemicals and household cleaners.

Alton Lane, a local resident, told WRALTV-5 News that he would like tosee the water clean before he puts his boat in it.

Topsail Beach Town Manager Eric Peterson called the FEMAdecision ludicrous. He cited the breakdown of containers, either byrust or punctures. "When that stuff starts rusting, you don'twant it leaking out," he said at a town meeting Tuesdaynight.

Beach officials have been told FEMA won't pay to clean up the marshareas. The N.C. Disaster Field Office is appealing the decision, Petersonsaid.

Officials with the N.C. Division of CoastalManagement have concerns about using heavy equipment ina marsh or wetland area.

"It might do more harm than good," said spokesman Alison Davis. "Itwould just have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis."

Debris from the island was carried into the sound and marsh areasduring the hurricane's storm surge, Peterson said.

"This is a pristine environment. The last thing you want is a bunch ofwaste over there."

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