Local News

Felling evergreens could cost man plenty of green

Posted July 17, 2009 5:32 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2009 6:40 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Transportation is demanding that a Moore County businessman either pay the state $163,125 or start replanting trees along a stretch of  U.S. Highway 1 that he illegally clear-cut.

In January, a Southern Pines inspector noticed trees were being felled in the state's 150-foot-wide right-of-way along the northbound lanes of the highway near the Midland Road exit. The town traced the activity to John O'Malley, who owns an old manufacturing plant nearby that now houses several businesses.

O'Malley, who couldn't be reached Friday for comment, told officials he wanted more highway exposure for his businesses. Still, officials said he had to stop cutting trees on state land.

“We are very protective, whether it be at the state level or the local level, of our right-of-way,” Southern Pines Town Manager Reagan Parsons said. "The town has been a Tree City for 25 years. We certainly have our own set of ordinances regarding the cutting of trees in the right-of-way and a process for that to occur."

Despite the notice, officials said, O'Malley's employees continued removing vegetation and spraying herbicide.

Officials said more than 700 trees have been removed along the highway, and based on their total trunk diameter of 2,175 inches, DOT determined their value at $163,125.

DOT sent O'Malley a letter demanding payment or the submission of an acceptable replanting program by July 10 but later backed off the deadline.

Tim Johnson, the DOT highway engineer who oversees Moore County, said O'Malley has hired a landscaper in an effort to fix the problem. He said he and Southern Pines officials have scheduled a meeting with O'Malley next Thursday to discuss his replanting plan.

"We continue to try to work with him to try to see that it's a win-win all the way around," Parsons said.

If O'Malley's plan is unacceptable to the DOT, the case could be turned over to the state Attorney General's Office, Johnson said.