When Haywood County commissioners convened this week to discuss the fate of the county’s erosion control program, they were met by a deep bench of prominent community members who turned out to show support for Marc Pruett.
Pruett is the county’s lead erosion enforcement officer.
Commissioner Kevin Ensley, a land surveyor, said he has received several phone calls from developers urging him to keep the local erosion department.
“It is running 10 to 1 positive from the people who deal with it on the day to day,” Ensley said. “They prefer dealing with local people.”
Mel Nevils, the head of the state erosion enforcement division, came to the meeting from Raleigh and begged commissioners not to do away with the local erosion department, calling it among the best in the state. If erosion oversight was passed off to state control, the environment would suffer and developers would be more likely to see after-the-fact fines than under Pruett’s proactive approach.
“We don’t have time to work with people to get them back in compliance,” Nevils said. “We don’t have the time to sit there with people and figure out how to get it right.”
State erosion inspectors for the region are based in Asheville. Each one carries a case load of up to 350 development projects spanning three to four counties, Nevils said.
“We would do the best we can. We would pick it up and get here as often as we can, but you will not get the level of service you get from your own folks,” Nevils said.
In Pruett’s approach to erosion enforcement, he strives primarily to educate developers on how to protect the environment.
“My staff can tell you that I often said we must be problem solvers and peacemakers first. Enforcement is a last resort,” Pruett said.
Erosion running off construction sites is detrimental to the environment, muddying creeks, rivers and lakes, Pruett said. But it can also be hazardous when it washes down on public roads, making them potentially slick.
It seemed commissioners never intended to do away with the local erosion control program, but felt compelled to address the issue after the county landed itself in a lawsuit with a landowner as a result of its erosion enforcement. A few members of the public had appeared before commissioners at their meetings calling for them to do away with the erosion enforcement at the local level and pass the duty off to the state.
Members in the audience backing Pruett included General Contractor Ron Leatherwood, Builder Dawson Spano, Rep. Ray Rapp, James Ferguson, Bill Yarborough, Leslie Smathers and more.