2009: Looking back at the newsmakers

The Smoky Mountain News is paying homage this week to some of the newsmakers of 2009 by dishing out our annual awards.

Few would chalk up 2009 as a year they want to remember, given the generally gloomy pall cast by the recession over nearly every facet of life in Western North Carolina. We feared the year-end trip down memory lane wouldn’t be quite so much fun as it usually is.

But once we started plowing through back issues, they revealed a hefty share of humdingers: the funny, the astonishing, the dismaying. Some will live in infamy, others we’d rather forget but probably won’t.

For those who made the list, hats off to you for giving us something to write about this year. For those who didn’t, there’s always 2010.


Elmer Fudd Award

For the man who brazenly shot at elk in Cataloochee Valley this fall, the words of Elmer Fudd would have been sage advice: “Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits.” But in the idyllic valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a shot ringing out across the meadows at 10:30 a.m. on a Friday morning was a dead giveaway something was amiss.

Another visitor who happened to be in Cataloochee Valley at the time got a description of the man’s vehicle and his license plate number. The illicit hunter was tracked down at his home in Granville County five hours away and admitted to shooting the elk. A litany of charges against him are still being crafted by park authorities.

The dead bull elk, which was sporting an impressive antler rack, was left lying in the field in Cataloochee by the poacher. A bull elk can weigh up to 800 pounds.


Holding the Bag Award

When Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, it had a trail of unpaid bills — owing $2.5 million to some 215 companies. Local electricians, contractors, building supply stores, sales reps for souvenir merchandise — even newspapers that had run ads for Ghost Town — filled the long list of those never paid for their goods or services. But they aren’t the only ones still holding the bag.

Ghost Town employees never got their final paycheck at the end of the season. Cash flow was so tight all year, the park often couldn’t make payroll on Fridays and instead relied on revenue from weekend ticket sales to pay employees the following Monday, and occasionally still fell short and had to make up the difference the following Monday after another weekend of revenue came in. Employees are still waiting for their last two weeks of pay from October.

The park was plagued this year by lagging ticket sales due to the economy, the primary rollercoaster ride being inoperable most of the season, and expensive repairs to update the aging theme park. The park was forced into bankruptcy after falling behind on its $9.5 million mortgage, but CEO Steve Shiver maintains that the park will reorganize and pull through, including repaying the small businesses and employees who are owed.


Biggest Loser

Western North Carolina might not be on prime time yet, but the local version of this reality show could be a real cliffhanger. One mega-development after another has bitten the dust this year. The few left standing have probably escaped thanks to a foreclosure triage of sorts: the banks who hold their loans simply didn’t have the time, money or wherewithal to pursue so many foreclosures at once.

The market for high-end second homes plummeted in mid-2008, shooting holes in the business plan of many a developer. Their plans had looked something like this: take out a big loan, buy a big chunk of land, build roads, maybe a golf course, sell lots, pay back the loan. The formula didn’t work out so well when the demand for lots tanked — as did American’s 401Ks. No lot sales meant no way to pay off those loans, and foreclosure and bankruptcy followed suit.

Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County has been among the most high profile, followed by Legasus, also in Jackson County. The financial status of Wildflower, a mega-development in Macon County, has been publicly questioned of late as well. Further afield, Seven Falls in Hendersonville is in foreclosure and Grey Rock at Lake Lure is in bankruptcy.

Stalled development plans run the gamut from Big Ridge, a Cashiers development under federal investigation for a mortgage fraud scheme, to Cataloochee Wilderness Resorts, where developers never owned even a scrap of land despite crafting a master plan for some 4,000 acres. The faltering real estate and development industry created a tidal wave that crashed through nearly every facet of the mountain economy this year. Exactly what the banks will do as the proud new owners of hundreds of foreclosed lots will be the subject of next year’s awards.


Most in need of a N.C. geography lesson

It’s about 300 miles from the Smokies to Raleigh. Always has been, always will be.

Sure it’s a long way, but last we checked, the mountains are still part of the great state of North Carolina. Nonetheless, Gov. Beverly Perdue decided not to attend the opening ceremony of the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “It’s so far out of the way,” a spokesperson for the governor explained.

Making matters worse, the event was billed as a two-state governor’s proclamation, intended to draw attention to the shared status of America’s most-visited national park straddling North Carolina and Tennessee.

Perdue’s staff cited unnecessary travel expense amid a state budget crisis, rubbing many here the wrong way. Mountaineers have long suspected their metropolitan counterparts down East viewed them as lowly red-headed stepchildren, and the perceived snub led some to wonder: “Are we too far out of the way to pay state taxes?”


Flaming Pants Award

Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina got national headlines for shouting out ‘You Lie’ during one of President Barack Obama’s speeches about health care reform on the House floor. But this award goes to another Congressman, our very own Heath Shuler caught in a lie in November. Shuler was investigated by the House ethics committee after a lakefront resort he owned a stake in negotiated a land swap with the federal Tennessee Valley Authority to give it better shoreline access. The probe focused on whether Shuler used his influence in the deal. Shuler was cleared of wrongdoing, but a TVA report later confirmed that the Congressman had lied when he told media he had had not contact with TVA. Since he escaped formal censure, the least we could do is say, “Heath, you lie.”


Black Cloud Award

At long last, the historic Haywood County Courthouse was restored to its former grandeur and retrofitted to accommodate county offices with fancy modern conveniences, like, oh, say, fire sprinklers and the Internet.

But no sooner had the last touches of paint dried, than the contractor for the project sued the county for $2 million. The lawsuit hit just days before the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new building. The lawsuit came on the heels of nearly two years of drama between the county and the contractor, KMD. The county accused KMD of floundering deadlines and substandard work. The contractor claimed it wasn’t their fault, and instead blamed the architect for inaccurate blueprints.

At one point, commissioners even fired KMD, but the county’s bonding company that assumed responsibility for the project hired none other than KMD yet again.

The lawsuit isn’t settled, and it will likely come down to a dispute between the contactor and architect with the county caught in the middle.


Stop, Drop and Roll Award

Without any official fire protection, homeowners on pricey Buck Knob Island in the middle of Lake Glenville might have to resort to this basic technique if a blaze should ever strike.

Homeowners demanded fire protection and even threatened to sue nearby Cashiers-Glenville-Sapphire Volunteer Fire Department for not extending services to the island they call home.

Jackson County had its hands tied since the final decision rested with the volunteer fire department’s nonprofit board of directors, though the county does contribute significantly to its budget each year.

In September, the state fire marshal stepped in to provide recommendations for fire service. Since then, the Buck Knob Homeowners Association and the volunteer fire department continued to work together to resolve the hot-button issue.


The Badass Award

Crews for the North Carolina Department of Transportation have started 24-hour shifts to clean up the aftermath of a colossal October rockslide on Interstate 40.

They’ve spent months hand carrying thousands of pounds of explosive up the slope to blast apart mammoth boulders then haul them off to a national forest site.

The contractors have already hauled away 7,000 dump truckloads of rock and dirt. They labored on despite snow and are now working in subfreezing temperatures through the night.

Crews started work in late October, but NCDOT officials say it could take anywhere from March to May to blast apart and haul away the massive boulders.

The rockslide shut down a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 40 in Haywood County, a main artery for thru traffic between North Carolina and Tennessee, dealing a heavy blow to roadside restaurants, gas stations, motels, and other tourism businesses throughout Western North Carolina.

In the meantime, the Haywood Tourism Development Authority and state tourism officials worked zealously to let visitors know WNC is still open for business.

Somewhat luckily, the latest rockslide struck at the end of fall foliage season, unlike the summer rockslide in 1997, which effectively ruined peak season for many tourism businesses in WNC.


Barely Legal Award

A nightclub for teens became a focal point for controversy in Sylva in December when an enraged parent found a flyer that encouraged high school students to come to the club “as wasted as you want.”

Parents petitioned the town to shut down the club after finding out that the club’s owner, Nathan Lang, had a son serving jail time for statutory rape and discovering that the club’s MySpace page showed pictures of young women in lingerie pole dancing. Lang considers the club a form of youth mininstry and claims he is reaching out to at-risk teens by accepting the realities of their life. Despite the inuendos of what goes on inside the club, the town board said it could not shut down the club without proof of bona fide illegal activity.


Day Late, Dollar Short

A massive mountainside development on Cowee Mountain in Macon County got the attention of nearby landowners when one of its main roads gave way, triggering a serious landslide below. Further investigations by the North Carolina Geological Survey showed the development’s roads had a number of flaws that could trigger more slides in the future.

Wildflower, the subdivision owned by Ultima Carolina LLC, received its permits from the county in the laissez-faire days before county development regulations. Macon has since implemented a subdivision ordinance, stipulating road standards and requiring a bond to guarantee the infrastructure is sound. But Wildflower is exempt from the ordinance and could leave the county holding the bag on a erosion-plagued mountainside, making Macon County leaders very much a “day late and dollar short.”


Democracy Inaction

Apathy can be a major issue in municipal elections, particularly in small towns like Webster in Jackson County. After only two candidates met the sign-up deadline for the town board election, it wasn’t at all clear that Webster was going to be able to produce a full board during the November election.

But you can’t ever write off the spirit of a small town or the power of word-of-mouth organizing. On election day, the town board ballot boasted over 20 write-in candidates. With only 40 people voting, half the people those who turned out to the polls ended up being on the ballot themselves


Easiest Shoes to Fill

Maggie Valley fired its festival director, Bill Cody, in May after a mere three and a half months on the job.

Cody failed to attract a single festival during his brief stint though he was hired precisely to book events for half of the weekends during peak tourism season from May to October.

Cody also dreamed up the idea of developing a DVD promotional packet but never got started on the project.

The town must’ve been traumatized by Cody’s failure because it didn’t rehire a festival director until December.

Maggie’s new festival director, Audrey Hager, faces an easy road ahead of her when it comes to exceeding the low expectations Cody set during his short tenure with the town.


Albatross Award

Jackson County commissioners ended up with more than their fair share of baggage this year. Jackson politics is marked by a handful of simmering controversies that all seemed to boil over and land in the commissioners’ laps, whether invited or not.

First there was the Economic Development Commission, a floundering entity the county commissioners took hold of in an attempt to revive it. But the director resigned, calling the organization dysfunctional on her way out. Four of the nine board members later resigned. Then an accountant hired to conduct a back audit failed to deliver, citing murky financial records for the four-year period in question that made the task impossible.

The episode bears an uncanny resemblance to the airport authority, which despite a power struggle with the county always seemed to turn up hat in hand at budget time. Despite pleas by pilots and small plane owners, county commissioners have been philosophically opposed to spending tax dollars on the airport’s upkeep, leaving its long-term viability in limbo. Commissioners seemed to be subtly undermining the airport by refusing to appoint members to the airport authority, leading to dwindling numbers on the body that manages the small runway.

But in a surprise move, the commissioners decided to appoint none other than themselves to the airport board, effectively taking control of an entity some of them seem to loathe.

Commissioners even got dragged into the debate over whether to build a controversial new highway on the outskirts of Sylva that would bypass the main commercial thoroughfare of N.C. 107. They didn’t think up the highway, or even wade into the fray by choice, but were forced to weigh in when asked to endorse a laundry list of long-term road building projects being sent to the DOT in Raleigh that included the hot-button highway.

And of course, there’s the never-ending tug-of-war with Duke Energy over the fate of the Dillsboro dam, which is altogether deserving of its own award.


Most Elbow Room

Swain County had grand ambitions for the $10 million jail it opened last December. The county envisioned it would be easy to fill up the jail’s 109 beds with overflow prisoners from outside Swain — even though other counties made it clear they planned on building bigger jails of their own.

But Swain went on ahead with its dreams of raking in big money from jail fees charged to out-of-county inmates. As it saw the number of overflow prisoners from many counties plummet, Cherokee prisoners served as the last lifeline for the overbuilt jail, which carries a $450,000 annual loan payment.

But that was before Cherokee received a whopping $18 million grant from the Department of Justice to build its own jail, too.

And just when one thought matters couldn’t get any worse, a sinkhole recently cropped up on the hillside right below the jail. Fixing it will scoop another $20,000 out of Swain County’s already depleted pockets.


Whack-a-Mole Award

State legislators thought they’d stamped out video poker with their 2007 ban, but that was before the gambling industry got creative.

It took advantage of a loophole in the state law to come up with cyber sweepstakes terminals, which only “simulate” games of chance, according to the gaming industry.

Customers buy phone or Internet cards before playing slot machine-style games. They can walk over to the register and receive payouts from the storeowner if they win.

These technically legal machines have proliferated across the state virtually unchecked by regulations.

N.C. State Representative Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, grew exasperated with the video gaming industry, stating that it would find a way to circumvent every law that the legislature passed.

But some local governments have decided to put an end to the industry’s free ride. Towns like Maggie Valley, Franklin and Canton have taken up the task of placing zoning restrictions or imposing hefty business license fees on the machines.


Morrison Sisters Lifetime Achievement Award

The sweet, elderly sisters on “The Andy Griffith Show” — who ran a moonshine still in their greenhouse — paled in comparison to the large-scale operation of Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, who cranked out batches of 1,000 gallons at a time.

Popcorn committed suicide this year at the age of 62, just days before he was supposed to report for an 18-month prison sentence for making moonshine.

Sutton spent most of his life trying to outrun revenuers. He was never secretive about it, however. He often bragged that he “ran more whiskey than Jack Daniel” and detailed his brew-making exploits in a book and self-produced video. He’s even been known to autograph Mason jars of moonshine.

Undercover agents eventually built a substantial case against him over the course of a year and raided his home in 2008, seizing 800 gallons of the illegal liquor, three stills with 1,000-gallon capacities, hundreds of gallons of moonshine-making ingredients such as mash and several guns.

Sutton could have gotten as much as 15 years in prison, but got off surprisingly light — relatively speaking — with just 18 months.

While some will always revere Popcorn as the ultimate renegade and a homespun folk hero, others found his crass, dirty and crude manner less than ideal for being a poster child for the Southern Appalachians.


Finding Love In All the Wrong Places

We’ll never know for sure what motivated Anita Vestal, a Swain County jailer, to spring a suspected murderer from his cell and run away with him.

But according to at least one former jailer, the sheriff had been warned of growing intimacy between the guard and inmate witnessed by note passing and frequent long chats, including an afternoon watching the Daytona 500 together in a jail common area.

In the hours and days following the escape, Swain County residents weren’t taking any chances. Many locked their doors and slept with loaded guns on their bedside table, frequently phoning relatives to make sure they were OK.

While many feared the jailer could be in physical danger from the sprung inmate, they both turned up alive and well in California after a month on the lam.

Vestal, 32, was a short woman weighing 275 pounds. Jeffrey Miles, 26, was a tall, lanky black man. Miles was one of six people charged in a double-murder of two Swain County men.

Vestal apparently provided Miles with a key, told another guard on duty he could take a break, then enacted an escape plan. Miles let himself out using the key and hid in her vehicle until she could run out and join him a few minutes later.

The two were caught in Vallejo, Calif., a city where Miles had sent a letter during his stay in the Swain jail, leading authorities to alert police there to be on the lookout.


Most Past Due Account

Can this really be happening to Swain County? For 66 years, Swain County has been the victim of a broken promise by the federal government to rebuild the North Shore Road.

The 30-mile road once led from Bryson City to Tennessee but was flooded by construction of Fontana Lake in the 1940s. The once populated countryside was ceded to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With no one living there anymore, the federal government didn’t seem inclined to make good on its signed contract with little ole Swain County to rebuild that road.

Swain leaders fought tooth and nail for the road for decades, but finally gave up their quest for the long-promised road and agreed to settle the matter once and for all with a cash payout of $52 million in lieu of the road. The seemingly odd dollar amount is based on the value of the road at the time it was flooded plus interest and inflation.

The National Park Service — a lead player in the dispute since the park now owns the land where the road would have gone — adopted the number and ran with it, using it repeatedly in a six-year environmental assessment of the unbuilt road and eventually selecting the cash settlement as its preferred solution to the festering dispute.

When it came time to ink a new deal, however, Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson was suddenly uncomfortable with such a big number and contended in negotiations that it was too much.

Swain County leaders felt betrayed for coming to the table under the auspices of $52 million, only to have the rug pulled out from under them yet again.

U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler, a Bryson City native, is trying to right the wrong through Congressional channels. Days before the end of 2009, Shuler announced he had scored $12.8 million for Swain County as a “down payment” on a hopefully much larger total to come.


SOL award

Thrill-seeking motorcycle riders and sports car drivers better cross their fingers when traversing the Tail of the Dragon next year. Anyone who wrecks on the challenging, curvy road might have sit tight for 45 minutes, waiting for a Swain County ambulance to amble on up to the accident scene.

That’s because the road that leads to the world-famous Dragon, an infamous stretch of U.S. 129 that sports 318 curves in 11 miles, also led to a tug-of-war between Swain and Graham counties this summer.

Graham County traditionally provided prompt rescue service to the area for free, just because it could get there quicker. The Tail of the Dragon lies in the Deal’s Gap area, a satellite territory of Swain County that is surrounded by Graham.

But Graham grew weary of providing increasing rescue service to Deal’s Gap and demanded compensation from Swain for its neighborly service. Graham set its eyes on annexing the territory or receiving $80,000 per year to cover the cost of responding to complicated and serious wrecks on the road.

Swain refused to budge an inch, deciding to take over rescue services at Deal’s Gap itself, starting Jan. 1.

Swain originally hoped Graham would continue to provide the service since Swain ambulances routinely transported Graham County patients staying in Swain’s hospital at no cost to Graham.

When Swain takes over rescue service at Deal’s Gap, the difference in response time to wrecks could run up to 30 minutes.


Most Unlikely Poster Child

Maureen Lackey, a 45-year-old Franklin resident, sought to expose the Macon County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly mistreating her while she was in custody.

Lackey, who suffers from epilepsy, claimed jailers denied her medicine after she was arrested for a DWI in January. She said they refused to allow her to use the bathroom and humiliated her.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office denied any wrongdoing and said Lackey was carrying the unmarked prescription pills in a vitamin B bottle.

Lackey sued Macon County and the Sheriff’s Office for discrimination, hoping to receive compensation for the medical costs.

When it came to the DWI, Lackey claimed total innocence and said the person she’d paid to drive her home had run away after they’d gotten into a car accident. However, Lackey could not name the runaway driver.

Shortly after filing the lawsuit, the unlikely poster child was charged with another DWI, writing bad checks, simple assault contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and misdemeanor child abuse.

A federal judge dismissed her civil lawsuit not on its merits but because of technicalities. Lackey should have sued the sheriff, rather than the county and the entire Sheriff’s department. The judge also said the sheriff could not be forced to provide Lackey with medical care when she is no longer in custody.


Survivor Award

When the hospitals in Haywood, Jackson and Swain counties decided to join forces, they knew they could only take one CEO with them.

The choice was between Haywood Regional Medical Center CEO Mike Poore and WestCare Health System’s CEO Mark Leonard.

Poore and Leonard publicly downplayed the intense competition, drawing attention instead to the benefits of affiliating.

They said MedWest Health System, a new hospital company that will represent HRMC and WestCare’s two hospitals in Sylva and Bryson City, could buy supplies in bulk and attract specialty physicians.

In addition, linking up with Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System, which runs 29 hospitals in North and South Carolina, would allow MedWest to gain expertise in hospital management.

While the agreement goes into effect on Jan. 1, the new MedWest board unanimously selected a new CEO for the company by early December.

Following Carolina HealthCare System’s recommendation, the board crowned Poore its new CEO. Leonard says he will pursue other opportunities.


Novel Idea Award

Alcohol and gambling? Who knows what Harrah’s Cherokee Casino will think of next. The casino finally took the revolutionary step forward this year and began serving up an array of beer, wine and mixed drinks to its gamblers for the first time.

In June, tribal members voted to allow alcohol to flow freely at the casino, but nowhere else in Cherokee. No longer would poker players and avid slot machine patrons be left thirsting for a stiff drink. No longer would Harrah’s Cherokee be the only casino in the Harrah’s chain to deny its clients alcoholic beverages.

But not so fast.

The tribe had to clear up legal questions with regulators and settle on an ABC supplier before serving drinks. Eager to partake in the lucrative new venture, a new Bryson City-Sylva ABC board was created specifically to deliver alcohol to the casino.

Beer and wine finally hit the hotel, restaurants and lounges in late November, but the casino was only able to bring cocktails to its floor in December, six months after tribal members gave the casino their go-ahead.


Long Shot Award

There’s no other way to describe Jackson County’s most recent tactic to save the Dillsboro dam from Duke Energy’s wrecking ball. The county hopes to use the power of eminent domain and take the dam for themselves — an amazingly simple yet incredulous move when battling a political heavyweight and Fortune 500 company like Duke.

Counties can legally take property to create public parks, and lo and behold, Jackson County commissioners decided the Dillsboro dam and surrounding banks along the Tuckasegee would be the perfect place for a river park, replete with fishing piers, benches, boat launches, walking paths and picnic areas.

Duke, however, agues that it is immune from eminent domain, claiming a different standard applies since it is a utility. Furthermore, Duke hopes to hide behind the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has OK’d tearing down the dam.

At times, it’s hard to remember what started the brouhaha. It wasn’t merely the goal of saving the dam, but the belief that Duke was short-changing the county. Duke is supposed to compensate the public in exchange for saddling the Tuckasegee with its hydropower dams. Tearing down the antiquated Dillsboro dam to restore a section of free-flowing river was the lynchpin of its mitigation package, but somehow didn’t feel like much of a perk to Jackson County’s leaders.

Turning the dam into a park seems to be their last and only option to save it, after losing round after round of legal challenges and appeals on the federal and state level. If successful, Jackson will show it held the trump card all along.


Showcase Showdown

Bob Barker wasn’t exactly invited to “come on down” to Cherokee, but it didn’t seem to stop him. Barker faced off against the Eastern Band this year over the living conditions of black bears kept in three small zoos.

Barker, an avid supporter of animal rights, was upset about bears kept in concrete pits for tourists to gawk at, a relic of sorts from a pre-animal rights era. Barker’s visit included press conferences, picketing at the bear zoos and an appearance before tribal council.

The controversial group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals piled onto the debate, but as Barker knows, not every contestant can be a winner. The Cherokee leaders didn’t take kindly to his demands. The tribe cited compliance among bear zoos with local ordinances and federal laws and sent Barker packing.


Close but No Montecristo Award

Property owners in the upscale Balsam Mountain Preserve development nearly did it, but the $16 million in commitments they raised to bail out their beloved developer from a pending foreclosure fell short of what the unwavering lender was owed.

Balsam Mountain Preserve, a development on 4,400 acres sporting a scant 350 lots in Jackson County, was caught in the lurch by the tanking real estate market. Lackluster lot sales prevented the developers from paying off a $20 million loan, thrusting the property into foreclosure proceedings.

Affluent property owners pieced together commitments of $16.3 million in an effort to stave off foreclosure by lenders, preferring to keep the original developers known for their environmental ethos at the helm. But the lender, a private equity real estate investment firm, wasn’t willing to make a deal if it meant a loss.


Filibuster Award

A handful of dedicated county watchdogs took up permanent residence at Haywood County commissioner meetings this year, poised and ready to speak out on most any topic up for discussion on the agenda.

First came the proposed nuisance ordinance, with angry citizens accusing the county of communist rule. The momentum rolled over to budget time, when a 1-cent property tax increase once again demoted commissioners to the role of punching bags to blame for this year’s economic hardships. The equal-opportunity critics chastised the county for its propensity for landing in lawsuits and analyzed nickels and dimes in the county’s budget, from a multimillion dollar landfill expansion to the purchase of office supplies.

Chief among them was Johnnie Cure, who spoke up at nearly every commissioners meeting for months. Her speeches usually took commissioners to task for what she considered excessive spending and earned her a primetime spot on the county’s government access channel where the videotaped proceedings are aired repeatedly in the days following the meeting.

Commissioners tolerated and accommodated the crowds, but expressed frustration at the time-consuming nature of drawn-out public comment at the outset of every meeting.


Best Disguised Logger

Ron Cameron didn’t exactly talk like a logger. He didn’t walk like one either. But when it came to declaring amnesty from the county’s erosion control laws, a logger he was.

When Cameron built a one-and-a-half mile road through a 66-acre tract in the Camp Branch area of Waynesville, he claimed the road was for logging. Loggers are held to laxer erosion standards than developers, namely because the cost of complying with more stringent standards could discourage forestry, which naturally carries smaller economic returns than subdivisions.

The county argued that Cameron was merely hiding behind the logging exemption, however. The county claimed Cameron’s real intention was to develop the property, witnessed by the creation of a development master plan, registering a subdivision name with the county and applying for a septic tank evaluation. He never did any logging other than cutting trees that lay in the path of the roads he built. And the cost of building the road was twice the value of the timber.

Cameron won a lawsuit claiming he was being held hostage by an overbearing erosion enforcement officer. The county settled out of court for $75,000.

Before the ink was dry, Cameron had put the tract up for sale. It was billed by his Realtor as perfect for development. One of the selling points listed in ads: “Roads already in.”

Go to top