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Mentone Landowner Raises Eyebrows

by Katie Shaddix last modified April 22, 2008 10:45 AM

Recent clearing of land near Mentone has garnered the attention of nearby residents, as well as state and federal agencies.

By Jared Felkins
The Times-Journal

Published March 26, 2008

Recent clearing of land near Mentone has garnered the attention of nearby residents, as well as state and federal agencies.

Thomas Shafer, of Atlanta, is listed as chief executive officer of Turtle Time, Inc., according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. The company and Shafer individually have bought hundreds of acres of land in Georgia just across the state line to Highway 117 near Mentone, according to DeKalb County probate records.

While many in the area do not know what’s in store for the land, Shafer said it’s just farming.

“I’m not developing anything around Mentone,” Shafer said. “This is a timber investment, as well as a family farm.”

But officials with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Corps of Engineers say whatever is intended for the land and nearby Little River is not in compliance with their practices.

“We have received several complaints on the land clearing activity,” said Scott Hughes, a spokesperson with ADEM. “We have conducted two inspections on Feb. 27 and March 12. We have documented numerous issues that need to be addressed. We are in the process of reviewing our information in house and taking the next step.”

Hughes said that whenever a landowner disturbs more than 1 acre of land, a permit must be obtained from ADEM.

“The owner has not registered this activity with this department and obtained the proper approvals,” Hughes said. “The best management practices that have been installed are not sufficient.”

Hughes said no soils or sediments are allowed to leave a site, but ADEM officials think this runoff may be taking place as a result of Shafer’s clearing of the land.

“The only thing we know is he is disturbing the land greater than 1 acre, which puts him in the regulatory program and he has not registered with ADEM,” Hughes said.

According to Bandi Leheny with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, a file has been opened on Shafer to investigate any possible violations.

Leheny said she could not comment on the ongoing investigation.

The Corps of Engineers has authority over Little River and investigates cases where people put things into or take things out of bodies of water.

Mentone resident Heather Nicely has started a petition against Shafer’s actions. She is asking area residents to sign the petition and plans to present it to federal, state and local governmental agencies.

“The bulldozers arrived on those properties and have been running for months on a 15-hour-a-day basis, removing untold thousands of trees, understory flora and acres of topsoil,” Nicely wrote in the petition. “It is obvious that his disturbance on a grand scale is responsible for major runoff into one of the last of the pristine rivers in the country.”

Officials with both ADEM and the Corps of Engineers plan follow-up visits to Shafer’s land in the ongoing investigations.






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