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Developer Promises To Replant After Chainsawing Lake Norman Vegetation

A Lake Norman custom home builder violated shoreline management rules when his workers cleared buttonbushes, trees and other vegetation from a Mooresville cove without permission last week, a Duke Energy spokeswoman said.

Len Bealer, owner of Kenneth Bealer Homes, could at least be required to submit a re-vegetation plan, Duke Energy spokeswoman Kim Crawford said.

Duke Energy manages Lake Norman and other lakes along the Catawba River under federal license.

“It was unintentional,” Bealer told the Observer this week. “I will take accountability for anything we have done.”

Two of Bealer’s workers cleared the vegetation from property Bealer owns on a cove in the McCrary Creek section of the lake in Mooresville. Vegetation was cleared from an area roughly 50 yards long and 25 feet wide, much of it typically under water.

Duke Energy’s shoreline management plan prohibits homeowners from removing vegetation from the lake’s shoreline without permission from the company. Vegetation prevents sediment run-off, protects recently spawned fish from predators and provides wildlife habitat. Volunteers planted the McCrary Creek buttonbushes years ago.

Billy Wilson, a member of the Lake Norman Marine Commission who lives across the cove from Bealer’s property, said he tried to stop Bealer’s workers from chainsawing the vegetation April 5. The workers promised him they would but instead resumed the chainsawing on April 7, he said.

Wilson said Bealer was on the property April 7, along with two Iredell County sheriff’s deputies who happened to be responding to a call of a truck blocking a road.

Wilson said Bealer told him he had a permit from Duke Energy to clear the vegetation. Wilson said he replied that he doubted that was true. He said he told Bealer and the deputies that he has a thorough understanding of Duke Energy’s shoreline management plan. Wilson also is president of Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists and on the boards of the N.C. Wildlife Federation and Mooresville Environmental Protection Commission.

Wilson said the deputies eventually told him to stop “arguing” and take the matter up with Duke Energy, while Bealer threatened to sue him. The deputies stood by as Bealer’s workers then finished clearing the vegetation, Wilson said. Wilson said he immediately notified Duke Energy, and a representative arrived later that day.

“So now we have a wood duck box in a barren desert,” Wilson said at the site Tuesday, where only the roots of the buttonbushes remain.

“We’ve been planning for years to restore habitat at Lake Norman,” said Tim Gestwicki, chief executive officer of the N.C. Wildlife Federation. “This is kind of a kick in the gut.”

Had the sheriff’s deputies stopped Bealer’s workers from proceeding April 7, they could have saved half of the vegetation, Gestwicki said. “Instead, the whole habitat got destroyed.”

Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

“I want to be clear that I appreciate the Duke Energy representative’s prompt response to the scene,” Wilson said. “However, given that the buttonbushes were destroyed by the time he got there, it’s obvious that law enforcement were the only ones that could have halted the destruction.

“Also, I do not question the Iredell County Sheriff’s Department’s commitment to protecting the environment: Deputy and Lake Patrol Officer Darren Hill participates in Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists’ Island Habitat Program.”

As a result of the vegetation removal, Gestwicki said, the federation plans to hold a meeting with various law enforcement agencies that patrol the lake “to do some continuing education.”

“The fish, waterfowl, turtles, herons and the water are all public trust resources,” Gestwicki said.

Bealer said he called Wilson later April 7 “and apologized for 30 minutes.” Wilson said he received the call after Duke Energy discussed the matter with Bealer.

Bealer told the Observer he intended simply to clean up a property littered with condoms, baby diapers and other trash.

“I didn’t do my homework,” Bealer said. “If Duke Power says it, if Billy Wilson says it, I must be wrong.”