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Sunset Beach town officials say there is no record of a petition sent to a state agency nearly a decade ago in support of lifting an inlet hazard designation for Mad Inlet.
Their comments came at the start of the Feb. 18 Sunset Beach Town Council retreat, when they voted to send another letter about the matter to the Coastal Resources Commission before its meeting this Wednesday, Feb. 26, in Nags Head.
Council also approved authorizing town representatives, including Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts, to attend that meeting. Watts said a special comment period has been scheduled at the meeting.
Watts said he has also accepted an invitation to speak at one of four CRC meetings scheduled in late March.
Town clerk Lisa Anglin said she reviewed six months of town council and planning board records on either side of an unsigned, faxed petition dated July 19, 2004, requesting removal of the inlet hazard designation from private property that runs from the 40th Street walkover on the Sunset Beach island to the Bird Island Coastal Reserve.
Anglin said she found “no reference at all — not even a discussion” about the matter.
Town planning board chairman Carol Santavicca said she, too, was surprised to hear about the petition “because there was no discussion, ever.”
She suggested they might discuss the town Unified Development Ordinance regarding “things we might not want.”
If the designation is lifted and development is the result, “at least we can control some of the type of development to minimize town liability in the future,” she said.
If it is stripped away, Watts said he doesn’t think the town is vulnerable to immediate development, citing stringent zoning that’s already in place.
Local residents opposed to the proposal continue to question the unsigned, unsealed document that was faxed to state officials in July 2004.
The questionable “draft” document stating that Sunset Beach Town Council petitions CRC to remove the inlet hazard designation does not include any names or signatures of town officials and is not on town letterhead, nor does it bear the town seal.
“Clearly it was a bogus petition not initiated by the town,” said island resident Sue Weddle.
The petition originated from the Sunset Beach office of Walter D. Knott, who was apparently connected with a company called Knott Financial Strategies Group at 790 Sunset Blvd., Unit 6. A phone number for the company is now used by a local pizza business.
Longtime town planning board member Al Seibert said this week he had never heard of Knott and did not think he was ever on the planning board.
“I don’t know a damn thing about that inlet,” Seibert said. “It’s like foreign news. I never heard of (Knott).”
Former town administrator Linda Fluegel, who retired in 2007, said Monday, Feb. 24, she doesn’t know who Knott is, either, but recalls that was a time when CRC or its science panel had started looking at changing the Mad Inlet designation.
“They were all right with it, because the change in the designation would allow people at the inlet to come out of that high-hazard designation,” she said, adding zoning was in place so they felt comfortable with it.
Fluegel said she left a file of correspondence about the matter in her old office file cabinet that could help provide information if it is located.
Weddle also took issue last week with decade-old emails recently provided by Braxton Davis, director of the state Division of Coastal Management.
An email dated Aug. 10, 2004, from then-N.C. Assistant Attorney General Merrie Jo Alcoke to N.C. Coastal Management officials refers to Amos Dawson as “attorney for the town of Sunset Beach, regarding their petition for rulemaking to remove the inlet hazard classification.”
Another email dated Aug. 9, 2004, from Dawson to Alcoke and copied to Fluegel states after discussions with former coastal hazards analyst Jeff Warren, “the Town has decided to delay submission of its petition for rulemaking until the CRC Science Panel has an opportunity to study all of the inlet hazard designations in a comprehensive process, which should begin late this fall.”
Fluegel said this week Dawson worked with her on bridge issues and the sewer system.
“I know he was never involved in (Mad Inlet),” she said.
Longtime town attorney Mike Isenberg told the Beacon this week Dawson represented the town in some dealings with state agencies.
“I do not remember ever talking to him myself and do not know him,” Isenberg wrote in an email response to the Beacon. “I do remember Linda telling the council on occasion that he was assisting the town.”
Dawson said Tuesday, Feb. 25, he doesn’t remember anything about Mad Inlet.
“That was 10 years ago,” he said. “I really have no recollection on it at all.”
Dawson said he did work for developer Ed Gore and with the town on different matters involving CAMA.
“I just don’t recall this particular issue,” he said.
Another email provided by Davis, dated July 23, 2004, is from former N.C. Coastal Management Director Charles Jones to Warren, who today serves as senior policy advisor with the office of the president pro tem in the North Carolina Senate. The email refers to mystery man Knott.
“Jeff, Would you call Walter Knott (910-575-7900) on Monday and let him know what area he wants deleted as an inlet hazard area,” the email reads. “He says he only wants an area on the sound side excluded and not the oceanfront. I told him you were ‘the man’ (not really) who would be the best person to take a look at the area he was requesting.
“I also told him that if he filed his petition, we were going to ask the CRC to deny the request and suggest they ask the Science Panel to take a look at Mad Inlet and make a recommendation whether the ABC area should be modified, deleted, etc. He wasn’t particularly happy with the time frame it might take but was appreciative of an honest response.”
Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.