Town halts dirt dumping in Sunset Beach

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH — Town staff last week put a stop to the transport of dirt off town park property after it was determined the proper permits for the work had not been secured.


Sunset Beach Town Administrator Susan Parker said the town placed a stop order on removal of dirt fill from the park site on the mainland to Riverside Drive on the island on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 23, for two reasons.

The first reason is the town’s chief building inspector, Sandy Wood, verbally requested Carolina Creations, the landscaping company contracted to do work at the new park, place fill outside the town’s jurisdictional boundaries.

The second reason is the applicant/owner of the Riverside Drive site, Sammy Varnam, failed to obtain town fill-and-grade and floodplain permits, Parker said.

She added that according to the state Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) Division, Varnam has obtained a major permit from CAMA, which addresses fill and excavation.

Parker said it was the prerogative of the contractor to remove the dirt as it saw fit.

Several dump-truck loads of dirt were carried over from the park parking lot site to the Riverside Drive property, which is owned by Varnam.

Varnam, along with Greg Gore, are prior owners through their company, Tidal Ventures, of the park property that Sunset Beach Town Council approved buying from them in 2011, with the town allocating $2.1 million. The total $2.65 million price tag for the 5-acre park site was offset by two grants — $150,000 from the state Division of Water Resources, and $400,000 from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.

Last Thursday, former Sunset Beach Mayor Richard Cerrato sent an email to Parker asking whether the town was compensated for the fill dirt.

“Does Mr. (Varnam) or Carolina Creations plan to reimburse the Town for the fill dirt and related transportation charges to include the use of the trucks, labor and time?

“I would like answers to these questions and any related public documentation related to this side bar arrangement. The taxpayers paid Mr. (Varnam) and Mr. Greg Gore nearly $2.2 million for this dirt and it belongs to the taxpayers and not to be used to violate the law for their benefit,” Cerrato wrote. “These type of activities are nothing new to this town and only seem to continue when certain parties are involved.”


‘We’re all good’

Varnam, contacted Monday, April 28, said he had all the proper permits for the work.

“The town apologized, and we’re all good,” he said.

Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts said Monday he isn’t aware anyone with the town apologized for anything.

“I’m not aware of any apologies that were needed or given,” Watts said.

Varnam said two island residents had “just conjured up some more lies” against him and that anything they say is false and untrue.

“I don’t think we need to say a whole lot more about it,” he said. “This is just falling into (their) plans to create controversy. Personal vendettas do not trigger a violation.”

Watts said part of Coastal Creations’ contract was to remove dirt from the park site at its own expense.

“If it worked out with Sammy, more power to them, or with anybody,” Watts said.

If Varnam offered to pay for trucks to get the dirt, “it makes perfect sense because (Coastal Creations doesn’t) have to pay,” Watts said.


Work update

On Tuesday, April 29, Parker forwarded an email sent to the town to the Beacon from regional engineer Dan Sams with the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Sams said because soil from multiple locations has been placed at Riverside Drive, it isn’t necessary for the town to “include the disposal area from soil from the Sunset Park project. The Riverside Drive developer can modify his approval to reflect received soil from all locations contributing to that site’s topographic changes.”

Parker also alerted Sunset Beach Town Council she had reviewed the contract with Carolina Creations stating excavated materials not used on-site become the property of Carolina Creations for disposal.

“Carolina Creations sought other contractors to accept the fill in preparation for accepting gravel for the Town Park parking lot,” Parker wrote. “Mr. (Varnam) agreed to take the fill and began placing the materials on Riverside Drive.”
Parker said she met with Carolina Creations last Thursday, April 24, to clarify the situation. She gave the company permission to continue work and store excavated materials on site until the matter is resolved.

Parker said CAMA has informed her Varnam has a major CAMA permit for Riverside Drive that includes fill and excavation materials.

She also met Monday, April 28, with Varnam and Ed Gore on Monday to ask Varnam to complete the town’s permit applications.

“We also requested a soil compatibility statement, which we have received and forwarded to the FEMA Region IV office in Atlanta for review yesterday,” Parker said.

Soil from the town park is not being transported to Riverside Drive until the town hears from FEMA about soil compatibility, Parker said.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.