Couple Hit With Wetlands Fine 
for Trimming Bushes

By CINDY CLAYTON, The Virginian-Pilot
April 11, 2002
from Liberty Matters

NORFOLK -- Doug and Tammy Nicoll trimmed the bushes on their Ocean View property last fall, worried that overgrowth could hide trespassers or trip children who play on the land beside Pretty Lake.

But last weekend's mail brought a new worry:

The Nicolls, who live at the end of 15th Bay Street, a wetlands area, said they didn't know they needed one. They've been trimming the bushes since 1994, when they bought the property. They moved to a house across the street from the lot two years ago.

To make matters worse, Doug Nicoll received a summons earlier this week to appear in court on May 7 on charges that he ``conducted regulated activity without a permit.'' If convicted, he could face a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.

``This is totally bogus,'' said an angry Nicoll, who has called his lawyer and vowed to fight.

On Wednesday, he appeared before the Wetlands Board and explained that he and his wife were never notified that the board was considering action against them. A letter from City Hall was sent to the wrong address, they said.

The board agreed to rescind the ruling and allow the couple to appear at the May 8 meeting to tell their side of the story.

City officials said they weren't sure why the letter was sent to the Nicolls' previous address.

The couple acknowledged that they received a letter in December from City Hall that had been forwarded to them. The letter, from the Environmental Services office, warned that they had violated the law, but was not specific and contained confusing language, they said. It also asked them to arrange a meeting with Environmental Services employees.

The Nicolls said their calls to the office were not returned.

Wetlands laws protect tidal areas, plant life and wildlife. The laws restrict cutting or removing plants, digging, dredging and other activities without a permit.

An Environmental Services employee who looked at the lot in February and again on Tuesday said cutting the bushes could kill them. If the bushes die, he said, there also could be erosion and storm water run-off problems.

But the overall environmental impact on the lot should be minimal, said Environmental Engineer Kevin R. DuBois.

The Nicolls said they haven't seen any negative changes in the plant life through the years. They believe cutting back the bushes isn't harmful.

``You can see the new growth,'' Nicoll said.

The Nicolls describe themselves as people who love the ``wetlands, herons and egrets.'' They said they have no dispute with the board members.

``My whole problem with the system,'' Nicoll said, ``is how it was handled.''

They look forward to a chance to tell their side, they said, because they feel their right to manage and control their own property has been jeopardized.

``If people don't start fighting stuff,'' Tammy Nicoll said, ``we're going to lose every right that we have.''

Reach Cindy Clayton at cclayton@pilotonline.com or 446-2540.

 

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