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Neighbors keep close eye on Nantahala

Ami Shinitzky, developer of Mystic River, understands why all eyes are on him as he works to develop lots for luxurious homes along the banks of the Nantahala River. 

As someone who bought the property to enjoy the natural beauty of the Nantahala Gorge, he said, he has just as much vested interest in protecting the river.

“We’re going to be the most conscientious custodians of this river section,” Shinitzky said. 

But some residents have noticed trees being cut down along the river they considered unnecessary and fear it could be in violation of the 25-foot trout buffer that is supposed to be undisturbed during construction.   

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has received complaints about development activities, but DENR directed the complaints back to Kevin Seagle, Swain County’s director of inspections. 

Stan Roberts, whose family owns a lot in Mystic Ridge, sent Seagle an email claiming that he observed trout buffer violations at Mystic River in late January.  

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Roberts said he witnessed at least a dozen large trees cut down along the feeder stream that runs along the west side of the road and many of the stumps were within 6 to 10 feet of the stream. He said tractors and equipment were being used without a silt fence in place to keep mud from pouring into the river.

“It is a live water stream and therefore governed under the state and federal laws regarding trout streams,” he wrote. “A representative from the EPA who happens to be a friend of one of the owners took extensive pictures and termed the whole is a ‘crime scene.’”

After receiving the complaint, Seagle said he went out to the subdivision on Feb. 6 to speak to the developer, Shinitzky, and show him what he needed to make sure the site was in compliance.

“(Roberts) sent me an email of what was going on, but it wasn’t written up as a violation,” Seagle said. “It’s not as bad as (the complaintant) said it was.”

Seagle said there was nothing illegal about cutting down trees in the development and he didn’t see any runoff into the feeding stream or the river. He indicated in the report that it was a dry and sunny day when he inspected the property from 1 to 1:30 p.m. 

Seagle sent Mystic Lands a report stating what needed to be done to address an inadequate buffer zone. Shinitzky has 15 days to bring the site into compliance before a re-inspection is done. The report was sent by certified mail and Seagle hasn’t received a response yet.  

The report called for a silt fence on the bank of the feeder stream and for a ground cover to be used in all areas of disturbance. Seagle also said that regulations require no disturbance within 25 feet of the main creek and feeder stream and that erosion control measures needed to be maintained. 

“We really protect the Nantahala River — it’s a huge tourism draw and fish habitat,” Seagle said. “Every time something is built there, a surveyor outlines a 25-foot trout buffer and they have to stay out of that.”

Shinitzky said the allegations were unfounded and that a disgruntled former property owners association employee made the complaints. He said all construction along the river was following strict environmental guidelines, including state-of-the-art septic systems that purify the water to drinking water quality. 

Shinitzky said he had cut down as few trees as possible to build roads and the clubhouse, including 20 trees along the river. He paid $52,000 plus labor to purchase and plant two rows of evergreen trees that will grow tall and fast. He said the indigenous trees along the river needed to be removed so the evergreens would get enough sun to grow. 

“We needed to create a visual and sound barrier from the road, so I planted 1,200 evergreen trees from one end to the other,” he said. 

Tom Schreiber, a resident of Mystic Ridge — a nearby development that is among three that make up what Shinitzky calls Mystic Lands Development — and a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Shinitzky, said many residents were suspicious of the trees being cut down. Residents were particularly upset that Shinitzky didn’t consult the property owners association members before cutting down the trees.

Perry Polsinelli, who purchased a lot in Mystic River in 2005, is now just in the process of getting his retirement home built. While he doesn’t claim to be an expert when it comes to the trout buffer and other regulations, he too is concerned about trees being cut down. 

“Our main concern is the environment — the last resort is cutting down a tree,” he said. 

Shinitzky said he is in good standing with county and state inspectors and has full intentions of following the law to maintain the beauty of Mystic Lands. Considering the river property was formerly a 200-site campground, he feels certain the river is being better protected under his development standards for wastewater.

“The campground lavatories were not even rudimentary,” he said. “My conscious is clear — I’ve never taken a short cut here.”

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