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County orders man to plant on wetlands

The county has ordered a landowner to make amends for damaging wetlands when he cleared part of his 50-acre property off Van Dyke and Brown roads without permission. Property owner Joe Hanson has been told by the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) that he must plant 150 gallon-sized wetlands trees on the property. The plantings are to compensate for the damage caused when the Barnett Excavation Co. destroyed nearly one acre of protected wetlands.

The wholesale cost of those trees _ which include sweet bays, swamp bays and dahoon hollies _ would be about $337, said Steve Davis of Tampa Wholesale Nursery.

Hanson also must plant grass seed on several acres that were scraped to the soil by the clearing. And he must remove three or four mounds of trees and vegetation that were piled up before complaints by neighbors halted the land clearing.

Those same neighbors are now taking issue with the EPC's findings.

"He did an awful lot of damage there," neighbor Elsie Skinner said. "I think what he replaces should be equivalent. That's a slap on the wrist."

Oscar Tomas, whose land abuts Hanson's property, also disagreed with the EPC's findings. Tomas contends an earlier EPC survey mapped out eight acres of wetlands on the 50-acre tract _ acreage that was destroyed by the excavation.

"If you destroy the land and then get the EPC to come out to survey, maybe you get a more favorable deal," Tomas said.

Tomas said he plans to take his complaints to the Keystone Civic Association. But he added he's not sure how effective the organization can be in light of the EPC's decision.

"It's no longer just a matter of buying a piece of land and doing what you please because it's yours," said Chris Linkous, president of the Keystone Civic Association.

If a property owner wants to clear land that has been deemed environmentally sensitive, a permit must be obtained from the EPC.

After the EPC stopped the clearing, Hanson said he was unaware that he had done anything wrong. He said he planned to live on the land and to farm it.

Hanson could not be reached for comment Wednesday on the EPC's decision.

Hanson has 60 days to take corrective action, said Mark Howard, an environmental scientist with the EPC.