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Monroe to toughen illegal clearing penalties

Monroe County officials will consider the prospect of stiffening penalties for illegal clearing in natural areas.

Commissioner David Rice's proposal, to be unveiled at a meeting this month, will call for increased fines for those charged with unpermitted construction. The current fine is $250, or 10 percent of the value of illegal development.

"Right now, you can clear without a permit and get a slap on the wrist, if that," Rice said.

Under current county code, those who clear land without a permit are required to replant the destroyed habitat and ensure that trees survive for a year from the time of planting.

Fines levied against those who destroy natural habitats are placed in an escrow account that the county uses to manage natural lands, yet the money isn't the critical issue, county growth management director Tim McGarry said.

"Some of this stuff you can never get back," McGarry said.

County officials have already banned development in native forests measuring 2 acres or larger, a move spurred by a state report saying the county was delinquent in protecting the areas.

_ Wire reports