Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Carmel on the Case: Wetlands Follow UP
You've probably heard the expression, win the battle but lose the war. Well, that's exactly what happened to a homeowner who thinks Miami-Dade County is trying to take his home away. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On the Case.
WSVN -- It's the end of another long day for 70-year-old Ed Chapman. To make ends meet, he's been working at a temporary painting job in Boca Raton. He leaves his South Miami-Dade home before the sun comes up and gets back when its going down.
Ed Chapman: "I'm broke. I have nothing. We can't pay the bills."
That's because Ed is spending thousands on a court battle with Miami-Dade County to save his home.
He lives in what's called the 8.5 square mile area. It's an environmentally sensitive farming area that borders the Everglades.
After hurricane Wilma, Ed accepted free mulch for his property from trucks that came into the area. The county says Chapman and his neighbors used that mulch to fill wetlands and now must clean it up, but the homeowners say no one ever told them they lived on wetlands.
Ed Chapman: "We're not a wetlands. Sweetwater is more of a wetlands than we are. They have more standing water and less drainage there than we have here."
Robert Duvall: "There are a number of of these enforcement cases out in the 8.5 Square Mile area."
In court, the county argued it didn't have to tell Chapman his property is a wetland before it cited him.
Judge Barbara Areces: "How are they supposed to know its wetlands?"
Robert Duvall: "This is not our legal obligation to advise every property owner as to whether they own a particular wetland."
But Chapman's attorney argued the property is not a wetland and it was the county that allowed the mulch to come into the area.
Patricia Baloyra: "Thousands and thousands of truckloads of this material was deposited into the 8.5 Square Mile area and the county knew about it and let it happen."
This is one of two entrances into the area. They were manned by teams of environmental agents and law enforcment agents. They allowed the mulch in.
Officer William Stiffler of the Fish and Wildlife Commission testified he was working undercover to stop illegal trash dumping after Wilma.
Officer William Stiffler: "They told us to target tires, roofing debris, trees."
The officer testified the assignment was about illegal dumping. There was nothing said at that time about mulch not being used to fill wetlands.
The Department of Environmental Resources backed up the county in court testifying it decided the Chapman property is a wetland, but the judge wasn't buying it.
Judge Areces: "The county has not met the burden with regard to finding that this property is a wetland."
That's the good news, the bad news Ed Chapman signed an agreement when all this started to take the mulch out. So even though the court decided the mulch was not on protected wetlands the judge says he has to honor that agreement.
Ed Chapman: "I don't know, we'll just have to see what happens."
He can't afford to pay someone to remove it, and he doesn't have the strength to do it himself.
Ed Chapman: "Well, we bought this figuring we'd die here."
Which means Ed and Linda Chapman still face the prospect of losing their home.
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