Special Reports

Sports analyst Packer fights fine levied by state

Longtime college basketball analyst Billy Packer has called a foul on N.C. environmental enforcers.

Packer, who lives in Charlotte, is fighting a fine of nearly $15,000 for sediment-related violations at the mountain resort he owns, Olde Beau, near Roaring Gap. The state agrees that the violations between 2006 and 2008, during a severe drought, did little or no actual harm.

Six miles away, last December, an Ecosystem Enhancement Program project muddied a trout stream called Glade Creek. The state cited the program for violations twice, days after torrential rain, but levied no fines.

"How's that possible?" said Packer, who appeared in a Mecklenburg County court last week to plead his case. "They're putting all this sediment in the creek and not getting anything" in fines.

Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges agreed that the Glade Creek evidence was compelling enough to reconsider Packer's case. He ordered Olde Beau back to a state administrative law judge.

Lawyers for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources say the cases are different. Packer didn't correct Olde Beau's problems promptly, they maintain, while the state program acted as soon as winter weather allowed.

"DENR will fine anybody," assistant attorney general John Payne told Bridges. "DENR does allow time to correct problems. That's what [the state program] did. That's not what Olde Beau did."

The state Land Quality section, which enforces sediment and erosion laws, often fines government agencies but has never fined the ecosystem program, director Mell Nevils said. The state program, he said, has hired away Nevils' staff "because they know the importance of erosion and sediment control."

Nevils fined Olde Beau $19,110 in 2008.

Packer represented himself in an appeal before a state administrative law judge. He admitted not strictly following a sediment-control plan but said no mud left the 10-acre work site.

That judge also sympathized, saying the fine was unreasonable due to "the complete lack of demonstrable harm" to any waterways off the site. He recommended the fine be reduced to $6,615.

But state law gives DENR the final say in such cases. Assistant secretary Robin Smith ruled last year that the administrative judge's conclusions didn't fit the evidence in several respects. She found a "pattern of noncompliance" and jacked up the fine to $14,700.

That put Packer in the Mecklenburg courtroom last week, bent over his piles of notes on the case. He says he has spent hundreds of hours on it over the past four years.

"That's our complaint: Work with me the same way (DENR) worked with them," he said.