County Orders Property Owner To Clear Debris

SNOW HILL — A Worcester property owner this week got no relief from a county-ordered nuisance abatement for a demolished building at an intersection in Bishopville, despite efforts to work with local fire departments on a possible controlled burn of the former structure.

Worcester County property owner James Bergey, Jr. recently asked for a five-week extension to remove what’s left of an old building on his property near the intersection of St. Martin’s Neck Rd. and Bishopville Rd. after several failed attempts to coordinate with local fire departments on a possible controlled burn of the old structure as a training exercise.

The county issued a nuisance abatement essentially ordering the property owner to clean up the dilapidated structure after receiving several complaints from neighbors about the eyesore and safety hazard.

After attempting to work out a controlled burn with both the Bishopville and Berlin Fire companies last fall, the property owner had the old structure razed and what’s left of it remains piled in a heap near the intersection in Bishopville.

Bergey has since reopened discussions with the fire companies to conduct a controlled burn of the remnants of the building, but changes in the state law prohibits a controlled burn of a structure that has already been torn down.

Bergey has since asked for an extension of five weeks to afford him more time to clean up the property and has not abandoned hope for a possible controlled burn. While most agreed burning what is left of the building piled on the side of the road is favorable to hauling it to the county landfill, the law changes and the continued nuisance forced county officials to not grant the extension this week.

“I would be opposed to a five-week extension,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “It’s not like we’re asking him to do it. He can hire somebody to clean that up. There’s no excuse for that. If I had that in my neighborhood, I’d be upset too.”

Complicating the issue is the fact Bergey has been out of the country and has not been able to clear the debris or make new arrangements with one of the fire companies, according to Commission President Bud Church.

“He thought he had an agreement with the fire company and he tore the building down and piled it up for a burn,” he said. “After he did that, he was told he couldn’t do it. He has assured me when he gets back from his trip, he’ll have it cleared up.”

Commissioner Virgil Shockley said he appreciated the property owner’s dilemma, but blamed the rule change handed by the state for part of the problem.

“This is another example of the state getting involved in things the county used to handle,” he said. “This was always an acceptable way to get rid of these structures without it going into the landfill. I wouldn’t want this in my neighborhood either, but you can’t tear a structure down and then burn it.”

Tudor said the state law change was subject to some interpretation that would allow a controlled burn in certain circumstances, but agreed any hope for that outcome was lost when the structure was torn down.

“You can burn a standing structure as a fire company exercise, but once it’s torn down, it’s considered solid waste and has to be handled differently,” he said.

Nonetheless, Church said the distinction between a standing structure and a razed one was confusing.

“It seems like it would be more of a hazard to burn it while it’s standing rather than after it had been torn down,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

After considerable debate, the commissioners voted unanimously not to grant the five-week extension requested by the property owner, who must now find a way to clear the debris or face fines from the county.