Hyde situation a goodreminder of caveat,'buyer beware'

Published 6:59 am Sunday, March 23, 2003

By Staff
We feel great sympathy for the Waterway Landing lot owners in Hyde County: They are faced with the unwelcome prospect of seeing dredge spoils dumped in their midst in the not-too-distant future. However, some good may come out of their ordeal, as future property owners everywhere -- but especially in a coastal area -- can learn a valuable lesson from their experiences.
In 1957, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acquired a spoils easement on the land along the Alligator Canal in Hyde County that was transformed into the Waterway Landing subdivision. Until just recently, the prospects for using that easement apparently had appeared slim -- at least enough that some of the people who bought Waterway Landing lots thought they'd be secure in their building plans.
Sadly, some of the buyers either did not understand the portent of the easement or were given no knowledge of it.
Last Monday night, the property owners and the Hyde County commissioners tried another appeal to Corps officials over the dredge spoils problem. However, it appears the Corps is moving even closer to making use of its easement.
Col. Ray Alexander, the Corps' Wilmington district commander, enlightened a lot of people about the importance of the Intracoastal Waterway, pointing out that it provides the most economical means of commercial shipping. The establishment of the Nucor steel company in Hertford County two years ago has meant even more barge traffic on the ICW, he pointed out, and the plant's operations are expected to increase.
Ironically, the expansion of waterway barge traffic has increased shoaling in the Alligator-Pungo Canal, and one of the biggest problem areas for the Corps is right in front of Waterway Landing property.
Perhaps the only hopeful news at this point is that the Corps might not have to use the spoils area at Waterway Landing for at least four more years.
With the increasing numbers of retirees moving to Eastern North Carolina in recent years -- and the natural attraction of waterfront property -- more and more subdivisions have appeared in once unpopulated areas. For counties such as Beaufort, Craven and Pamlico, that has meant a welcome increase in tax base. Hyde County's mainland is desperate for some kind of similar boost. As new county Commissioner Bea Emmert pointed out during the discussions Monday night, "We badly need growth in the county to survive, to continue to be a county, really."
Waterway Landing residents have not given up their fight, but we are not certain how successful they will be, given the traditional outcomes of disagreements with agencies of the federal government. Surveys and water-quality tests, which were mentioned by the property-owners as options Monday night, might prove nothing more than delaying tactics.
One of the biggest concerns we have in this situation is whether representatives of Timberline Land Co. were clear with prospective Waterway Landing residents when they were showing the property. The company owner told the Daily News last month that the easement was defined clearly on the plats, and a Daily News reporter who checked the plats in the Hyde County Register of Deeds Office saw the 1,000-foot Intracoastal Waterway easement notation on them.
However, at least one of the property owners told the Daily News that the facts were explained to him in very vague terms.
At this point, it appears the allegations over disclosure never will rise above the one-word-against-another level of debate.
The best we can do now is hold out two hopes. First, while we believe the possibility is remote, there always is hope that the Corps of Engineers somehow can be persuaded to pursue other sites for dumping dredge spoils.
Second, the Waterway Landing saga is a strong reminder that no one should enter into a real estate transaction without assuring themselves they have read, fully and completely, every piece of paper, down to the tiniest type, relative to the process. Otherwise, their signature on the dotted line may bring them nothing but headaches and heartache.