Duck Impounds Raise Questions, Few Regulations
By Martha L. Hall
Pamlico News Staff
Duck impoundments are part of North Carolina history. Baseball legend Babe Ruth frequented coastal impoundments, including Goose Creek Island and others in the area. Business tycoon J.P. Morgan was a member at the Currituck Gun Club as was Andrew Carnegie. President Dwight W. Eisenhower and boxer Jack Dempsey were reportedly members of ducking hunting clubs.
The sport continues today and has been a visible part of Pamlico County for decades. The most non-productive piece of land can fetch millions of dollars because of its suitability as a duck impoundment.
A petition that the Pamlico County Commissioners received two weeks ago from the Hobucken residents asked that the seven-member board stop the building of any more duck impoundments.
The commissioners turned the matter over to the planning board to see if the county has any enforcement powers or if this is state and federal matters.
The planners will get a legal opinion. Legal research on the matter hopefully will provide answers to questions that remain unclear as to the ultimate authority over impoundments and responsibility for injury or property damage suffered by residents in the immediate areas of the impoundments.
The planning board does not meet this month, but may do so the last Tuesday in August.
Skip Lee, supervisor of Pamlico County building inspections, said his office does not permit impoundments.
He said impounds of more than one acre go through the state Division of Water Quality for a land disturbance permit if owners are building berms and the land is more than an acre.
“A duck impoundment is when they build a berm around a piece of land. The berms may be 2-feet; they may be 6-feet tall,” he said. “If you go down to Lowland, you can see them. One was over my head on the outside of it. The intent is to make a pond of it. Most of the time it’s in a field that had corn in it or something like that.”
Lee said often it was on property that is not suitable to build on for septic or load-bearing reasons.
“They still have to go through the process based on land activity with Division of Water Quality,” he said. “In some cases they have to go through the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers. Often they get a contractor to build the berms and then they dig a well to pump water into it. They have to get a well permit from the Health Department. Then they just fill it up.”
He said a permit from the county (health department) is needed because of the electrical component on the well.
Daniel Kennedy, game warden, for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, says he is the one who polices the duck impoundments. He looks for things like taking too many ducks, for which he imposes a fine and often issues a cease and desist order that prevents the offender from hunting for 2 years or more.
If they take more than an acre to build a duck impoundment, the owners have to apply with the Division of Land Quality because it is considered mining. The county does have an ordinance for that.
There are now dozens of impoundments in the Hobucken and Lowland areas, according to Kennedy.
Tracey Davis, of the state Division of Land Quality, says there are two potential permits that owners of duck impoundments must have and that involves an erosion and sedimentation review. The permit costs $65 per “disturbed acre.” There are 30 days to review the process.
William Wescott of the Corps of Engineers said if it’s in an existing agricultural field his agency is not involved.
“I’m not sure who’s going to regulate that type of thing,” he said. “If it is being built in a forested area or wetlands, it would be our problem.”
Among the Hobucken residents’ complaints was that shotgun pellets had struck roofs, windows and even people.
Billy Sawyer, sheriff of Pamlico County, said intentional shootings are a crime.
“When you shoot up in the air, shotgun pellets fall down. If it hits you in the eye, I guess it could hurt you. There’s no crime there,” he said. “I’ve got one (impoundment) directly” across from my house and it (gunfire) wakes me up on Saturday mornings when it’s duck season. Shot rains down on my house, too, but I’m not in any kind of danger.”
Kennedy said if someone owns a duck impoundment on private property, the owners are the primary policing parties.
“That place (Hobucken and Lowland) is prime for duck hunting,” he said. “That’s a lot of revenue for Pamlico County. As long as they have the proper permits, they can do whatever they want to do. If there was a hunting accident, we would investigate.”
He said people are shot more often turkey hunting or deer hunting.
He said most of the accidents associated with duck hunting are drownings or hypothermia.
On a safety theme, there is a law in Carteret and Craven counties that a duck blind can’t be within 500 yards of another duck blind.
Kennedy said shotgun pellets go about 40 yards and then they lose velocity very quickly.
There are state-maintained duck impoundments on Pamlico Point, Campbell’s Creek.
“We keep them up, we plant them, we regulate them and we make sure everyone has permits,” Kennedy said. “That’s my job. We have state-maintained impoundments in Beaufort County and all up and down the coast. I don’t know how many there are, but I know we have a lot. We only allow so many people in there per day to keep it safe. There is a certain time they have to be out to let the birds have the ability to come in and feed and nest.”
He said his agency makes sure the proper species are being hunted, the bag limit is observed and that legal shells are used.
“We use kayaks and go around and check, using binoculars,” he said. “That’s one of the big things we do. It’s a big job, especially during duck season.
He said the hunters pay a fee of $5 to be able to hunt ducks on state impoundments.
“For the general population who can’t afford their own impoundment, this is what we do,” he said. “We create the environment, we have these impoundments. We manage them. We try to keep them in a state where they have water fowl in them. The hunters come from all over the East coast.”
He said his agency is involved only after impoundments are built.
“We don’t go in and regulate whether they can or cannot build,” he said. “We use aircraft to fly around and make sure they’re not baiting the impoundments. We don’t have the kind of manpower to police every impoundment in the county.”