Smith County Commissioners hear environmental crime case, give owners more time to clean

SMITH COUNTY - A Smith County property owner will have two more weeks to clean up a property before possible sanctions are given.

Krista Garrett, who lives at 16544 Echo Glen Drive, said she had made some headway on cleaning up the property, including mowing the front lawn, removing vines growing on the front of the house, registering sitting cars and drying up standing water.

But as of the court hearing on Tuesday, there was more to do, including moving one particular broken vehicle to a shop and tackling an overgrown backyard. An environmental crimes officer said the grass was taller than the privacy fence in the back.

The Smith County Commissioners Court is the administrative board for the county, setting policy, adopting the overall budget, approving expenditures, programs and making long-range plans.

But, on Tuesday, the body was also a judicial arm in evaluating an environmental crime - namely a property that was unkempt enough to be considered a public nuisance.

The court has the power by statute, but it’s not often utilized. County Judge Nathaniel Moran said over the past year, there have been two cases that have gone before the court.

The court subpoenaed Ms. Garrett, as well as her son, but he did not appear in Court.

“In the last year, two landowners have had to come before this court,” Moran said. “It takes a lot of work to get here, and if you’re here it’s a lot of notice that you ignored or your son ignored.”

The notices for property cleanup began in September 2016, said Mike Burton, environmental crimes investigator for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office.

Burton said tags were put on the door and he and the District Attorney’s Office sent multiple letters. After those went unanswered, the Commissioners Court issued subpoenas.

“It came to where something had to be done because of the neighborhood and the severity of the problem,” Burton said.

Moran said the court could have found the son in contempt of court for failing to appear, but opted to be more lenient by allowing him to appear at a July 25 hearing.

If the property isn’t cleaned up by that hearing, the court has a few options, said Thomas Wilson, assistant district attorney for the civil division. The county could clean the property up and put a lien on it to recover costs, or it could fine the residents up to $500 per day that it remained in violation.

© 2017 KYTX-TV


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