Big Hill Resident Says Guilty Verdict Justified - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

02/26/05

Big Hill Resident Says Guilty Verdict Justified

Some residents of the Big Hill Acres development in Vancleave say it's a verdict that's music to their ears.

A jury found developer Robert Lucas, his daughter Robbie Lucas Wrigley, and their engineer M.E. Thompson Jr. guilty of wetlands violations, mail fraud, and conspiracy.

One Big Hill Acres resident says the developer got what was coming to him.

"He sure hurt a lot of people out here," Stephen Heise says.

Stephen Heise is one of them.

Nine years ago, he bought this land in Big Hilly Acres for it's beauty.

Now he makes renovations like these brick steps to keep from sinking in the mud.

Heise says Robert Lucas developed the wetlands out here without a permit and sold it to his customers for more than it was worth.

But Heise says the bad part is, Lucas did it all knowing it was illegal, an allegation a jury now agrees with.

" The COE (Corps of Engineers) told him he couldn't put septic tank out here. He did it anyway. That's a blatant disrespect for the law or proper authority,"Heise says.

Heise says Lucas also disrespected his customers.

"We have surface sewage. A year and a half after we put it in, we had to pump it out. It's bad."

And Heise says lots of flooding as well.

"He lost air conditioners on this site, he's had water coming over his back deck," EPA Wetland Enforcement Coordinator Mike Wylie says talking about Heise.

"Mr. Lucas and Mrs. Wrigley portrayed this site as never flooding. Obviously, as he testified, it floods as least two or three times a year," added Wylie.

Wylie says all of the allegations are in violation of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

"He filled about 240 acres of wetlands without a permit, that's the biggest single violation in south Mississippi," he said.

Wylie says the guilty verdict in this case shows that illegal use of wetlands will not be tolerated.

But for Heise, the court's decision means no one else will find themselves sinking in the mud Big Hill Acres Resident are already in.

"I'm glad he was found guilty because now he can't do this to people. He can't hurt people like this again," Heise says.

Lucas' attorney Billy Guice says his client will either seek an appeal or attempt to get a new trial.

By Jaimee Goad

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