2007-10-24 / Front Page

Commission faults reservoir plan

Some members say it provides less protection
By Greg Pearson

County commissioners are questioning the value of the Upper Swift Creek Plan recently approved by the board of supervisors. Some say the new plan offers fewer safeguards than the previous 1997 version. County commissioners are questioning the value of the Upper Swift Creek Plan recently approved by the board of supervisors. Some say the new plan offers fewer safeguards than the previous 1997 version. The Chesterfield Planning Commission says the new Upper Swift Creek Plan approved by the board of supervisors earlier this month inadequately protects the Swift Creek Reservoir as a source of drinking water for the county. Some commissioners believe the plan provides fewer safeguards than the previous plan.

"It was four years wasted," said Matoaca Planning Commissioner Wayne Bass. "We spent a lot of money on water quality, and that was thrown out the window. The plan is not a whole lot different than it was originally, [but] the whole watershed is now open for business."

"The board stripped out all the controls - the deferred growth area and the level of service [for roads and schools]," added Clover Hill Planning Commissioner Russ Gulley. "The plan is basically meaningless without amendments to back it."

Bass and Gulley's districts comprise the 57-square-mile area covered by the plan that starts at the intersection of routes 288/360 and goes west to Grange Hall Elementary School and northwest to the Powhatan County line. The most western part of the watershed was essentially a deferred growth area - meaning development was discouraged in that area - but the board vote eliminated that generally accepted restriction. The proposed deferred growth area was 4,900 acres.

The approved plan calls for keeping the current phosphorous standards for residential (.22 pounds per acre annually) and commercial (.45 pounds); not imposing a deferred growth area; increasing road buffers from 50 feet to 100 feet; and using a western route for a possible extension of the Powhite Parkway. It also allows for the county's director of environmental engineering to impose remedial action if the phosphorous level exceeds .04 milligrams per liter for two successive years. The previous ordinance called for .05, but the county is anticipating the state-mandated level to be reduced to .04.

The commission expects a rush of zoning cases in the plan area to get zoning approved and building underway in case phosphorous levels rise and environmental engineering imposes more stringent standards. Development under construction or completed would be grandfathered under the current standards.

"The impetus will be to build as fast as you can," said Bermuda Planning Commissioner Jack Wilson.

Planning Commission Chairman Dan Gecker said he expects some areas of the watershed to have more rigorous phosphorous standards imposed if the phosphorous level rises. "Later parcels of land could be undevelopable," suggested Gecker.

Undeveloped land typically produces .16 pounds per acre of phosphorous annually, known as "no net increase." Runoff from residential development increases that average amount, and commercial development - largely because of more rooftop area and paved parking lots - increases it considerably more.

"We haven't addressed being over the 25,000 pounds," said Bass. A consultant for the county estimates that when all development currently approved in the watershed is complete, the reservoir will be 4,000 pounds over the recommended amount of 25,000 pounds of phosphorous annually. More development will increase that amount.

The commission also wanted to have flexibility built into the plan, allowing the county to apply the phosphorous brakes gently if the amount climbs rather than imposing a stringent standard after exceeding .04 milligrams for two consecutive years

"The county went from a proactive to reactive protection," complained Tom Pakurar of Hands Across the Lake, a local group focused on water quality in the reservoir. "The measure was introduced after the public comment period, so no one had the opportunity to comment on the proposal."

The county board's 4-1 vote on Oct. 10 had only Clover Hill Supervisor Art Warren opposing the plan. Local businesses - predominately builders and developers - and some property owners in the proposed deferred growth area prevailed over county staff, environmentalists and two large community associations.

The most recent county data shows that the amount of phosphorous in the reservoir has declined over the last four years, and proponents of the board's plan cited that as proof that the existing phosphorous standards are working.

Bass hopes a new board will review the plan in January. There are open seats in the Bermuda and Matoaca supervisor races, and candidates in several races are running on "smart growth" platforms.

Bass also supports one countywide comprehensive plan, saying the county is considering hiring an outside consultant next year for such a change.

During the past four and a half years, Dick McElfesh, director of environmental engineering, estimates the county has spent $850,000 on outside consultants to study the upper Swift Creek watershed.

Return to top