Thursday, June 26, 2008

Upper Swift Creek Plan: Waters not Troubled but Murky

Last night the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors continued the saga of addressing the Upper Swift Creek watershed and the often revised Upper Swift Creek Plan. The newly, and I mean that rather matter of factly given changes and wording considerations construed on the fly at the session, formed amendment passed the Board 4-1*. The lone descent was Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle (R) of Bermuda.

*Jaeckle may take some heat on this but her vote really was merely a vote against the process by which this vote came about...she is absolutely right in that a public hearing and meeting should not be used as a modified work session to tweaked something to be voted on that night. I applaud her for her stand on this ground.

This night was not a night to introduce young people to the venue and dilemma of local politics. I sat uncomfortably at times during this session with the manner in which our public officials conducted business. This matter regarding the Upper Swift Creek Watershed is a vital piece of governance and though I am quite sure alot of time and effort was set forth on behalf of the measure, I do not believe the actions undertaken by this Board last night due justice to the importance such a measure brings to Chesterfield. I am not criticizing the vote in terms of the term "action", but the manner in which this vote came to reality on this given night.

The watershed issue is nothing new. On Feburary 13, 1991 Chesterfield adopted the first Upper Swift Creek Plan. It was later amended once before in October, 2007. The goal has been to pay close attention to the impacts of land-use distribution in this 57 square mile area and its impqacts on the Swift Creek Reservoir supplying roughly then 25% of Chesterfield drinking water. Now, in 2008 The USCP has become a growth management boundary set as a measure in all purposes to limit or delay growth in the watershed, less as a direct result of water quality, but more as how such land distribution will impact services. The biggest service being public education.

While you had many speak to the importance of environmental standards, most speakers last night took on the plan from either a school capacity LOS (level of service) or a property right perspective. Of course, these things are very important to citizens of Chesterfield, bit what I think was lost and is being lost is the direct correlation between increased land distribution through residential and commercial zoning cases and the phosphorus levels with the Swift Creek Reservoir.

Back in 1992, the Board sought to indentify and address the pollutant issue and the effciency of the removal of phosphorus levels from the drinking water resource through what became known as Best Management Practices (BMP). By 1997, the Board had inacted "phosphorus laws" to manage the pollution issue and address some of the concerns regarding pollution. This pollution is a key barometer in evaluating water quality and was addressed back in 1993 when the Board sought to evaluate the guidelines that should be used when taking consideration of new, large scale zoning cases that may impact the watershed. It was around this time that the Watershed Management Committee(WMC) was established to review these concerns and make recomendations for moving forward. One of the speakers last night, Mr. Tom Pakurar, was on that very committee years ago.

Mr. Pakurar is now affiliated with Hands Across the Lake, a non-profit community-based organization here in Chesterfield concerned with the watershed and the impacts of growth on both the quality of life and the water quality of the watershed. Mr. Pakurar is a water quality expert and holds affiliations with such groups as the Sierra Club and the Virginia Conservation Network. His efforts since retiring from Dupont as a scientist has helped shape this debate regarding the future of the watershed.

The future is what we should be concerned about. Not the past inadquecies of previous Boards and not the in-fighting between this Board and its Planning Commission and not the rather tepid demeanor expressed towards fellow Board members. Afterall, could not the watershed potentially become another Falling Creek?

Again, I do not intend on implying any real empirical knowledge with regard to water quality. I leave that to Mr. Pakurar and our environmental engineers, but what I do know as someone who enjoys spending time out on Swift Creek and Lake Chesdin that if anyone of our politcians really wanted to wake up from the "just build it" pills they have been consuming for decades all they would really need to do is spend a day out on these two bodies of water after heavy stormfronts our droughts.

I do not need some debated computer modeling of pollution to tell me anything I cannot see with my very own eyes witnessing the runoff into our resources. There is greater run-off at swift Creek than Chesdin in large part because of the growth experienced. But are we not hell bent on repeating this at Chesdin. Are we not beginning to build out more and more on that system. Are we not contining to zone developments like Chesdin Landing there? Take a look at the the BMP's and ponds asscoaited with the tributaries of Swioft Creek after the next major storms. If they continue to look like this:

We will certainly be in trouble. And what about that drought period we experienced where Chesdin saw its water level drop substantially last year. Were any test conducted on the clay bottom area to determine exactly how much pollutant the reservoir itself could absorb versus the ponds or BMP's?

In 2005, Supervisor Dan Gecker when addressing concerns of Mr. Tom Pakurar and the pollution issue stated that he "respectfully disagreed with the suggestion we (the County) start by measuring BMP efficiency". Now in 2008, exactly what model are we using? In 2005 CH2MHill consulted on the pollutant issue regarding the watershed and its findings have been highly criticized by many reviewing the impacts of phosphorus on the watershed.

Mr Gecker in responding to Mr. Pakurar in 2005 also went on to say that "once the in-lake phosphorus exceeds a certain level, the lake is dead and cannot be revived. The question of whether we could hit that level before we reach full build out is obviously of grave concern."

So exactly what is the level of "full-buildout". Since this statement It is my contention that we have experienced even greater development approvals on a large scale basis. In this watershed or at the very least on its fringes we got the expansion of Charter Colony, Magnolia Green, Roseland (potentially), Watkins Center, growth all along Otterdale, Winterpock, and Woolridge roads.

Are we there yet Mr. Gecker?

Look I am no expert, but when the tributaries and the ponds are more a less a mix of coffee and cream it does not take a PHD to come to the conclusion that the pollutants are not be absorded effciently enough to standard. I am not talking political standard either. Are these ponds settling? if the soil particles are not settling then there should be grave concern. Both the EPA and the State DCR have requirements for this. Are the ponds more efficient today?

It seesm to me we should be focusing on:

1. Protecting our Water resource above developmental concerns or build-out goals
2. Focus on Long-term Care of our resources and passing ordinances as such
3.Address potential excessive pollutants and impacts on our resources as a result of land distribution and zoning cases.
4. Address the number of BMP required to adequeting and efficiently service our resources and re-evaluate them routinely after major economic or environmental developments.
*for example the County should budget today for a study ten years out to address what impacts the growth in the watershed has had since the last real study
5. We need to move past the "modeling" component of how we are gauging levels and move into the reality component stage.

Everyone seems to want some real predictive anaylsis but in all honesty get out there on the water and experience the resource yourself throughout the year and years ahead and you will see the changes to the environment. They say nothing is certain except for change, but we can help to shape that change. We only need the will to do so.

I remember Brandermill in 1982 and remember later the debates over the Harbor Pointe's build out decades ago and with every new zoning case and commercial development the Swift Creek Reservoir has been impacted and will continue to do so. So while we navigate the hornets nest of Levels of Service standards and the over capacity of our schools we must realize that these things are controllable if we place the people in the position of leadership who intend to control them. Many of our leadership, not all, have short memories with regard to the County. Maybe they themselves relocated here in the midst of this great trend in our growth or maybe the dynamic is such that this build out is neccessary, but if we truly want to be a "First Community" of choice we need to look deeper at ourselves and take all of our resources into consideration when moving forward.


Anonymous said...

We had to know this was going to pass Alter. The Board has been under a microscope I think lately and they had to act.

Not many may have noticed but on the same night that the Plan was voted up, impact fees yet again were deffered.

Though I think this was bound to come about, the level of service standard seems unneccessary if they only came to grips with their own zoning process.

Lucks Lane said...

I agree the Board was under pressure to act.

I fell sorry for the County employees who will have to write and apply these regulations.

It does seem too rushed for the new wording in the ordinance.

Looks like an act of Congress.

Bill said...

On balance I can narrowly see how this plan fits with the growth-acknowlegement equation by those that are new to the Board.

Afterall, there are campaign considerations from last year. There has to be at the very least a small indication of following through with delivering some form of reform but at the same time being open to the developers.

It begs many questions. many of these large "build-outs" that have won approval would not be considered if my undertanding is correct given the current status of schools. How will the ordinances impact those areas like Roseland who propose to build schools to offset new home constrcution impacts on schools.

I personally feel that the School Board and Board should have redrawn the lines of schools proactively first but as Alter has said many times 2010 census is right around the corner.

The School Board has proosals already in place for the construction of new schools within the boundary area and I wonder how that impacts the capacity and levels of service. Will these schools have to be in place and open before zoning approvals are granted given that until one comes on line a home will be sitting within another schools boundary eventhough that status will be somewhat temporary as the schools come online.

The issue of service will be subjective and of course the limits will be changed by politicians. For example the fcat that we have a six minute target response time for some areas and residents for Fire/Police/EMS but do not have that standard of service for others is ridiculous. if the County is going to approve these large tracts for residential constrcution and the Fire Marshall has determined that responses will fall short of targets than before the Board approves a zoning case it should require that Fire Stations and Police Sub-stations be in place. This requirement would cost tax payer money of course, but it would be an artifical barrier to increasing development in areas that cannot be serviced.

Supervisor Dan Gecker's treatment of the Fire Department representative was rather unfortunate. He displayed a rather consternation in his tone and deamanor I found unjustified given the circumstance that it was the Board making the wording changes. In argueing language, Gecker displayed a lack of artful means of language of his own when dealing with a servant of the County.

Many times the Board fails to fully comprehend the results of actions taken. The Fire and Police in the County are concerned and these concerns should be embraced not muddled in politics. if they are not made to feel confident in being able to provide the level of service they feel is their duty that is a major problem.

In fairness, if a death were to occurr out in the exterior quarters of the County beyond the reach of Fire/EMS in adequate time to assist a citizen and the response time was proven that had the response been within the target requirement a life could have been saved and the incident oocuured in a zoning approved by the BOard and Planning Commission knowing the concerns of service response than I for one would endorse these people on the Board all be tared and feathered in the public forum for absolute civic negligence.

James said...

Alter your link is failing regarding the picture.

I assume it is in reference to the BMP and the use of ponds as a means of phosphorus absorbtion. Tom Pakurar has done great work on behalf of Chesterfield regarding how the County addresses the water quality scenarios. At times the Board has not wanted to committ to the level or expenses required to ensure greater safety concerns and instead of really evaluating the study conducted by consultants in the past, Boards took the stance on requiring more information before acting. The result was a lot of inaction and debate for years which has brought us to where we sit now. Matoaca and Midlothian have experienced skyrocketting growth and the schools that were meant to address such growth have been overwhelmed and never really provided any sort of remedy.

I was interested in one gentlemans comment last night regarding a water line being constructed from Lake Chesdin. I had not heard of that.

It got me thinking just what is the growth rate projections in comparisons to the maximun number of gallons of drinking water we can garner from our resources in the future. Must people look at water restrictions rather blindly, but one only has to look at the Midwest and see waht all this rain has done there to see the hazards to drinking water that the environment alone may cause. The drought last year was one of our more severe in recent years and Lake Chesdin got lower than I had ever seen it in the past.

Alter's point regarding development in and around Chesdin is a valid one. It is in the stages that Swift Creek was in the 80's with really on one area being developed upon. What happend if Lake Chesdin experiences what Swift Creek did and Dinwiddie and Amelia County approve residential tracts the size of say Woodlake. people may think that this will not happen because of the infrastrcuture shortfalls, but what if a developer in response to increased proffers or such determines that Dinwiddie offers access to the high growth rate of Fort Lee and offers to provide those areas with schools and roads.

We cannot simply continue to expect all the growth to be in Chesterfield. Look at Powhatan as they continue a smart, slow growth phasing that will focus mostly on access Rt. 288 and Watkins Center. Taxes are lower and the County is putting more and more money into its school system and updating its schools. Homebuyers and landbuyers as well as developers may soon opt out of Chesterfield before too long.

Anonymous said...

Alter it did not take the Supervisors long to pass another rezoning after the Plan was approved. Another Casey Sowers zoning got approved for 40 acres backing up on the proposed Roseland case.

Its all smoke and mirrors. The Board may have changed but our reality in Chesterfield has not.

Jack said...

In fairness, though I see your implication Anonymous, I believe that the area in question is next to the Hallesly part of the Roseland development and has met the burden of low-impact development standards within the Plan that was approved by the Board.

I assume that the level of service in terms of schools standard has been met, though I am not sure the nature of that part of the development which may be for retired citizens.

The Roseland case will be heard agian I believe next month and the fact that the USCP is now been approved it makes sense that the same builders will get the support of the Board. The have set it up to where they now have the rational to explain to citizens that though they are approving yet another 5,000 home development it will be spun that they have done it "smarter" than previous Boards.

You are right in one respect. Little has changed. Just the way in which the development is approved butthe development or "build-out" as Alter of Freedom references is here to stay.

The campaign rhetoric by Supervisor Gecker against Donald Sowder and his various mailings regarding the developers seems a bit disingenious at this point given his stand on alot of these issues so far. It seems to me that under Gecker's watch our school will remain at over-capacity and our roads will not raise the level of free flow status throughout the District.

There are still too many factors of quality of life that the Board fail to consider. Its not just money or taxes and it seems that all too often that is the view taken by these members. I get the whole revenue generation model with development but you have a system I believe that encourages the commercial build-out without proffer and in my view that is one that can cause the greater harm to the environment.

Alter of Freedom said...

I had not looked at the scope of things from that perspective Jack. I appreciate the point.

I can see exactly what you are saying just by the impacts of the Rt360 corridor alone from 288 all the way to Woodlake. These area has experienced an expansive build-out in the last fifteen years and the building continues. We are supposed to believe that all the impacts have been addressed but I continually see commercial landscapers spraying new and existing areas with most likely is chemicals that of course will contribute to pollutants in run-off. If you have traveled west on Rt360 the area mostly slopes down towards Swift Creek. During heavy rains the water travels down the road rather quickly.

I have seen this effect in smaller areas like the erosion problem along Old Bon Air Road area with run-off coming from the back end Settlers Landing, Greenfield, Bon Air Terrace areas running directly into the creek bottom that crosses Old Bon Air Road. During heavy rains you will see the muddy runoff cross the road. I remember when people would walk their dogs near the railroad tracks down there but now the smell most times of the year has stopped this activity. Nothing like standing water to curb that activity I guess.

I think we need to address not so much development, though I do not concurr it has to be inevitable, but laso how we develop and what we require developers to put in place in terms of buffers and green space as protection against excessive impacts on our environment.

I believe measures must be taken that will make the developers meet higher standards. The County should set the standard not the developers. This is especially true for water quality. The developers will say they will be unable to meet an increased (lowered) requirement regarding levels of phosphorus. In my view if we find that such a level means that our resource will be mainatained above standard than so be it and that on to itself will begin to slow or limit the growth in the area if not artificially. Developers do not have to buy and build here. They can chose another area with less stringent standards and they can become the problem of that area and not Chesterfields. We need to stop being so overly concerned with the financial constraints of developers and the issues relating to their business. They have models to determine profitibility and they always have to opportunity to not proceed if they feel they will not make the return on investment they bekieve they demand.

The Board should be acting and placing the interests of :
1. Our future and our citizens
2. Our Environment and Quality of Services and Resources
Before the interests of the business community and developers. I know that the Board today is struggling to reach a balance between all of these factors and may simply be trying to play catch up with alot of these issues given that fact that a growth moratorium is not politcial feasible ebenthough I think if a poll was conducted in the County it would be overwhelmingly supported by citizens.

There certainly needs to be a balance, but the balance must be in encouraging development in other areas of the County. The number of residents in Midlothian and Matoaca dwarfs other areas like Bermuda and Dale and continual build-out will impact those residents and the quality of life concerns greater than areas in the County where there has been little major development.

Whats the option? Encourage residents to move or encourage responsible shared responsibility with the developer community to build in areas other than the USCP area as well.

Do not let the politcians off the hook. The County site will show you the traffic counts on all the major roadways and evenafter major road constrcution like 288 most auxillary roads have increased in traffic. The plan to build Watkins center to draw outside revenue to the County will also elevate such traffic counts throughout the Midlothian area as both residents and non-residents travel through the Villages to get to Watkins Center.

My major criticism of this Board and the previous is there still remains a void or disconnect from a holistic approach to things. We are still in the midst of a reactionary environment it seems and until we can get out in front of things very little will change but simply get worse.

If you question this view, please feel free to look at areas like Fairfax that went down the same road using the same process of build-out. It was built and more and more people came. The area now has over 650K registered voting adults where as as we have a total population is just over 300K. We are still in phase two or three of our build-out in parts of Chesterfield whereas Fairfax completed those stages about ten years ago. We should be analyzing the results of such an agenda and determining if that is what we truly want for Chesterfield, now the fourth largest area in the Commonwealth in terms of growth.


Anonymous said...

Here is yet another interesting tidbit.
When Ms. Durfee added the language to the plan that Ms. Jaeckle, Mr. Gecker nor ONE citizen had a chance to review in advance, it created a bit of a problem. ( In addition to being totally contrary to every message she has ever given on open government) The Plan amendment is not an Ordinance. Therefore, the Plan that was “approved” isn’t, until the next BOS meeting when the minutes are approved.
What happens if one or more supervisors decide to change the minutes? You will not find, nor will anyone at the county give you, a copy of what was approved.
We don’t have a plan at this moment.
With the exception of adding the growth management boundary, there was no need to re open the plan. They can deny zoning cases now. The rest is someone trying to “Save Chesterfield”…what a joke.

Anonymous said...

Also, after the 63 months of study, the “First Lady of Smart Growth in Chesterfield” re-opened the plan, didn’t change the land use, and then passed a zoning case (Dogwood) that did not fit the plan recommendations less than an hour after voting to approve it. Wow, we are in trouble.

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