February 26, 2017

City Council delays action on Reedy Creek project as candidates announce opposition

The next time the ordinance is before City Council is scheduled to be November 14th.

Photo: Reedy Creek Coalition

Council voted to continue the Ordinance 2016-217 on the funding for the controversial Reedy Creek Restoration project until November 14th. The Reedy Creek Restoration has meet with serious opposition in the neighborhood and beyond. Nearly every home between Westover Hills Drive and Bland Street along Forest Hill Avenue has a sign like you see above in the front yard.

A full wrap-up of why Reedy Creek Coalition, the volunteer caretakers of the watershed, oppose the project as it now stands can be found in full here. The gist of the argument against is that not only was the plan not fully researched or vetted with the community the plan will cause more damage than good.

The opposition is summed up in eight points and the following is from Reason 4: Proposed Site is “Low Benefit”:

That brings us to the issue of whether the proposed stream restoration will have much benefit for the Chesapeake Bay which is the main reason the project was proposed in the first place.  The answer is a resounding “NO”.  As noted above, the proposed project is upstream from Forest Hill Park Lake.  Currently, the lake acts as a retention pond to trap sediment and nutrients coming from more than 3.0 miles of Reedy Creek including the project area.  The single most cost-effective thing that could be done for the James River and Chesapeake Bay is to routinely dredge the forebay of the lake on a routine basis to remove sediment and nutrients and prevent the entire lake from filling in again.  (The forebay is at the upper end of the lake and was designed to trap sediment and provide easy access for routine dredging.  The forebay has not be dredged since the entire lake was dredged over six years ago. )

According to the Reedy Creek Coalition Facebook this is where the current Mayoral candidates stand:

Jon Baliles – Opposes
Jack Berry – Opposes
Bobby Junes – Opposes
Joe Morrissey – Opposes
Michelle Mosby – Unknown
Levar Stoney – Opposes
Bruce Tyler – Opposes
Lawrence Williams – Opposes

The Reedy Creek Coalition received the following letter from Councilman Parker Agelasto:

After completing my own evaluation of the Reedy Creek project, I have determined that I cannot support this effort and plan to vote no on Ordinance No. 2016-217. The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) is a relatively new program having only given awards in the most recent three fiscal years. Since the beginning the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has authorized $60 million in funding for SLAF projects but only awarded about $23 million as projects gets permitted. Reedy Creek has yet to be permitted. It is still under review and the Army Corps of Engineers is awaiting a Section 106 evaluation of the historic resources of the area. A Phase II historic assessment has been requested and could further delay the issuance of a permit.

As for the stream restoration, I have not been presented with examples of any similar projects. That is no stream restoration has been conducted in a similar watershed that has over a mile of concrete channelization that carries significant volume and velocity of stormwater from the allowance of more impervious areas upstream. A presentation last year at the Stone House in Forest Hill Park essentially described the project as a widening of the flood plain to better absorb these greater waters entering this section of Reedy Creek. That seems ill-fated as it is treating a symptom and not curing the threat. The City would be on the hook for maintenance for a number of years or else be required to pay the SLAF funds back. This includes damage resulting from a major natural event that could completely destroy the restoration work. (Trust me, I have seen it at a similar project in Nelson County on my parents property.) I simply do not have confidence that the plan is resilient enough to withstand significant future expenditures by the City.

As for the Chesapeake Bay Act, I fully support the goals of water quality and have been working with the Department of Public Utilities to identify other projects that would help meet the City’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Currently the City is on target to meet its TMDL goals for 2018 even without the Reedy Creek project. Therefore, there should not be any fines of fess for noncompliance in 2018. The challenge will become greater in 2023. However, this gives DPU some additional time to evaluate projects to reach this future benchmark. Likewise, science is beginning to advise that there are other strategies that could meet TMDL goals. Greg Evans in the Virginia Department of Forestry has developed a model to calculate potential TMDL credit associated with preservation of mature forested areas.

Because the Reedy Creek project contemplates trading stream restoration with forest protection, and incurs a high degree of risk and uncertainty, I cannot fairly evaluate that the project would net any long term benefit. I therefore plan to vote against it. DEQ has an additional $20 million in SLAF Grant funding available for applications in January 2017. I will encourage DPU to submit additional projects at that time so we may continue efforts elsewhere to meet the TMDL goals for 2023.

You can read a similar letter from 4th District Council candidate Kristen Larsen here.

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About Richard Hayes 1274 Articles
Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game and/or beer.
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