Delegate Peace Raises Concerns over Emerging Environment Threats in the 97 th District

Peace requests meeting with DEQ Director and calls for public hearings on reservoir; wants to establish locality specific grassroots meetings on environmental issues across the District Mechanicsville , VA – In 1997, the Virginia Water Control Board issued a Virginia Water Protection Permit to the City of Newport News for the development of the proposed King William Reservoir project. At that time, the King William County Board of Supervisors approved a preliminary land acquisition plan and the County began purchasing land. The Reservoir is a proposed 1,526 acre public water storage impoundment on Cohoke Creek, a tributary of the Pamunkey River located between the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers in King William County . The proposal entails pumping water from the Mattaponi River to the reservoir. The VWP permit provided state approval for use of the Mattaponi River . Almost ten years later, this permit is about to expire.

The King William reservoir project continues to face opposition. Since the issuance of the permit, new information regarding available alternatives, project need, cultural and environmental impacts have surfaced, and the project proposal itself has been revised substantially since issuance of the Virginia Water Protection Permit.

“During my campaign to be your representative in state government, I pledged to the people of King William and King and Queen to work to ‘hold Newport News accountable on their promises regarding the Reservoir and protect water supply and quality’ believing it to be the wrong time and the wrong place for a reservoir. This project continues to been burdened with serious problems and no one has adequately addressed the serious impacts to the cultural and environmental areas of the 97th district,” said Del. Christopher K. Peace (R- Mechanicsville).

Delegate Peace recently expressed his serious concerns about a rumored plan by the state to “rubber-stamp” the permit extension for an additional five years in light of anticipated impacts to such resources as wetlands, fisheries, bottomlands, and wildlife. Although the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) published a notice of intent to extend the permit and received public comment up until May 5th, to date DEQ has not scheduled public hearings on the matter. In an email to Peace’s legislative office, DEQ Director David Paylor wrote that “it looks as though we’ll need to hold a hearing.” Now over a month later with ample time to consider that public input, Delegate Peace believes that a date should have already been set.

Peace continued “public hearings should be held prior to the permit being extended. We must consider the long term negative consequences of this project over and above the short term benefits such a water source may provide.” Experts state that a reservoir would provide water for the Newport News area for just a little over twenty years. The project was selected to meet future needs of the lower Virginia Peninsula residents (Hampton, Newport News , Poquoson, York County , James City County and Williamsburg ) until about 2040. An anticipated completion date is set for 2018 assuming no additional impediments.

Denial of the extension of the VWP permit could become a major set back for the proponents of the reservoir in the face of the project’s most recent milestone. On November 16, 2005, General William T. Grisoli, Commander of the North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New York City announced the issuance of the Section 404 permit, which was the final permit needed to begin this regional water supply project. The design and implementation phase is underway and project staff is developing a comprehensive eco-monitoring plan, establish a site management team, and continue historic resources and mitigation work.

Delegate Peace initiated a meeting this week with Director Paylor at his district office in Mechanicsville. There Peace referenced his desire for a public hearing for the permit reissuing on behalf of his constituents in King and Queen and King William. The Virginia Water Protection Permit (VWPP) would be reissued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ)/ State Water Control Board and again allocate waters of the Commonwealth to the Peninsula, evaluate and address environmental effects on behalf of the state and also provide endorsement to federal agencies that the project is not harmful to the State’s waters often referred to as the 401 Certification.

Representatives from the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi (ASM) have raised other alarms regarding the reservoir concerning adoption of a water withdrawal hiatus by the Virginia Marine Resource Council (VMRC). According to ASM this withdrawal scenario contradicts the basic reservoir design. Originally, plans held for water withdrawal to take place during the high flow annual flood which naturally occurs during the late winter & early spring on the Mattaponi . Instead VMRC adopted a "pumping hiatus” that restricts water withdrawal during a 100-day shad spawning period to save shad from being swept into the intake screens but in effect it maximizes other risks due to salinity increases to the botanicals, wetlands, trees, underwater grasses during the most critical periods of late spring, as the new plants come forward as well as other periods. Consequently, low-flow-only withdrawal may place the river’s habitat at greater risk. VRMC’s permit alteration is said to represent a pivotal design reversal and may negate previous years of study and many conclusions predicated on previous designs.

“I am very concerned about these last minute VMRC alternations and the ramifications of the pumping hiatus without holding a public hearing in the King William and King and Queen areas. I also question potential impacts on agricultural uses specifically placing irrigation at risk by the salinity increase during the critical easily spring, summer, early fall irrigation activities,” said Del. Peace who endorsed the Virginia Agricultural Initiative supported by the Farm Bureau and the Virginia Agribusiness Council among others.

Other environmental, historical and cultural issues have arisen in other areas of the 97th district. Peace has recently drafted legislation for the 2007 session to address issues of concern surrounding landfill proposals in New Kent and looks forward to meeting with UNITED, which is a local New Kent group of business people fighting to preserve the character of the county. Peace continues to monitor water quality and supply issues in Caroline county as well as participating in on-going discussions with Friends of Lake Anna, a citizen group concerned over the safety of the Lake , DEQ, the Department of Health and Dominion Power.

Peace considers these district issues to be of great importance and asks conservatives to remember the words of Republican President Teddy Roosevelt who in 1907, almost one hundred years ago, said "To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed."

Delegate Christopher K. Peace was elected to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates on January 24, 2006 in a Special Election in which Peace won 4 of 7 counties and 65% of the District’s precincts. As the representative for the 97th District, Delegate Peace serves parts of Hanover, Caroline, King William, King and Queen, Henrico, Spotsylvania Counties and all of New Kent County . Peace now sits on the prominent House Courts of Justice, Health Welfare and Institutions, and Science and Technology Committees.