Tag Archives: Development

Killing off our natural legacy

Utah’s Bears’ Ears

Utah’s Bears’ Ears

If you get a cut, it very likely will heal.

If you cut a femoral artery, you may bleed to death in minutes.

A forest fire may not destroy a woodland.

But development and coal and gas and uranium mining surely will destroy a woodland and all that is seen above and exists below the surface that has existed for hundreds and thousands of years, never to be restored, and dead to us forever.

Teddy Roosevelt, a rough rider, and a lifelong Republican, discovered nature in the Dakota Badlands.

In 1888, he wrote “the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further been impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

In 1905, President Roosevelt created the United States Forest Service, and after that, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.

The American Antiquities Act became law in 1906 and protected 230 million acres of public land because the Act gave the President the discretion to create national monuments – and he did.

After camping in Yosemite National Park, Roosevelt said, “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”

Jim Wine, an acknowledged conservationist, now living in Stockholm, relies on the early legal doctrine of “usufructus” to state our legal obligation, a right to use the land (usus) in one’s lifetime, provided that its fruits (fructus) are not wasted and passed on to the next generation undiminished.

This past week, Mr. Trump violated this principle in a massive assault on protected public lands, two magnificent monuments in Utah, Bears Ears, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Mr. Trump preferred the interest of large development and fossil fuel and uranium miners, insiders and contributors, who got him a desk in the Oval Office. Continue reading

Flabbergasted at FEMA

A healthy stream

A healthy stream

Lovettsville’s Chris Van Vlack, an Urban/AG conservationist, with the Loudoun SWCD, made a presentation at the Potomac Watershed Roundtable about a recent FEMA policy, that Daniel Moore, from Virginia DEQ characterized as “flabbergasting.”

Greg Prelewicz, of Water and Wastewater Utilities, said he found it “baffling.”

It’s a FEMA policy that adversely affects Loudoun County’s efforts to preserve and protect our soil and water.

 

 

Chris Van Vlack at the presentation

Chris Van Vlack at the presentation

The Potomac Watershed Roundtable Forum is “a regional government-citizen forum that promotes collaboration and cooperation among local governments and stakeholder interest groups,”

By way of background, Chris explained that there is a regular set of best management practices (BMPs) that keep our waters clean and flowing to the Potomac without eroding the rich soil so necessary to farm and garden.

It’s pretty straightforward.

Keep the animals (and their “nutrients”) out of the water, and plant cover crops and trees to slow the flow of water that might otherwise carry away the soil.

It’s so important a function that federal, state and local authorities, by conservation districts across Virginia and the nation, share the cost with farmers and land owners to make these remedial practices possible.

The cost of these practices are funded up to 80 percent of what it costs to fence in livestock from streams, to install water troughs, to implement livestock crossings, and to plant what restrains and controls surging rain waters.

Fencing by a stream

Fencing by a stream

These best practices were instituted after the infamous tragedy of the dust bowl, so vividly described by John Steinbeck, in “Grapes of Wrath.”

It was the ignorance of right-minded soil and water practices that caused choking dust to block out the sun, sweeping the country in high winds from west to east, killing people, livestock, and crops.

Now FEMA says that Loudoun County may not use these salutary best practices in any flood plain.  They convinced the County earlier this year to conform with what many of the speakers characterized as a wrong-headed policy. Continue reading

Brother, could you spare a glass of water?

waterglass - 1We are not at the point where we’re out of water.

The supply of ground water for our wells, however, is not infinite.

The question experts are raising is, “Do we have enough ground water in Loudoun to meet the current demand and the ‘new’ development discussed in the County, especially for Western Loudoun?”

Fauquier County is concerned about its ground water supply for its wells given the increased development that burdens its aquifers and compromises their ability to re-charge.

This summer, the USGS issued a “groundwater resource assessment” for Fauquier, outlining how best to sustain Faiquier County’s Water Supply.

Loudoun County has a similar profile, contemplating another 50,000 residential units, referenced in its recently issued ENVISION report.

Does Loudoun have sufficient water resources to support such aggressive residential development?

While most of any new residential units may be served by Loudoun Water and the towns, there could be as many as an additional 11,000 homes in the Rural Policy area.  That can only mean that thousands of new private wells will be drilled, adding to the existing 15,000 wells.

Fauquier is a rapidly growing suburban area near Washington, D.C., encompassing parts of three distinct geologic provinces that are underlain by fractured-rock aquifers that are currently relied upon to supply about 3.9 million gallons a day of groundwater for public supply and domestic use.

Loudoun is not that different.  Continue reading

Delegate Dave LaRock no show for Farm Bureau

Tia Walbridge In the past, Delegate David LaRock, who represents the 33rd District in the General Assembly, has failed to show for political debates and joint forums with his general election opponents.

Off to a shaky start this political season, Delegate LaRock is a no-show for the Farm Bureau’s Candidate Forum scheduled for September 19, 6PM, at Harmony Hall at the Hamilton Fire Station; he first committed to participate and then said he wouldn’t.

Mr. LaRock apparently doesn’t want to be in the same room at the same time as his Democratic challenger.

Tia Walbridge is a farmer herself.

By contrast, Mr. LaRock is a builder.

Chris Van Vlack. the President of the Loudoun Farm Bureau, said, “the Candidates Forum is part of our Loudoun Farm Bureau Annual membership meeting.”

Asked if Mr. LaRock said he would appear at the forum, Mr. Van Vlack said, “Initially both Tia [Walbridge] and Dave [Larock] had confirmed their attendance, but after learning that the state AgPAC committee had not solely endorsed him, Del. LaRock had decided to drop out.” Continue reading

A fowl tax

This hen will now cost you $165 to “permit” you to have a chicken coop.

This hen will now cost you $165 to “permit” you to have a chicken coop.

The County is taxing Western Loudoun farm buildings, by the authority of the Commissioner of Revenue, by assessing pole barns for taxes that the County never assessed before this year.

Even among those barns that were assessed previously, farm owners have been confounded by by the amazing leaps in assessed value.

In one case, the increase in assessment was a factor of thirteen times greater, from a $2,000 assessment last year on a 60 year old barn to a $26,000 assessment this year, with the questionable explanation, by the assessor, that the owner of the barn had painted the barn.

Farmers say this arbitrary policy of assessments is hardly reasonable and is fundamentally unfair.

In another setback for farmers in the West, following upon these Assessments, the County, by a new Zoning Ordinance, circulated this past Friday, requires that farmers obtain a permit for each chicken coop that a farmer has or acquires.

This is how the current zoning permit procedure reads.

It is described as the “procedure for obtaining a zoning permit for a coop/shelter for chickens.”

It says, “the property owner shall complete a building and zoning permit application form … that is accompanied by a plat showing the proposed location of the structure with distances to property lines …”

The term, “shall,” makes this requirement mandatory, and not permissive.

The permit fee – apparently mandated for each separate coop – costs $165 each.

The coop is described as a “structure.”

Farmers have asked the Commissioner of Revenue in connection with the increased assessments, to explain exactly what the Commissioner meant by the term “structure.”  The Farmers are of one mind that they got no answer at all.

As for the coops, chickens generally live mostly in small mobile boxes that house or protect them from the elements and from predators.

These coops are not large stationary structures that required a zoning permit or a health department permit in the past.

It is hard to make out a fair rationale, Farmers say, when the County requires permits for chicken coops about the same size as a dog-house but require no permits for a dog house. Continue reading

“Envision” – end of rural?

Lovettsville in Loudoun’s Rural Area

Lovettsville in Loudoun’s Rural Area

Loudoun County, self-described as one of the richest and most splendid counties in America, has set upon producing a “new” comprehensive plan, titled, “Envision Loudoun,” and, to that end, sought to obtain the opinions of the community in what were called, “listening and learning sessions,” to determine what that plan should look like for the County including its rural area.

David Truman, a political scientist, wrote that public hearings and input sessions may be to inform the governing body or they may just be methods to expel political energy while disregarding the will of the people.

Focusing on Western Loudoun, the comments from listening, learning and postings in this ongoing process include thousands of published comments (in small 10 pica type) to preserve Western Loudoun and to stop the development that is underway; this is a sample of the comments:

  • “Stop the urban sprawl and protect Western Loudoun.”
  • “Maintain two distinct areas, rural west, urban east.”
  • “Keep the West rural.”
  • “Stop growth.”
  • “Contributing to this is the county caving in to developers’ desires…”
  • “Economic development should not be a higher purpose than livability – property rights matter.”
  • “Rural roads should be left unpaved.  If people move to the rural area it should be for the aesthetics of the area.”
  • “Protect culture of western Loudoun established over last 250 years.”
  • “Protect stone fences throughout western Loudoun, along historic roadways in western Loudoun County, e.g., Beaverdam Creek Historic Roadway.”
  • “Maintain open spaces.”
  • “Preserve current agriculture [and] farms.”
  • “Historic villages aren’t meant to support traffic.”
  • “No big box stores [in] Western Loudoun.”
  • “Love Western Loudoun as it is, keep open space, horse farms, fight development pressure/housing development.”
  • “Stop the residential development.”

At the same time, the public’s opinions were released, there was a separate “Foundation Report” that purported to represent the findings of the “listening” and “learning.”

It described how “Loudoun County has evolved from a collection of rural villages” and from when it was “primarily an agricultural community.”

Rather than cite the will of the residents in the County, and in Western Loudoun, the Report says there is a “growing market demand for new types of development and community amenities.” Continue reading

The canary in the stream

Horse fly larva

Horse fly larva

The expression and the actual practice is “the canary in the coal mine,” a means to detect deadly levels of carbon dioxide gas that overwhelms the canary, signaling to the miners that they might succumb next, and so they are fairly warned to escape.

There are comparable early warning signs, using other small creatures, to detect whether the river and stream waters that we drink, fish and swim in may be “impaired,” or significantly degraded.

Unfortunately, we do have “impaired waters” – so this is not an academic question.

All our County’s streams are affected by human activities, especially development, and some do not meet the standards of the Clean Water Act and Virginia Water Quality Standards for recreational use and aquatic life.

We have to be concerned about Catoctin Creek and Goose Creek and their tributaries, Little River, Limestone Branch, Piney Run, Broad Run and Sugarland Run.  We all have an obligation as stewards to use but not alter or compromise this most essential natural resource, the waters by which we live.

We have pollution from storm water runoff, grazing, failing septic tank systems.  The more impervious surfaces we have, the more our watersheds are compromised.  Nor can we ignore the fecal bacteria mostly due to livestock.  We have to remediate against these polluting practices.

The good news is that there are things we can do to protect and preserve our waterways and we have the means to detect when our streams are “impaired.” Continue reading

Historic bridge remains at risk

johnLewisBridgeYou may wonder what happened to that historic one-lane bridge on Featherbed Lane that VDOT seemed inclined to alter or destroy.

Well VDOT is having another meeting on February 9, 2016, at 6 p.m. at the Old School in Waterford, and the bridge is still on the chopping block.

There is an effort by the Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Committee to preserve the bridge’s historic standing and maintain its listing in the National Registry of Historic Places and in Virginia Landmarks Registry.

In 2003, VDOT “hot zinced” the bridge to preserve it and instead made the bridge more brittle.

According to the Advisory Committee, VDOT now admits that may have been the wrong thing to do.

The challenge is to repair the bridge consistent with the recommendation of Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources.

Marc Holma, the Architectural Historian, for the Division of Review and Compliance, wrote on behalf of the Department, that “the Architectural Evaluation Team decided that only Alternative 2A [of VDOT’s proposals] would preserve enough of the bridge’s historic design and materials to keep it listed in the NRHP [Nation Register of Historic Places].”

johnLewisBridgePier

The Advisory Committee would prefer that this Alternative 2A not have a pier as when there are storms, trees and branches, they accumulate around the pier. The current configuration of the bridge has no pier.

The Advisory Committee said that you have to go out there after every storm clearing out the log jam when you have a pier or piling.

VDOT is distressed that trucks weigh too much and may have trouble clearing the upper trusses.

One resident asked why is a truck traveling on that road, much less the bridge.

Is this really a way to create new paved roadways to facilitate more development, rather than preserve and protect this charming back road and historic bridge?

On the northeast side of Featherbed Lane, just over the bridge, there is Waterford Downs, a development slated to have 93 homes on 3 Acre lots, with 5 built already.

For trucks to avoid the dirt road and the historic bridge, in order to get to the development, requires that the trucks go around on other roads, taking an additional 45 minutes.

These narrow dirt roads are not meant for such heavy traffic.

One member of the advisory committee suggested that, if the bridge is revised and widened, then the dirt road may be next to be widened and paved.

It remains a bitter irony that, while the bridge was named after a preservationist, John G. Lewis, its own chance of preservation is at high risk.

Mr. Lewis had been the local regional representative for the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, now known as the Department of Historic Resources.

John spearheaded the Scenic River designation for Catoctin Creek that flows beneath the bridge.

This tension may be resolved, either to preserve or destroy the bridge and its historic nature, at the meeting scheduled for February 9th in Waterford.

We should not squander another historic treasure. We have to make this work and save the bridge.

Political brawling in Loudoun

boxingBrawlFighters like politicians don’t always know when to step down.

Loudoun County Board Chairman Scott York is that kind of fighter who doesn’t know when to quit.

On about January 8, 2015, Scott said he’d put a lot of thought into whether he’d quit and decided his future “just didn’t include being Chairman for another four years.”

If Ali, a three time heavyweight champ, had listened to Doc Ferdie Pacheco, he might have gone out like undefeated heavy weight champ Rocky Marciano, physically intact, laurels strewn in his wake, without the humiliation of a drubbing by Leon Spinks and Larry Holmes.

York badly wanted those laurels from the Chamber of Commerce and he told them, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, not to worry, he really wasn’t going to go for a fifth round to get elected.

The Chamber conferred on pug Scott York his desired “laurels,” and, no sooner did they rest upon his hallowed crown, did he throw a sharp left jab at his own integrity, and jump into the political ring, seeking re-election.

“Slippery” Scott is like a small club fighter who slips punches, shifts his stance to suit election year allies, tracks backward in the ring, the “Slippery” Scott shuffle, and, between rounds, his corner men treat his cuts, an expanding contributing entourage of developers, according to VPAP, including real estate developers, general contractors, highway contractors, building trades, excavation contractors, so they can have their hoped-for fifth round, more pay days by our County, for even more development. Continue reading

Take down those signs

blackKingSignsWestern Loudoun was and still is mostly a garden of delight. And other sections of the County have their special and distinctive charms.

I can’t say from observation what’s going on in the East but I suspect it’s about the same, as I’ve been told it is, especially along Sterling Boulevard.

In the West, I can tell you, the rolling green fields and three board horse fences are punctuated, awfully close to the road, with offensively large, in-your-face, self-adoring, political signs, at many turns in our local highways and dirt roads, the letters as tall as a small child, and thick in their indecent calligraphic display.

These monster signs have been posted by Republican pols who, for the most part, are characteristically comfortable with any development, almost no matter how it compromises or may ultimately destroy our marvelous countryside.

These signs are “the medium” for their “message.” (This is a nodding adaptation of Marshall McLuhan’s oft-quoted sentiment that – the “medium is the message.”

If President Reagan had a bipartisan sense of humor, he might say, “Take down those signs.”

As an old hand at this political business, I know that pols believe that 85% of a vote in an election is name recognition. So these signs don’t say anything but the candidate’s name and office.

I strongly suggest that you note the names on these signs and recoil from pulling the lever on any one of them – if you find their postings in as off-puttingly bad taste as I do.

We judge character by a person’s actions – and publishing these obnoxious larger than life, narcissistic nudges to our memory lobes, and leaving these monster signs out there as a persistent eyesore for months before the election, squatting on the good taste of the community, plainly suggests that these wannabe electables, view any objection to their signs, like Rhett Butler might in “Gone with the Wind” – “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

Those hosting the signs no doubt make the lame protest – we can do what we want with our property, or with the consent of the property owner. Well, there really are some things one should not do. And maybe there should be a law about this – if the current freedom comes unrestrained by responsibility. Continue reading