Comments and Concerns Sent to US Army Corps of Engineers

Date:  December 22, 2015

To:      Keith R. Goodwin, keith.r.goodwin@usace.army.mil
CC:      Joe Schumacher, Congressman Wittman’s office
Mathews County Supervisors
RE:      NAO-201501451 Chesapeake Bay Wetland Mitigation Bank

The prospectus for the referenced mitigation bank fails to adequately address issues of public health and safety, potential East River water quality impacts, and conflicts with the Mathews County Comprehensive Plan. A number of responses to the Virginia Off-Site Mitigation Location Guidelines Checklist are factually inaccurate. Contrary to the responses, the riparian areas of the East River are on adjacent properties except for a small fringe of the RMA in the southeastern corner of the site, and a residence is currently under construction on a parcel adjacent to the site. While the risk of lead contamination of the groundwater which connects to the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer, the primary and generally only source of drinking water for Mathews County, is of the utmost concern, consideration of the impacts of reduced water flow to the East River is important to the health of the river and the Chesapeake Bay. The other issues raised here need to be considered as well.
Thank you,
Carol J. Bova

Concern about Lead Contamination of Groundwater and Aquifer

The initial lead remediation plan for the proposed mitigation site on Route 14 will stop unless a subsequent random soil test is higher than 400 ppm, which is equal to 400,000 ppb. The EPA action level for lead in drinking water is 0.15 mg/liter, which equates to 15 parts per billion, yet the remediation plan does not address the possibility of lead leaching into groundwater during the five years of shooting range activity which uses approximately 2,188 pounds of lead shot annually. No water testing is included in the prospectus or lead remediation plan even though the Yorktown-Eastover, the primary aquifer for domestic wells, is 7 feet below the surface of the ground as recorded in the USGS borehole about 1.5 miles southwesterly on Route 14 from the site, and the aquifer is in contact with groundwater in many places.

“The Yorktown-Eastover aquifer and the eastern part of the surficial aquifer are closely associated…and jointly compose a shallow, generally semiconfined groundwater system that is hydraulically separated from the deeper system.” (USGS Professional Paper 1713, Abstract. http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/2006/1731/pp1731_download.htm)

The National Wetlands Inventory shows 6.28 acres of land designated as temporarily flooded overlaying part of the shooting range fallout zone. This is not shown on the prospectus site map. Even if that area is no longer flooded, the remediation plan does not follow the Technical/Regulatory Guidelines of the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council regarding runoff. (See page 6–NWI map detail with 5 areas marked where precipitation runoff crossed Honey Pod Lane to the East River in December 2015.)

“Nearby surface waters or wetlands that could be receiving runoff from the areas of the ranges where shot or bullets are deposited should also be noted, and the sampling and analytical plan should investigate this possibility.”                               (http://www.itrcweb.org/GuidanceDocuments/SMART-1.pdf)

Annual rainfall for this area is about 45 inches. The U.S. Army’s report, “Prevention of Lead Migration and Erosion from Small Arms Ranges” discusses effects of saturated soil on corrosion and lead migration with shallow depth to groundwater not addressed in the prospectus.

“Rainfall also influences the solubility of lead. The more rainfall, the greater the likelihood the soil will become saturated, increasing the time the round stays in contact with the rainwater. The longer the round stays in contact with moisture, the faster it will corrode. Acid rain accelerates the corrosion process.

“The risk of lead migration to groundwater becomes greater when the corrosion rate is high and depth to groundwater is shallow (less than 10 feet). Basically, the closer the groundwater is to the surface, the greater the chances of contamination.”  (http://www.aec.army.mil/Portals/3/range/leadmigration.pdf)

According to EPA’s Best Management Practices for shooting range operation, sandy soils, high annual rainfall, and a water body downslope of the range increase the risk of lead migration and contamination. (http://www3.epa.gov/region02/waste/leadshot/epa_bmp.pdf)

Runoff from the proposed site was observed in five locations crossing Honey Pod Lane from west of the site in December 2015 after a moderate amount of rainfall. (See page 6.)

The remediation plan for lead in the soil will not start until 2018 while lead could be leaching into the groundwater or be in runoff to the East River in the five years before then.

Negative Impact of Berms and Blocking Drainage on East River Water Quality

Although the environmental specialist for the sponsor told the Mathews Board of Supervisors on December 15 there would be the same three discharge sites, he also said there will actually be less water coming off the site because of planting trees. “We’re decreasing the flow off the site.” The prospectus describes the plan to raise the site’s groundwater level by blocking the existing drainage channels on the property and building berms which would seem to indicate less water will reach the river from those changes as well.

The East River has two Category 5 impairments on the state’s 2014 303D(1) report which can be worsened by reduced water flow: pH exceedance in 8 of 12 months and low dissolved oxygen. The East River TMDL review is not scheduled until 2024, so any worsening of impairments will impact the Chesapeake Bay water quality at least until that time.

Inaccurate Statement about Fallsington Soil

The prospectus states, “…most of the surrounding property has Fallsington Soils, which are not suitable for drainfields.” This is not an accurate statement because suitability is site-dependent. Fallsington soil is present in much of the County and can be suitable for septic systems. The “User Notes for National Wetlands Inventory Maps of Eastern Virginia” lists the Fallsington Soil Series with an asterisk: “Requires site evaluation to determine whether soil is wetland.” The presence of five homes adjacent to the proposed site and one under construction would also confirm this fact.

A follow up review for the Piankatank/Gwynn’s Island/Milford Haven TMDL IP was made in August 2015 for septic system deficiencies, repairs and replacements in Mathews County, including the East River watershed (Shellfish Growing Area 41), surveyed by the Virginia Health Department, Division of Shellfish Sanitation. Growing Area 41 has 983 homes, and there were 14 septic system repairs over a three-year period (2013-2015), a rate of 1.42 percent and 6 replacements, a rate of 0.61 percent, well below the failure rate used in the Piankatank TMDL Water Quality Improvement Plan.

Although the environmental specialist said at the December 15 meeting there would be no impact on adjacent homeowners from surface flow, neither he nor the prospectus discussed the sub-surface effect on downslope drainfields of raising the water table on the mitigation site which is at a higher elevation. No statements were made as to current depth of groundwater on the mitigation site or adjacent properties.

Comments on Sponsor’s Answers to Off-Site Mitigation Guidelines Checklist

B1. Wetland Restoration: Yes
B2. Stream Restoration: No.

It is questionable whether this is a wetland restoration.

  • “Most of the marshes along the North and East Rivers are fringing marshes along the adjacent uplands…” (Mathews County Shoreline Management Plan, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Shoreline Studies Program, March 2010.)

There are no marshes on the site which would indicate the site was historically uplands.

Mathews County is a watershed discharge zone for the Chesapeake Bay through its streams, creeks and rivers. Ephemeral streams flow only after rains fall and are rarely indicated on maps. Mining of sand on the site in the 1930’s and farming prior to and after that time would have disrupted the natural ephemeral streams that would have conducted water to the East River, leading to the establishment of drainage ditches on the site.

  • Spot elevations from the National Map show most of the property is about 12 feet in elevation, with one measurement of 14 ft midway down the eastern boundary ditch which runs from state Route 14 to the East River. The site is higher than 2/3s of West Mathews according to the Comprehensive Plan, and it is in Zone X outside the 500-year floodplain. See page 7 for FEMA Flood Hazard Map.

B3. Sponsor states the site is contiguous or connected to other aquatic areas.

  • There is no description of this connection in the prospectus beyond the image of the drainage ditch on the east property line. There is no acknowledgement of the existence of the historically present intermittent stream. See pages 8-9 for adjacent properties between the site and East River.

B4. Sponsor states no existing or proposed development upslope/adjacent to the project.

  • A residence is currently under construction immediately to the west of the project at 166 Honey Pod Lane.

B4. Sponsor also states no areas are identified for future development in the Comprehensive Plan upslope and adjacent to the proposed mitigation site.

  • The Comprehensive Plan designates the upslope northern property border as part of a 300-foot wide Corridor Overlay District along Route 14 and for Waterfront Residential along the west and south borders. See page 10.

B5. Sponsor claims riparian buffer protection greater than state and local requirements.

  • The only riparian buffer may be in a small area within the RMA on the southeastern edge of the property. Any other buffers would be on adjacent properties. See page 11, Comprehensive Plan Chesapeake Bay Protection Areas map. If tree seedlings are able to take hold when planted, it would be a number of years before they can take up any significant amount of water.

B7. Sponsor claims the site is consistent with local planning requirements.

  • In fact, there are no zoning ordinance statements that apply except Section 15.8 which prohibits land use that creates “…noxious, or otherwise objectionable conditions which could adversely affect the surrounding areas or adjoining premises.” Freshwater wetlands without environmental conditions that allow wet/dry cycles to keep soil oxygenated produce methane and can produce hydrogen sulfide. The environmental specialist James Hudson told the Board of Supervisors on December 15 there would be standing water above the surface in the winter wet season.
  • The following excerpt from class notes from the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences describes wetlands methane production.

Nutrient cycling in wetlands:

“The diffusion of oxygen in saturated soils is 10,000 times slower than in unsaturated soils. A saturated soil will become anaerobic in a matter of hours (matter of days at most) depending on 1) temperate; 2) the amount of organic matter; 3) the initial microbial community and 4) the amount of reducing compounds present (example: ferrous iron)….Methanogenic [methane-producing] organisms work in the anaerobic zone to convert dissolved organic carbon into methane…..The production of methane is much more common in freshwater systems.”                                                     (http://cals.arizona.edu/azaqua/aquaplants/classnotes/NutrientCycling.pdf)

B8. Sponsor states order of stream on site is not applicable.

  • An intermittent first-order stream is clearly shown running to the south through the shooting range fallout zone on USGS 1948, 1965, and 2013 topographic maps, the National Map, and Mathews County Tax Map 20. It may have been damaged or disrupted by the previous clear-cut logging and the establishment of the shooting range. The temporarily flooded area shown on the National Wetlands Inventory may be evidence of this intermittent stream. (See National Wetlands INventory detail, Mathews County Tax map composite, and National Map Hydro-Imagery detail.)

C1. Sponsor states the site creates/contributes to a corridor linking large aquatic systems.

  • The property is separated from the East River by 93 acres in 12 adjacent parcels of land. See List of Properties and Tax Map Composite.

C5. Sponsor states the site will contribute to improved water quality for identified/ designated impaired waters described as “shellfish/not supporting.”

  • In spite of previous improper farming practices referred to in the prospectus as contributing sediment and nutrients to the East River, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality reports no East River nutrient or sediment impairments.
  • The shellfish impairment is for E. coli. Reducing flow of precipitation runoff to the East River will not reduce E. coli levels in the river.

C8. Sponsor states the proposed site is “at the top of the watershed.”

  • The site is at least 1 mile south of the ridge separating the East River Watershed HUC12-020801020405 from the Lower Piankatank River Watershed HUC12-020801020403. Virginia Department of Transportation project plans for Route 14, 14-667C, sheet 7, show two notations of 600 and 675 acres of drainage being carried across the road from the northwest to the East River just west of the proposed mitigation site. See National Map watershed boundary detail below.

    Watershed Boundaries in purple from National Map. (Color enhanced for better visibility.)

    Watershed Boundaries in purple from National Map. (Color enhanced for better visibility.)

Yellow arrows placed on National Wetlands Inventory map show runoff channels  crossing Honey Pod Lane from proposed site.

Yellow arrows placed on National Wetlands Inventory map show runoff channels crossing Honey Pod Lane from proposed site.

FEMA Flood Hazard Map Layer showing proposed site is in Zone X.

FEMA Flood Hazard Map Layer showing proposed site is in Zone X.

Properties Between Proposed Site (tax map 20-A-1) and East River (see Tax Map below list)

Adjacent waterfront properties with residences:
19-A-98   29.40 acres   166 Honey Pod Lane (Norton) (Under construction.)
19-A-99A   5.06 acres   366 Honey Pod Lane   (Hurst)
19-A-99   27.37 acres   524 Honey Pod Lane   (Walsh)
20-A-1A     6.93 acres   620 Honey Pod Lane   (Hudgins)
20-A-1B     5.35 acres   652 Honey Pod Lane   (Hurst)

Adjacent non-waterfront with residence:
20-A-5 1.24 acres   755 Honey Pod Lane (Jenkins)

Adjacent non-waterfront properties with no residences:
20-A-1D 0.07 acres (Walsh)
20-A-3     2.03 acres (Ingram, C.)
20-A-4     0.71 acres (Jenkins)

Parcels between adjacent properties and East River
20-A-1C (Waterfront with residence) 4.00 acres 674 Honey Pod Lane (Owens)
20-A-6 (Non-waterfront, no residence) 1.01 acre (Ingram, C.)
20-A-7 (Waterfront, no residence) 10.06 acres (Ingram, A.)

Total 93.23 acres between site and river.

Adjacent to eastern property border
20-A-2   54.30 acres (Gayle) Along eastern ditch.

Composite of Mathews County tax maps 15, 19 and 20 to show proposed site and adjacent properties.

Composite of Mathews County tax maps 15, 19 and 20 to show proposed site and adjacent properties. Intermittent stream is solid light line between Honey Pod Lane and double-circle A.

Comprehensive Plan map showing West Mathews Future Land Use.

Comprehensive Plan map showing West Mathews Future Land Use.

Mathews County Comprehensive Plan showing West Mathews Chesapeake Bay Protection Areas. RMA on proposed site circled in red.

Mathews County Comprehensive Plan showing West Mathews Chesapeake Bay Protection Areas. RMA on proposed site circled in red.

National Map Hydrography view showing intermittent stream on proposed site and East River.

National Map Hydrography view showing intermittent stream on proposed site and East River.

Conrad Hall’s Deed of Gift for Mathews Heritage Park

Discussions about establishing Mathews Heritage Park started back in 2010. Along the way, a lot of the declarations and restrictions in the deed of gift from Conrad Mercer Hall got overlooked in the proposed public access plan. The deed calls for the site to only be a nature park and waterfront center for education about the history and ecology of Mathews County. The plan uses one-half of a page to gloss over those points, adds organized camping to the list, and dedicates 17 pages to recreational opportunities and water access.

For anyone interested in the details, a copy of the deed, which is a public record at the Mathews County Courthouse, is attached below.

Hall Deed

Download the PDF file Hall Deed.

VDOT: Get the Water Moving for the Oysters

If the Virginia Department of Transportation won’t maintain adequate drainage from state highway roadside ditches to avoid flooding of private property and timber, maybe they’ll do it to provide adequate oxygen in Chesapeake Bay area waters for the oysters. Following up on yesterday’s post, this one provides information about a Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) study and where to find it online.

A Smithsonian Institution press release in February 2015 announced publication of an article, Landscape-Level Variation in Disease Susceptibility Related to Shallow-Water Hypoxia. The details may be more than the casual reader wants to absorb, but the bottom line is the SERC study describes how oysters in Chesapeake Bay area waters are more susceptible to disease when they are exposed to episodes of low dissolved oxygen at night. The locations studied had a depth of less than 6.5 feet and salinity levels typical of many of the shellfish waters around Mathews County.

“We usually think of shallow-water habitats as highly productive refuges from deep-water dead zones,” says Denise Breitburg, marine ecologist at SERC and lead author of the study. “But if low oxygen makes even these shallow waters inhospitable for fish and shellfish, the whole system may suffer.”

 So VDOT, if you don’t care about the impact on people, get the water moving so our oysters can remain healthy and help clean up the mess your negligence created.

 

Article Source:Landscape-Level Variation in Disease Susceptibility Related to Shallow-Water Hypoxia

Breitburg DL, Hondorp D, Audemard C, Carnegie RB, Burrell RB, et al. (2015) Landscape-Level Variation in Disease Susceptibility Related to Shallow-Water Hypoxia. PLoS ONE 10(2): e0116223. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116223

Time to Pay Attention to Oxygen for the Bay

Blocked VDOT roadside ditch flooding adjacent land.

Blocked VDOT roadside ditch flooding adjacent land.

I wrote a report in 2012. If anyone in authority had paid attention then, we’d be seeing results now, instead of looking at more flooded ditches and damaged roads. Expect our TMDL numbers (total maximum daily load) for E. coli levels to stay the same, because the problem is not primarily land-based. It’s VDOT ditch based.

Although nothing about dissolved oxygen levels made it into the final EPA-accepted Water Quality Improvement Plan, there was a recommendation for a Ditch Task Force involving the Virginia Department of Transportation. The intent was to discuss and plan ways to improve the drainage for our state roads. Instead, we have the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission advocating the creation of a Ditching Authority to charge landowners and counties for VDOT’s failures.

MPPDC is basing its Ditching Authority concept on states and countries which drained wetlands for agricultural purposes–and must continue to drain them to continue farming. Ohio, for example, drained 7.4 million acres of wetlands, and today, 2/3s of their cropland and 500,000 homes depend on that land staying drained. They have a Ditching Authority.

Our drainage problem is rainfall from state roads cannot reach receiving bodies of water because of failed and neglected VDOT maintenance. The cause is not wetland drainage, not agricultural land drainage, not private property drainage, not sea level rise, not land elevation or land subsidence.

Read the report and see for yourself if it makes sense.

Report for Working Groups for the Shellfish TMDL Implementation Plan for the Piankatank River, Gwynns Island and Milford Haven Watersheds, August 27, 2012

submitted by Carol J. Bova

A review of the original Shellfish Sanitation Surveys and outstanding violations for the Piankatank River, Gwynns Island and Milford Haven Watersheds doesn’t document enough ongoing septic system violations to account for the continuing high levels of bacteria in the TMDL waters. From the June 30th report, only Healy Creek had one prior uncorrected septic issue. There were two kitchen deficiencies: one at Healy Creek and one at Edwards Creek.

There are no large agricultural operations, fewer farms than decades ago when the waters were not impaired, and not enough hobby livestock to account for current bacterial impairments. It’s equally unlikely that pets are the main factor, and while wildlife contributes a significant amount, it is not the sole source.

Based on scientific findings over the last six years across the United States, in Canada and in Europe, naturalized E. coli is the most likely major source of the ongoing high bacterial readings.

These studies show E. coli does not require a human or animal host to survive for extended periods in soil, sand, sediments and water. Wind and storms stir up sand and sediment and release bacteria back into the water column. Bottom feeding fish like spot and croaker can take in E. coli while feeding and become carriers. Studies in Michigan show E. coli can survive 5 months in water as long as the temperature is above 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Average water temperatures for the TMDL areas only go below that in January and February and may not go that low in some years. E. coli doesn’t only survive on its own–it can reproduce if it has adequate carbon based nutrients. The presence of muck, which is partially decomposed vegetation, provides that nutrition and shelters E. coli, because no sunlight can get through it. It takes four days of sunlight to kill E. coli.

Part of the key to eliminating E. coli in the TMDL waters is to get the water clear enough to allow sunlight to penetrate. The plan to restore oysters is intended to do that, as well as filter the water, but oysters can’t live in the muck and must be suspended above it. The headwaters and some of the small inlets of the creeks are among the worst areas, with heavy muck, little circulation and probably low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water which must be addressed before oyster placement. Submerged aqueous vegetation will also benefit from more sunlight.

The long-term goal of restoring oysters is solid, but needs to be backed up with a multi-layered approach to cleaning up the waters, with a plan tailored to the characteristics of each TMDL segment. In Queens Creek, for example, at least 3-4 feet of muck exists on the sides of the channel, possibly more in the center. If the channel could be dredged to remove most of that muck, the creek could then be treated with probiotic decomposer bacteria to help break down what remains. This would create a more favorable environment for oysters and other water animals and allow sunlight to reach deeper into the water, killing even more E. coli.

Using small aeration units attached to private docks to provide additional oxygenation has been tried in Maryland. William Wolinski of Talbot County Maryland Dept. of Public Works stated the aeration used there from May through October created ‘oxygen sanctuaries’ for fish and other creatures and allowed positive bacterial action to break down sludgy sediment. A simple unit costs about $500-$600 and covers 1/4 acre placed at a 4′ depth according to one manufacturer. Any aeration provided will improve the action of probiotic bacteria in decomposing muck sediments.

Before any direct action is taken in TMDL creek headwaters and inlets, the Virginia Department of Transportation roadside ditches and related outfall ditches leading to those waters must be cleaned, pipe blockages cleared and overgrown vegetation removed to allow clean rainwater to reach the waterways. Currently, the water in outfall ditches is deoxygenated by decaying plant matter and has little to no flow except during storm events. Major storms flush the stagnant water into areas leading to the headwaters, and the load of rotting vegetation and silt with it adds to the mucky sediment already present.

The Virginia Department of Transportation should be named a stakeholder in the TMDL Implementation Plan for low dissolved oxygen levels in water in ditches which connect to TMDL waters. Credit trading should not be an option because the actions required to improve oxygenation fall within normal roadside maintenance and budget. DCR and DEQ staff can support citizen requests for a VDOT 5-year plan for roadside and outfall ditch maintenance to provide an outlet to an adequate receiving channel and body of water as required by VDOT Drainage Manual policies. This will allow clean, oxygenated rainwater to reach TMDL waters, giving other measures a better chance of success.

MPPDC Part 1– Accuracy Not Guaranteed

Planning District Commissions are supposed “to conduct studies on issues and problems of regional significance” according to the Code of Virginia. The Code fails to mention, though, those studies should contain accurate information.

Perhaps that’s too much to expect, especially when the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission posts a disclaimer on the copyright page of the 2002 report, Water Supply Management on the Middle Peninsula that says,  “No warranty, expressed of implied, is made by the MPPDC as to the accuracy of this report or related materials. Publication and distribution of the material contained in this report does not constitute any such warranty, and the MPPDC assumes no responsibility in connection therewith.” Since this report was an “information review,” MPPDC apparently didn’t want to check the accuracy of the information, but MPPDC expects its member counties’ representatives to take care of those details on its own grant-funded reports.

The MPPDC said that same 2002 water supply document included “significantly outdated” material from a 1977 State Water Control Board report, but the statements again appeared in the 2011 regional water supply plan: “Yorktown Aquifer has low yield potential. Principal and upper artesian aquifers not suitable for potable use (high chlorides).” This was the belief prior to the 1983 discovery of the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater, and studies since then have shown that “wedges” of ancient sea water were trapped by the impact debris as it fell back to earth and could contaminate some wells today.

The MPPDC Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy in 2013, again picked up the same 1977 information as an inset in  Figure 10, “Ground Water Zones in the Middle Peninsula,” and doesn’t list the Yorktown/Eastover Aquifer, the only major water source used in Mathews County.

Lewis Lawrence, Executive Director of the MPPDC,  replied to a request for a correction of the aquifer descriptions saying, “I encourage you to review why comprehensive economic development strategy exists and what the Economic Development Administration requires.  A comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS) is designed to bring together the public and private sectors in the creation of an economic roadmap to diversify and strengthen regional economies….” He went on to say that it was up to the localities “to appoint representatives to make sure local and regional issues are addressed and that the quality and accuracy of the work meets expectations against the requirement of the funder.”

So if a county’s representatives don’t have or don’t communicate specific knowledge about the county’s water source, and MPPDC recycles 1977 information it described as “significantly outdated” in 2002, it absolves MPPDC from responsibility, even if the use of that information in 2013 is detrimental to the local economy by discouraging businesses who might otherwise consider locating in the county.

While the PDCs are funded in part by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and in part by the localities, and obtain grants to conduct studies and issue reports, do the counties know it’s up to their county representatives to fact check the PDC report for accuracy and to see if their reports meet the expectations of the funding agency?

Watch for an upcoming post on what happens when citizens do offer comments and corrections to MPPDC flawed reports.

Sharing What We Learned About VDOT Myths and Mathews Drainage

Since the fall of 2011, I’ve been digging into the reasons for flooded land and ditches in Mathews. G.C. Morrow taught me the basics of ditches and we formed The Ditches of Mathews County project in early 2012.  We thought identifying the causes of drainage issues and working out solutions would help VDOT. When VDOT said they needed temporary easements to address outfall maintenance, we tracked owners through tax records and internet resources. G.C. visited local folks and called some who lived in other states. All were glad to help. But apparently, VDOT had other ideas.

Two small outfalls were cleaned on 609, and the water drained a considerable area that had been flooding from road drainage for years. The third project opened the outfall between Canoe Yard Trail and 609, but in the process, the VDOT contractor blocked the outlet to a second outfall. Months passed, and after the District Administrator Quintin Elliott and Resident Engineer Sean Trapani accompanied us on a tour of problem spots, VDOT finally addressed a dead tree preventing the roadside ditch on Canoe Yard Trail from draining to the outfall. But the cleaning of 609 pipes needed to drain the roadside ditches near the tidal marshes didn’t happen. The one time we know the pipe truck arrived–it came at high tide. And never came back to do the job.

We kept working on gathering information, and the story that emerged was not a pretty one. Going through the Board of Supervisors’ meetings, month after month for thirty-odd years was a test of endurance. Transcribing key sections and sorting by topic and choosing which statements would illustrate the ongoing saga felt like an impossible task for a time. Eventually, though, the outline emerged showing how three years of VDOT/County revenue sharing projects ran on into the sixteenth year, and how those involved seemed to forget the original reason for the projects.

It’s all laid out now in Drowning a County, and everyone reading it will see what happened and when, and more importantly, what didn’t happen that should have. The pattern of County Supervisors and Administrators forgetting or overlooking details of agreements with VDOT and accepting incorrect statements without challenge cannot be allowed to repeat itself now and in future years. Drowning a County can provide the facts and the history to help our leaders and our citizens avoid being misled even once more by VDOT mythology.

 

Don’t Like the Weather? Wait a Few Minutes.

Winter isn’t letting go of us this St. Patrick’s Day. We’ve had rain, sleet and snow here in Mathews, and it’s down to 27, but the sky is quiet for now. Our writing critique group meets in Williamsburg, and so the question is: how are the roads?3-17-14 blog traffic cam

I dialed 511 for road information. It used to be a pretty straightforward call, if you were in a quiet enough place for the voice-activated computer to understand you. If not, you could pull over and use the keypad. Well, the 511 system has been improved, effective November 20th, some menu options have changed, please listen carefully, as the recording tells us. I asked for 17, and it gave me the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

Second try: “Say the name of an interstate, bridge or tunnel.”

U.S. 17  This time I opted for the keypad, and 17# got me a series of options, but nothing familiar. Hampton Roads seemed the most reasonable of the choices. (I used to be good at multiple choice answers, but guess not any more.) I apologized to the human who answered because she couldn’t help me with US Route 17.

Third try: Before I spoke, the system interpreted some sound as a request for tourism information, and I couldn’t get it to start over, go back, (go to) menu, and I ran out of ideas to try while it wanted me to pick a tourism location.

Fourth try: Not sure how it happened, but I got I-81.

Fifth try: It gave me US Route 7.

Sixth try: I got ride share information. (Usually done by hitting 4 on the keypad twice, which I hadn’t pressed.)

Seventh try: I got  U.S. Route 7 again, and tried to use the keypad to go back. No luck. “After many tries, the system has not received a valid response.”  Neither have I.

Just because I’ve invested this much energy already, I want my road information, and I want to know how to get an answer out of this system. Now this isn’t a case of road noise. I’m in the house. I used to be able to get an answer, so what am I doing wrong on this new, improved system? I need to know whether to stay or go.

Eighth try: Got it! It told me, “Select your direction of travel.” Progress! Then a selection from Winchester to Route 66; 66 to Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg to Yorktown… And we get off at my stop!

I hear about tomorrow’s bridge opening. Good to know. Then a report of icy conditions between the Junction of US 1 and US 2.

Huh? I don’t even know where they are, but they’re not in Gloucester. I go online and find 511Virginia.org.

I check the traffic cameras on the Coleman Bridge. Nobody’s skidding, but they seem to be going way too fast for the weather. I click on the scrolling banner, “Get the Latest Road Conditions.” Mathews is clear; Gloucester is clear; York County and the Coleman Bridge have minor icy patches. Don’t know where to look for Williamsburg, but it’s decision time. Leave now or call and cancel. One more look at the bridge cams, and I leave.3-14-14 blog cam 2

Takes a few minutes to get the icy snow off the windshield, but I’m just about to pull out when my phone rings. The group’s off for tonight because others have cancelled, and I can’t be sure I’ll be able to make it either.   (Bless you all!)

Celebrating my relief, I get a rotisserie chicken from the market and settle in front of the computer. The 511virginia.org page is still up on the monitor where conditions on the bridge have gone from minor patches to Icy Conditions with an advisory.  Since I first walked out the door, the Doppler radar weather map has colored the whole area from here to Williamsburg and further in shades of frozen pink.

I don’t know if my guardian angel stepped in to rescue my foolish self, or if I’d have had the sense to know things were bad and cancel out half-way, but I’m home safe. Just have to remind myself next wintry mix time of the Mathews weather slogan: Don’t like the weather? Wait 15 minutes and it’ll change. I forgot that doesn’t always mean for the better.

But spring will be here in a couple of days. I saw fat daffodil buds ready to prove it when I drove in tonight, and that’s one change I’ll be happy to wait for.

Springing Forward

Inside the Crater went silent a year ago, but life kept on moving ahead, dragging and pushing me along too. With the time change this morning to move ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time, I thought this would be a good time to reactivate Inside the Crater.

VDOT finished a part of the Canoe Yard Trail outfall and roadside ditch last year, so the rainfall runs crystal clear to the marsh now.

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This is our one shining success story for the Ditches of Mathews County Project, even if it’s incomplete, but we’ll accept it with thanks. It proves what we’ve said all along: if the roadside and outfall ditches are cleaned, have the proper grade and the pipes are open–Mathews has no trouble draining its stormwater, even in Onemo with its low elevation.

The EPA approved our TMDL Implementation Plan to improve the water quality in the Piankatank/Milford Haven/Gwynn’s Island watershed, but the Ditch Maintenance Task Force recommendation still needs to be organized. It’s on my list, after I finish my book, Drowning a County.

Drowning a County traces the history of highway drainage in Mathews County and the institutional myths the Virginia Department of Transportation’s used to explain away their failure to maintain their systems for decades. The book debunks those myths with published mainstream scientific information, translated into normal English.

To do this, I tracked down Army Corps of Engineers hurricane surveys from the 1950’s and 60’s and a 1980 drainage study of the Garden Creek watershed. I learned a lot about Mathews County in reading through 34 years of Board of Supervisors minutes about ditches and VDOT and the revenue-sharing for ditches saga from 1993 to 2008.

Wetlands ecology wasn’t on my reading list, but turned out to be an essential element, aided by the Mathews Memorial Library’s acquisition of an excellent textbook.

GC Morrow taught me how to find overgrown outfall ditches and probe for pipes under the road that could no longer be seen and how to use topo maps to track the streams channelized as outfalls.

Blue dashed lines were drainage structures and streams in 1965–some of which are now totally obstructed. Image courtesy of USGS from Mathews topo map

Can’t count how many wonderful Mathews residents stopped to see if I needed help while photographing ditches from the roadside. And that is probably the biggest factor in why I kept going on this project: the people of Mathews. They are good people with a long history here. They’ve kept the environment in such good condition that if the ditches could drain to the appropriate creeks and rivers and carry fresh rainwater, nature could solve a lot of the E. coli problem the TMDL plan addresses.

But VDOT mythology turned highway ditches into retention ponds filled with muck and algae and stagnant water.

Algae in flooded ditch with blocked pipe

This spring, VDOT just might realize their mythology has kept the roadbeds saturated and caused more freeze damage  to the roads this winter than they ever imagined.

For me, I’ve made it through the winter and over the despair of feeling I’d taken on an impossible task. Spring is on the way, and Drowning a County is on the way to completion too.

Check out Carol’s Ditches of Mathews County columns at http://ChesapeakeStyle.com.

 

Public Meeting for Piankatank – Milford Haven TMDL Implementation Plan Feb 27, 2013, 6-8 PM

Mathews High School 9889 Buckley Hall Rd. (Route 198 near 14)

As a result of the the Clean Water Act, we have to show how we’re going to deal with the problem of waters condemned for excessive E. coli bacteria levels in a Piankatank/Milford Haven TMDL Implementation Plan. TMDL (total maximum daily load), is the maximum amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment or bacteria a waterway can handle without exceeding acceptable levels.

We are fortunate here that those before us kept the waters clean, and the only factor we need to address for 16 specific areas* in Mathews, Gloucester and Middlesex is the bacteria in the water. Currently, the recreational standards are met, but not those for shellfish.  While shellfish water standards are much stricter than recreational standards, we don’t have the regulatory option to downgrade the use of our bays, creeks or rivers. Commonwealth policy states “the existing uses shall be maintained and protected.”

The first TMDL public meeting last May in Hartfield brought up a lot of questions and concerns. There were two work group (residential and business) meetings and a steering committee meeting and many emails since then to cover each point and to challenge the numbers and statistics first presented last year. I am very pleased to say that the state agency people from DCR and DEQ took our concerns input to heart and have updated the numbers and facts based on actual counts where available, and best estimates provided by local citizens where exact numbers were impossible. They have also affirmed there is no intention to force us into any HRSD expansions.

We still need to review the Implementation Plan at this public meeting in February, but I believe we can accept and live with the plan.  Please make every effort to attend. This is something that affects all of us in one way or another. If you or a neighbor cannot attend, there is a 30-day comment period after the meeting. At that point, after any changes made as a result of the meeting or comments, the plan is ours to follow for the next 10 years.

*The areas to be covered by this IP, in addition to parts of the Piankatank River, are:
Mathews: Edward and Barn Creeks on Gwynn’s Island; Cobbs, Queen/Winder, Lanes, Stutts, Morris, Hudgins, and Billups Creeks
Gloucester: Harper, Dancing (Dancer), Ferry, French’s Creeks
Middlesex: Wilton, Healy Creeks