Supervisor Gross Pushes for Stronger Environmental Protection

Supervisor Penny Gross The following are excerpts from testimony by Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross (Mason District) to the Commission on the Future of Virginia’s Environment. Gross chairs the Erosion and Sediment Control and Stormwater Management Committee for the Potomac Watershed Roundtable.

The focus of my presentation today will be Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) and Stormwater Management (SWM), areas of concern that often do not receive appropriate attention when problems of water pollution and saving the Chesapeake Bay are discussed.

The area we represent is the most densely populated watershed in the Commonwealth. Unprecedented growth has exacerbated erosion and sediment control and stormwater management concerns. On one extreme, we are dealing with aging stormwater infrastructures in our urban and suburban areas. Infill and redevelopment is occurring in the established sections of our watershed where land, previously not developed because of difficult terrain or soils and proximity to streams, is now economically attractive and prime for development. On the other extreme, we have areas where rural farmland and forests rapidly are being developed and new roads constructed. These collective forces place enormous stress on local governments. We are discovering that existing laws and programs at both local and state levels on ESC and SWM are in need of reform.

Erosion and Sediment Control—Recommended Changes to Virginia Law

  • A greater level of flexibility should be granted to localities permitting them to work with developers and others to employ innovative and hopefully less costly “beyond compliance” practices in managing erosion control.

  • Modify Virginia law to include the removal of trees (greater than a specified size) as a “land disturbing activity” on tracts planned for development. Developers tend to remove all vegetation from a tract before development thereby exacerbating soil and erosion problems.

Local Concerns

  • Vastly improve public education and outreach programs. Greater public understanding of ESC requirements and issues encourages citizen surveillance and increases the effectiveness of available inspectors. The public needs to be educated about the health implications, cost, and environmental impacts of ineffective ESC practices.

  • Funding another ESC inspector at the local level is expensive given the wages commanded in Northern Virginia and availability of qualified persons. Some of our jurisdictions are increasing the training of their assigned ESC staff and cross training personnel in other departments to increase surveillance capabilities. Improving the training and continuing education of engineers who provide support to developers also needs investigation.

Stormwater Management—Recommended Changes to Virginia Law

  • All localities should be permitted to enact tree conservation ordinances. SWM fees charged to developers are currently based on total area of land developed. The fee could be linked to “area of land cleared” as an incentive to developers to maintain existing trees.

  • Stormwater management programs should be required of all jurisdictions if a dependable revenue stream can be devised.

  • Allow localities to require long term guarantees from developers installing SWM devices as a means to assure they function as promised over time.

  • Localities need the authority to impose inspection fees on privately installed BMP facilities to offset jurisdictional inspection costs.

Local Concerns

  • Several jurisdictions in our watershed are reviewing what watercourses in their areas are in fact perennial streams and thus accorded protection under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. The Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department is soon to issue a new definition of what constitutes a perennial stream. Many of our streams have been hardened, channeled, placed underground, or reconfigured so they no longer appear as streams but rather simply watercourses.

  • The short and long term impact on downstream properties and wetlands from SWM practices on a specific development needs better prediction. This analysis, an obligation of the applicant, should be included in the site plan application. Planning and zoning officials including Planning Commissions should consider such impacts as a standard part of their review process.

  • Local zoning and construction rules and ordinances may inhibit progressive developers from employing “better site design principles.” According to some developers, pursuing such principles requires costly and time-consuming applications for waivers. The Roundtable is investigating what role it potentially could play in stimulating such efforts.

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