The Issues Facing Virginia

Richmond skyline. Copyright 2010 Jillian ChilsonRichmond skyline. Copyright 2010 Jillian Chilson

Fones Cliff with insert of bald eagle sitting on nest. Photo by Bill Portlock Fones Cliffs is an idyllic spot on the Rappahannock River. It is also a major habitat for nesting and migrating bald eagles. [inset]  Photo by Bill Portlock

Fones Cliffs Development Threatens Rappahannock River and Bald Eagle Habitat

One of the most important bald eagle habitats on the East Coast is in danger of being turned into a luxury residential community and resort, complete with golf course, lodge, and spa. Fones Cliffs is an idyllic and dramatic spot in Richmond County on Virginia's Northern Neck. The extensive forest and high white cliffs rising above the Rappahannock River provide an ideal hunting perch for the hundreds of eagles that migrate through the area, as well as numerous nesting pairs. It's such a key site that the area has been designated an important bird area by the National Audubon Society. The river itself is a major spawning and nursery area for fish, including striped bass, shad, and sturgeon.

However, a colossal development proposed by Diatomite Corporation would cover a nearly 1,000-acre section of Fones Cliffs, threatening this vital habitat. The plan includes 718 homes and townhouses, 18 guest cottages, an 18-hole golf course and driving range, 116-room lodge with spa, 150-seat restaurant, a small commercial center, a skeet and trap range, equestrian center with stables for 90 horses, a 10,000 square foot community barn, and seven piers along the river.

Why Developing Fones Cliffs Is A Bad Idea

Eagle nests along the Rappahannock River in the Fones Cliffs area. Courtesy of The Center for Conservation BiologyMap shows eagle nests along the Rappahannock River in the Fones Cliffs area. Courtesy of The Center for Conservation Biology

This plan would jeopardize the thriving eagle population and doesn't make sense in the light of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, which requires Virginia to sharply reduce pollution entering its waterways. Large swaths of forest would be cut and substantial areas of pavement would be added, reducing the ability of the land to filter the polluted runoff before it reaches the river. Wetlands and streams would be in danger. The waterfront development would increase cliff erosion, and there could be significant damage from the planned septic systems.

In short, this treasure on the Rappahannock could be lost. If this pristine land is developed, it will remain developed and never again be a place of peace and tranquility.

CBF Continues to Oppose This Development

In November 2015, local officials approved Diatomite Corporation's request to rezone its portion of Fones Cliffs to allow for a large commercial-residential development. But this is far from over. CBF will stay engaged during the upcoming application and development process. We will ensure that the project follows important permits and requirements that protect the environment and challenge actions that don't live up to appropriate standards. As has happened with other developments, such challenges could minimize the development's scope or even make it unworkable.

Economists, land use planners and real estate agents have been highly skeptical of the project. Thousands of Virginians have come out against this development. We'll continue to track this proposal to ensure that an unparalleled place will not be destroyed.

Read a summary of CBF's letter opposing Fones Cliffs' Rezoning.

Nutrient Trading Graphic.

Nutrient Trading 101

Nutrient trading is a way for farmers, foresters, businesses and other facilities to reduce pollution more than is legally required and to sell such additional reductions as credits to other businesses, facilities, and local municipalities so they can meet their reduction requirements.

Trading offers a tool to reduce costs associated with reducing pollution, to expedite water quality improvements, and stimulate innovation. Trading can help localities and businesses to reduce pollution and meet their requirements more cost-effectively and often more quickly.

Why would we want to allow an entity to buy credits rather than take their own action to reduce pollution?

That's a sentiment we sometimes hear in relation to trading programs. Here's a simplified example in which trading makes economic sense and benefits water quality:

Let's say a river basin has two wastewater treatment plants, A and B.

Treatment plant A is upstream from B.

Pollution limits have been set for each plant to ensure the water downstream from both of them meets water quality standards.

The population served by B has doubled since those limits were put in place. That means the plant will have to treat a much larger pollution load, with the result that it will exceed its pollution limits by 1,000 pounds of nitrogen unless it upgrades its facility. Treatment plant B can and will upgrade its facilities, but that will take time and additional financial resources, which it does not yet have.

Meanwhile, A, the plant upstream, has already upgraded its plant so that it is reducing pollution by 1,500 pounds more than is legally required.

Enter nutrient trading

From that additional 1,500-pound reduction, treatment plant A can now sell 1,000 pounds of nitrogen credits to treatment plant B.  

Treatment plant B can buy credits (at a lower cost than immediately upgrading its facility) and use those credits to offset the additional 1,000 pounds of nitrogen it is discharging, enabling it to meet its legal requirements.

In this way, trading allows treatment plant B to meet its legal limits—through purchased credits—and lets treatment plant A defray its costs. The result is a reduced amount of pollution entering the river and a healthier river basin overall.

This sort of trading example can also extend to trades between different kinds of entities, such as a wastewater treatment plant and a municipal stormwater system  (the pipes, culverts, drainage ditches, etc. that carry rainwater off the land into a body of water) or between point source and nonpoint pollution sources, such as a municipal stormwater system and a farm that has implemented more pollution reduction practices than required.

What's CBF's Take?

CBF supports nutrient trading with certain caveats.

Blueprint First: Trading programs must ensure that the actual nutrient reductions being made exceed the requirements of the Blueprint for the Chesapeake Bay.

Accountability: Trading programs must be stringent enough to ensure that trading sources are properly constructed, operated and maintained. .

Accessibility: Trading programs must ensure that the public is fully informed when credits are created and when a facility is using credits. Those who are potentially affected must have full access to the information.

Verified Technology: Trading programs must ensure that the credit-generation practices have been assigned a science-based "pollution reduction efficiency" approved by the scientists at the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Department of Environmental Quality. (Innovative technology is encouraged, but new practices must be scientifically vetted to earn credits.)

Local Water Quality Protection: Trading programs must prohibit trades that will allow the degradation of local water quality.

Timeliness: Trading programs must ensure that the use of credits makes sense for the time frame it takes to generate them.


Farm fields. Photo courtesy NRCS MarylandWhat role do farms and agricultural production play in the health of our waters? Learn more

Chemical Contamination

An osprey in its nest in the James River right next to a chemical plant. Photo © Krista Schlyer/iLCP.Toxic chemicals are entering our waters every day. What can we do about them? Learn more

Land Use

Sprawl development. Photo copyright Nikki DavisWhen the watershed's land suffers from pollution and poor management so, too, does the water. Learn how

Sewage & Septic Systems

Easton Utilities sewage treatment plant. Photo courtesy City of EastonUpgrading wastewater treatment is key to cleaning up the Bay. Learn more

Stormwater Runoff

Residential stormwater runoff. Photo copyright 2010 Krista Schlyer/iLCPDid you know that stormwater runoff is the fastest growing source of Bay pollution? Learn more

Find out what other issues are affecting the health of the Bay. >>

Map showing location of proposed ODEC power plant. Lucidity Information DesignMap showing location of proposed ODEC power plant. Lucidity Information Design

Plans for ODEC's Proposed Cypress Creek Coal Plant Suspended

On August 8, 2012 it was announced that plans to build a coal-fired power plant in Surry County had been suspended. According to statements, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) asked the Army Corps of Engineers to cease the permitting process needed for the plant to proceed. CBF hopes ODEC officials stand true to these statements. If they do, it will be a great win for the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams and the citizens of Hampton Roads who have so vigorously opposed the facility.

As proposed, the plant would have been the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia and, by ODEC's own accounts, emit millions of pounds of nitrogen oxides (smog-causing chemicals) and carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas), as well as soot, mercury, lead, benzene, and other toxic air pollutants.

Read the CBF report, "A Coal Plant's Drain on Health and Wealth," which explains the impact ODEC's plant would have had if the plant had been built.

Numerous human health organizations, environmental groups, nearby localities, and hundreds of local citizens have publicly opposed the plant due to its likely harmful environmental, economic, and human health impacts on the Hampton Roads region. CBF broadly applauds their unyielding opposition.

ODEC's continued ownership of the property where the plant was proposed and changes in local zoning authority from Sussex County, Surry County, and the Town of Dendron, leave unresolved questions about what will happen next. CBF hopes that a usage of the property can be found that can benefit both the economy and environment of the region. 

For now, we are grateful for this apparent victory! CBF will continue to closely monitor any future permitting actions associated with the property.

See the sidebar for more information and read our report, "A Coal Plant's Drain on Health and Wealth."

In the News

10.17.16 - Slowing the flow: Fixing flooding with gardens and wetlands

10.13.16 - Students take educational cruise to Port Isobel West

10.10.16 - Bay Foundation program lets participants help restore grass beds with home kits

10.09.16 - Brendan Leary awarded Eagle Scout after leading Chesapeake Bay oyster recovery project

09.29.16 - Can eating oysters save the Chesapeake Bay?

09.26.16 - Borrow a nature book from the new Free Lending Library at Pleasure House Point

09.24.16 - Kingsmill restaurant joins effort to recycle oyster shells

09.21.16 - Chesapeake Bay: Barometer of the Environment

09.21.16 - Researchers: Strong, positive trends for Chesapeake Bay cleanup

09.16.16 - Chesapeake Girl Scout recycles oyster shells in effort to help local waterways

09.15.16 - Video Shark spotted in the Chesapeake Bay

09.15.16 - Shark sightings in the Chesapeake Bay

09.14.16 - Video Shark sighting in Chesapeake Bay

09.14.16 - $11.5M in federal grants aimed at cleaner Chesapeake Bay

09.13.16 - Audio available Hopewell on trak to clean up the James

09.09.16 - Natural gas-fueled plant: Good or bad? In Chesapeake, it all depends

09.09.16 - Audio available Climate change threatens wildlife, people of Chesapeake

09.08.16 - Farmers take boating trip along Chesapeake Bay

09.06.16 - VA middle schools embrace agriscience education, FFA

09.01.16 - City nets $315K in river restoration grant

08.31.16 - We should ramp up Bay restoration, not roll back protections

08.30.16 - Audio available Chesapeake Bay Foundation finds E. Coli pollution up to 100 times state standards at Richmond area recreation spots

08.25.16 - River Stone joins S.O.S.

08.19.16 - Video Recycled oysters improve water quality in Norfolk's Lafayette River

08.18.16 - Plenty to do and see outdoors as August winds down

08.16.16 - Millions of oysters going into Lafayette River

08.10.16 - A great program for the Bay

08.09.16 - Afloat with CBF

08.05.16 - Oyster trail leads to the Bay's beds and to fine restaurants everywhere

08.03.16 - Sustainability leaders turn to wellness and technology to get an edge

08.03.16 - CBF Press Statement CBF Statement on Menhaden Harvest Decision Delay

07.30.16 - Paddleboarders, canoers, kayakers turn out for 19th annual race on Chesapeake Bay

07.24.16 - NOAA deploys another smart buoy in the Bay

07.21.16 - Lake pays for the price of runoff

07.20.16 - Chesapeake Bay grasses on the rebound

07.18.16 - Dolphins more common in Potomac than previously thought

07.18.16 - 19th annual Paddle for the Bay event set for July 30

07.17.16 - LTE: Protecting the Bay

07.14.16 - Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association demonstrate educational reef at Camp Kekoka

07.14.16 - Environmental education center in Virginia Beach recognized with major sustainability award

07.14.16 - Incredible net-zero energy Brock Envrionmental Center turns rainwater into drinking water

07.14.16 - Lafayette progress shows hard work's payoff

07.13.16 - Environmental group for moms tackles childhood hunger in Virginia Beach, nationwide

07.12.16 - Don't waste energy pursuing offshore wind power

07.08.16 - After years of work, the Lafayette River in Norfolk finally is looking healthier

06.29.16 - Area governor's school students learn by seeing and doing on annual summer trip

06.28.16 - Audio available Loopers: Traversing the 'Appalachian Trail on Water'

06.28.16 - Sustainable Buildings Award 2016 final shortlist announced

06.26.16 - John Smith Chesapeake Trail celebrates 10 years

06.20.16 - Audio available In Norfolk, climate change means dealing with rising water. The Dutch are there to help.

06.20.16 - Liquid Asset

06.16.16 - Video Hampton students spend year growing oysters for Elizabeth Lake reef

06.14.16 - Seminars help homeowners learn to raise oysters

06.13.16 - Naval Station Norfolk Sailors participate in Clean the Bay Day

06.12.16 - Conservationist gives tour of his river work

06.12.16 - Clean the Bay Day volunteers tackle Suffolk's waterways

06.09.16 - SmithGroupJJR's Brock Environmental Center converts rain into drinkable water

06.08.16 - Local farmers help save the Bay

06.08.16 - Video Virginia farmers pitching in to purify waterways

06.07.16 - Chesapeake Bay awareness at the forefront this week 

06.06.16 - Hopewell volunteers among thousands at 'Clean the Bay Day'

06.06.16 - 2,290 pounds of litter collected on Bay Day

06.06.16 - Tabb woman champions Chesapeake Bay in charity competition

06.04.16 - CBF Press Release Clean the Bay Day Draws Thousands of Volunteers to Pick up Shoreline Litter and Debris

06.01.16 - Chesapeake Bay Foundation to Teach Seminars on Oyster Gardening

05.31.16 - Participate in the 28th Annual Clean the Bay Day in Hampton Roads

05.31.16 - Video Foundation, volunteers set to tackle VA's waters for 'Clean the Bay Day'

05.31.16 - 8 things to do in the D.C. area the week of May 31-June 5

05.31.16 - The Case of the Missing Energy Model

05.25.16 - Ultra-Green Brock Center Certified as a 'Living Building'

05.24.16 - Virginia State Parks to celebrate National Trails Day

05.23.16 - Williamsburg seeking volunteers for 'Clean the Bay Day'

05.17.16 - New Smith Trail guide helps boaters, like Looping couple, plan trips on Rappahannock River

05.16.16 - Officials vow VA will protect watershed if pipeline goes ahead

05.12.16 - CBF's Brock Center declared a 'living building'

05.12.16 - Virginia Beach's Brock Center one of the first buldings in the world to earn elite green honor

05.12.16 - Audio available Moving the Classroom Outdoors

05.12.16 - CBF Press Release Brock Center Meets Living Building Challenge

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