The Issues Facing Virginia
Richmond skyline. Copyright 2010 Jillian Chilson
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
Map 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 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.
What role do farms and agricultural production play in the health of our waters? Learn more
Toxic chemicals are entering our waters every day. What can we do about them? Learn more
When the watershed's land suffers from pollution and poor management so, too, does the water. Learn how
Sewage & Septic Systems
Upgrading wastewater treatment is key to cleaning up the Bay. Learn more
Did 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 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."