The Issues Facing Virginia

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

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 massive development proposed for *Fones Cliffs and covering nearly 1,000 acres threatens this vital habitat. The proposal 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

But 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. Hundreds of acres of mature hardwood forest could be lost and large 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. That's why it's crucial to oppose the rezoning request.

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

*The area in question is the portion of Fones Cliffs owned by the Diatomite Corporation of America.

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."

Save the Eagles - Save Fones Cliffs

In the News

11.23.15 - Recycling program aims to repurpose Virginia oyster shells

11.15.15 - In blow to conservationists, county approves Fones Cliffs development

11.13.15 - Bay foundation fighting for menhaden

11.13.15 - Fones Cliffs rezoning approved

11.12.15 - Luxury resort gets OK for Virginia eagle site; opponents say fight goes on

11.12.15 - CBF Press Statement CBF Issues Statement on Decision to Rezone Fones Cliffs

11.04.15 - Virginia joins in coalition to defend EPA's Clean Power Plan

11.04.15 - Maryland, Virginia support EPA's fight against Clean Power Plan overturn

11.02.15 - Virginia Beach couple to be honored for philanthropy at New York dinner

10.21.15 - Preserve, don't develop, Fones Cliffs

10.16.15 - Interfaith summit seeks spiritual activism

10.15.15 - James River healthier than in decades, report says

10.10.15 - Richmond County delays vote on Fones Cliffs development

10.07.15 - Audio available Commercial Development Plans Threatens Bald Eagle Haven Along Rappahannock River

10.07.15 - Officials face Fones Cliffs question: Development or preservation?

10.04.15 - CBF's Brock Center gives 'green' new meaning

09.27.15 - VIMS study shows blue crabs tolerate low oxygen better than previously thought

09.25.15 - Conservationists seek to protect cliffs overlooking Rappahannock

09.25.15 - Elizabeth River Project targets Eastern Branch in clean-up efforts

09.21.15 - CBF Press Release Farm Bureau Prepares to Ask Supreme Court to Throw Out the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint

09.20.15 - Wading in, as an act of faith

09.20.15 - Editorial: True conservatives support environmental protection

09.18.15 - Saturday festival celebrates Va. Beach environment

09.13.15 - For Chesapeake Bay Foundation manager, the oyster is her world

09.13.15 - Chesapeake school principals bring home lessons from Tangier Island

09.03.15 - Stafford wastewater system has leaked 1.5 million gallons of sewage in past year

09.01.15 - Exploring the Chickahominy River

08.10.15 - The power of motivation and collaboration in rural communities

08.09.15 - Bay Foundation won't appeal lawsuit regarding stream exclusion

08.08.15 - Virginia agriculture, farmers plow ahead for the Bay

08.08.15 - Crabby governors duel over Chesapeake delicacy

07.30.15 - CBF Press Release Brock Environmental Center Earns Top Green Building Stamp

07.27.15 - Jordan's Branch shows that small streams can be beautiful, bothersome

07.15.15 - Charlottesville teacher sole Virginia representative of environmental education workshop

07.14.15 - Richmond court dismisses suit involving cow dung in streams

07.14.15 - CBF Press Statement CBF Issues Statement on Court Decision Not to Require Fencing Cattle out of Streams for Largest Animal Operations

07.14.15 - CBF Press Release Bay Milestone Assessment Finds Virginia Falling Short on Key Practices

07.13.15 - Corps begin rebuilding Great Wicomico sanctuary reef

07.09.15 - Lawsuit challenges cattle practices in effort to save Chesapeake Bay

07.07.15 - Arlington: On a Mission to Improve Water Quality

07.07.15 - Court upholds Chesapeake Bay cleanup program

07.06.15 - Court upholds EPA's Chesapeake Bay cleanup authority

07.02.15 - The EPA helps to restore the Bay

07.02.15 - Case explores whether cows "apply" their waste to streams

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