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.

Agriculture

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

04.23.16 - Agriculture and wastewater leading Bay cleanup

04.22.16 - Gov. McAuliffe celebrates National Environmental Education Week with Virginia Beach middle-schoolers

04.21.16 - Earth Day and every day, Brock Center soars past expectations

04.21.16 - Virginia Natural Gas awards $30,000 to environmental groups

04.20.16 - McAuliffe to tour Brock Environmental Center Thursday

04.19.16 - New data show Chesapeake Bay pollutants dropping

04.19.16 - Eb tide for Bay pollution

04.18.16 - Critter cams get you up close and personal

04.18.16 - Eastern York students learn hands-on in canoes

04.18.16 - 4 environmental groups urge IRRC to approve DEP drilling regs Thursday

04.18.16 - Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort driving down pollution levels

04.18.16 - Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort driving down pollution levels

04.12.16 - City group to host talk ahead of Earth Day

04.12.16 - CBF Press Statement CBF Issues Statement on Blue Crab Population

04.07.16 - Volunteers sought for 'Clean the Bay Day'

04.06.16 - Register for Clean the Bay Day

04.05.16 - The ospreys are back in Northern Neck

04.04.16 - Newest 'Living Building' in the World Uses Its Own Energy and Water, Generates No Waste

04.04.16 - One of the world's greenest buildings 14 feet above sea level prepares for climate change

04.01.16 - Virginia's Coastline Hosts the Newest 'Living Building' in the World

03.31.16 - Virginia lawmakers OK millions for farm BMPs, sewage plants

03.31.16 - Volunteers being sought for Clean the Bay Day

03.30.16 - Volunteers sought for 'Clean the Bay Day'

03.30.16 - Volunteers needed for 28th annual Clean the Bay Day

03.30.16 - Volunteers needed for annual Clean the Bay Day

03.30.16 - CBF Press Release Volunteers Urged to Register for 28th Annual Clean the Bay Day

03.26.16 - Still a long way to go in cleaning up Virginia's waters

03.25.16 - Chesterfield residents speak on budget issues during public hearings

03.24.16 - Spread the word about fertilizers

03.24.16 - Audio available Scholarships Available for "Teachers on the Bay" Class

03.23.16 - Most residents at Chesterfield board meeting show support for stormwater fee

03.22.16 - This evening, save water by drinking beer

03.19.16 - Chesterfield to consider stormwater utility; cost to homes would be $24 annually

03.16.16 - Federal offshore drilling plan takes Atlantic off the map

03.12.16 - CBF Press Statement CBF Statement on President Obama's Offshore Drilling Decision

03.12.16 - Pleasure House Point really taking off in Virginia Beach

03.12.16 - CBF Press Statement CBF Statement on General Assembly Support for Clean Water Programs

03.04.16 - Environmentalists fight proposal to fill Stumpy Lake wetlands for development...again

02.28.16 - Assembly weighs funding to improve the Bay

02.22.16 - CBF Press Statement CBF Statement on Budget Bills Released by Virginia's House and Senate

02.21.16 - Approve funding to keep Virginia waters clean

02.13.16 - Restoring Virginia's waterways depends on support this GA session

02.11.16 - Restoring the Chesapeake Bay is an on-going, important process

02.09.16 - Video Can natural infrastructure help protect Hampton Roads from flooding?

02.09.16 - Video Local leaders to meet, discuss rising sea levels

02.02.16 - MD, VA lawmakers grapple with Bay-related issues

01.30.16 - Conservation and clean water highly supported by Virginians

01.29.16 - Chesterfield confronts cost of addressing storm water runoff

01.29.16 - Crabbers find pots of money in abandoned fishing gear

01.26.16 - Harry Lester elected chair of Chesapeake Bay Foundation board

01.26.16 - U.S. Green Building Council releases its annual Top 10 States for LEED Green Building

01.23.16 - Menhaden discussion likely not going away anytime soon

01.16.16 - Clearer water reported in Bay

01.07.16 - Little fish tops big list of local environmental issues facing Virginia lawmakers

01.07.16 - Chesapeake Bay Foundation reports improved water quality in Suffolk

01.07.16 - Governor's budget would help the bay, farmers

01.04.16 - Little fish, big issues

12.31.15 - Street sweeping illustrates nitty-gritty of Chesapeake Bay cleanup program

12.29.15 - How resilience will shape the future of building design

12.27.15 - Conservation groups and legislators look to change menhaden regulations

12.24.15 - Chesapeake Bay Foundation honors local lawmakers

12.22.15 - Farmers being given opportunity to gain grazing insight

12.21.15 - Hanger wins legislator of the year award

12.20.15 - The saboteurs of the Chesapeake

12.16.15 - Volunteers sought to grow, restore Chesapeake Bay grasses

12.09.15 - Farmers being given opportunity to gain grazing insight

12.09.15 - CBF Press Statement CBF Statement on Gov. McAuliffe's Support for Funding Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrades

12.05.15 - Destruction of Fones Cliffs is shocking

12.03.15 - Sportsmen and women play vital roles in conservation

12.01.15 - A proposed luxury resort where eagles soar stirs anger

12.01.15 - Chesapeake Bay Foundation announces new Virginia executive director

11.29.15 - The Chesapeake Bay is looking strangely clear. But why?

11.26.15 - Raising awareness: Newly elected members have goals for conservation group

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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