The following first appeared in the Gazette-Journal.
After decades of restoration efforts, the Chesapeake Bay is finally starting to show promising signs. The oyster population is beginning to rebound. At times, water has been the clearest in decades. Underwater grasses sway in the shallows.
But this recovery is fragile. That's why it's troubling that Gloucester County's Board of Supervisors may back off from its restoration commitments. At its September 6 meeting, the board will consider weakening protections under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act that have been in place for decades, the first Virginia locality to consider reversing course in this manner.
Instead of rolling back protections, we need to remain on course to save the bay. Gloucester's rivers, creeks, and inlets have always been one of its biggest assets. Their natural beauty attracts people who visit and stay. Their bounty has long sustained watermen and is leading to the comeback of the Middle Peninsula's oyster industry.
Gloucester shouldn't put its waterways or the bay's recovery at risk. More pollution would threaten aquatic life and increase human health risks. The proposal to reduce countywide protections won't spur growth or reduce administrative costs. Instead, it would actually add costs and paperwork to citizens and businesses that buy and develop land.
The proposal would reduce the area within the county covered by the Bay Act's Resource Management Area (RMA), where current land use rules protect water quality. Right now, the Gloucester County RMA is countywide, meaning that everyone follows the same rules.
But the proposal in front of the board would reduce Gloucester's RMA to just about the smallest total area allowed. However, state law would still require sensitive areas like wetlands, floodplains, and places with erodible soil to be covered by the RMA. Defining these areas would cause headaches for developers, businesses, and homeowners. In the end, Gloucester would have a patchwork of development rules across property lines, creating uncertainty and adding to project costs.
Gloucester County staff have opposed the change. Likewise, the local realtors, business owners, and residents on the board-appointed Go Green Gloucester Advisory Committee recognized that the proposed changes would create "a regulatory landscape that is needlessly complex."
Even large commercial development wouldn't see benefits from the proposal. Development projects over an acre must meet state rules for stormwater management and erosion and sediment control. Given that, changes aren't likely to "have a great impact on economic development in the form of attracting new business," county staff said this summer in a memo to the board.
In short, the county has little to gain economically and a lot at risk for the environment. Fortunately, it's not too late. Gloucester residents can meet with their supervisor or go to the September 6 meeting to ensure that future generations have cleaner water than we do today.
�Rebecca LePrell, CBF Virginia Executive Director