(RICHMOND, VA)—Following the illegal clearing in 2017 of over 13 acres of land atop Fones Cliffs along the Rappahannock River, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has proposed a consent decree that includes $200,000 in penalties for landowner Virginia True Corporation. The majority of this would go to oyster restoration projects. The landowner has filed for protection in New York bankruptcy court, and the consent decree must be approved by that court.
The violations by Virginia True Corporation have already led to about 36.5 additional tons of nitrogen pollution and 12.5 additional tons of phosphorus pollution to the Rappahannock River, according to a report by engineering firm Rummel, Klepper, and Kahl. Without replanting of the destroyed trees and stabilization of the cliff, runoff pollution will continue.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) filed comments on the proposed consent decree on April 3. CBF Virginia Executive Director Peggy Sanner issued the following statement.
“Though we appreciate the Commonwealth’s enforcement efforts, this consent decree does not go far enough to respond to the damage being done to the Rappahannock River. The illegal clearing of land atop the cliffs has led to massive erosion and significant sediment and nutrient pollution to the river.
“To ensure that oysters and other aquatic species can thrive, it will be necessary to stop the ongoing pollution of the river by replanting trees and maintaining effective erosion controls.
“We urge DEQ to require actions that address the damage done by Virginia True Corporation, including tree planting, stabilizing the cliff, and oyster restoration work classified as remediation.
“This is especially important because the property owners are now in bankruptcy proceedings, and it is unlikely that the currently proposed penalties would be approved by the bankruptcy court. Remediation actions like tree planting are generally prioritized for bankruptcy court approval.”