Historic soil | Up on the roof | Conservation Connection | Fighting phrag | Park for Gloucester | Localities hone stream ID skills | Warner dedicates long-distance trails | Sustainability summit | Stewardship Virginia on the James
The six massive ionic columns tower at the edge of a manmade cliff, still shouldering the austere triangular entablature designed by Thomas Jefferson. Its white façade gleams against the blue sky, but the remainder of Virginia’s capitol is shrouded in scaffolding.
Gone are the grassy lawn and marble stairs. In their place yawns a gorge. Workers are steadily covering the exposed red clay of Shockoe Hill with reinforced concrete.
To preserve Jefferson’s vision of a hilltop temple, Virginia’s Department of General Services (DGS) hired Hillier Architecture to design a subterranean addition. Besides restoring the existing capitol, DGS wanted to add exhibits and meeting rooms. Accessed from Bank Street, the 27,000-square-foot extension will house both, as well as a café.
More than 19,000 cubic yards of earth were excavated from the capitol lawn before construction could begin. An archeologist was on hand during the excavation, and the soil was taken to a storage facility to be used to cover the completed addition.
Because of the magnitude of the project and its urban setting, controlling erosion on the site is an important challenge. The capitol is hemmed in by city streets, with sewer drains waiting to usher runoff downhill to the James River. Sediment, of course, is one of the chief pollutants in Virginia’s rivers, threatening aquatic vegetation and fish.
By law it falls to DCR to oversee erosion and sediment controls on state and federal construction projects in Virginia (localities oversee private projects). John McCutcheon is an environmental specialist with DCR’s regional office in Richmond. He consulted with project engineers prior to construction at the capitol and conducts regular inspections of the work site.
“We had a phased plan,” McCutcheon explains. “They built a big berm on the uphill side to direct water away from the area they were going to excavate, and on the low side they put some silt fence and a sediment trap … Now they basically use their whole work area as a sediment trap. Any water that fell in there they would have to pump out through a filter bag.”
Inlet protection devices were added to the sewer drains along the road to capture sediment that escaped the site, but thanks to other measures—including daily sweeping along Bank Street—they are a little-used last resort.
Walking the site with construction superintendent Harold Adams, McCutcheon points to grass planted along the perimeter and gravel spread along the makeshift roadways. “What Harold is doing is keeping all the bare surfaces covered up, so instead of doing sediment control, he’s doing erosion control and it’s a lot more effective.”
For his part, Adams is an enthusiastic partner. “We try to keep it all covered … always have somebody at the gate down there making sure the road stays clear. You know, it’s just what we do every day … Every week we do our soil and sedimentation check.” Even the chemicals used to strip the crumbling stucco from the existing building were biodegradable, he points out.
Gazing across the site from between the capitol columns, Adams points to a pair of concrete cylinders jutting from the roadside. “There’s a stormwater retention vault in there that holds 130,000 gallons of water … It came in on 30 tractor trailers, in pieces like a puzzle.”
Because a retention pond on the capitol grounds was not an option, this underground vault will serve a similar purpose. It will fill during a rainstorm, then release water into the city’s sewers at no more than 10 cubic feet per second.
Walking along Bank Street, Adams points to the wire-reinforcement silt fencing holding back a mound of gravel. “If the water does come, it will leach through and get to me here and still go through enough stone to catch all the sedimentation … Originally they didn’t have super silt fence designed for down here. John and I walked the job, looked at it: It had to be.”
“This has been an easy job for us,” adds McCutcheon, “because Harold is so on top of everything.” Construction will continue at the capitol through 2006.
For more information on the capitol restoration, visit http://www.dgs.virginia.gov/CapitolSquareComplex/ConstructionProjects/CapSquareFileManager/tabid/206/Default.aspx. To see architect’s renderings of the completed project, visit http://www.hillier.com/portfolio and click “Civic.”
Richmond replaced Williamsburg as Virginia’s seat of government in 1779. Thomas Jefferson enlisted French architect Charles-Louis Clerisseau to help him design the classical revival capitol in 1785. The capitol was occupied in 1788, though the exterior stucco was not completed until 1800.
In 1858, Albert Lybrock proposed to enlarge the capitol building, though the effort was forestalled by war. The legislative arm of the Confederate States of America met in Virginia’s capitol between 1861 and 1865.
In 1870, Delegate Ballard Edwards, one of Virginia’s first African-American legislators, called for repair and repainting of the capitol. Two months later, the crowded third floor court room collapsed into the House of Delegates chamber, killing 62 and injuring many more.
Though phones and electricity were installed in the 1880s, it was not until 1904 that the General Assembly allocated $250,000 to rescue the capitol from dilapidation. Two wings were completed in 1906, one each for the Senate and House of Delegates.
The House of Delegates Chamber was renovated in 1927–1929 and the Senate Chamber in 1954. The capitol was last given a serious upgrade in 1962–1964, when the wings were linked to the original capitol with widened hallways.
The present upgrade is the biggest ever: $83 million for restoration work, infrastructure upgrades and an underground addition. For more on the capitol’s history, visit http://www.lva.virginia.gov/whoweare/exhibits/capitol.
Above, a diagram of the capitol's new underground addition. Image courtesy of DGS.
A 1906 photo with newly finished
wings. Image courtesy of DGS.
Portico within the capitol.
“This is a great day for the Chesapeake Bay,” proclaimed David Bancroft, executive director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, at the September opening of the capital city’s first corporate green roof. The 11,800-square-foot green roof atop SunTrust’s Mid-Atlantic headquarters is currently the largest in Virginia.
For now, the tiny sprigs of sedum merely polka dot the pebbled expanse. Within two growing seasons, however, they will cover the triangular rooftop, staying green year-round, with seasonal bursts of tiny pink and white flowers. The small plants will absorb rainwater, decreasing rooftop runoff to the James River, and filter carbon monoxide from the city air.
According to April Harris, who managed the project for roofing firm DavisHarris & Associates, 18,000 specimens were placed by hand into the special mixture of organic matter and bits of shale. “Seven varieties of plants were planted: five sedums and two delosperma,” she explained. “They have a fibrous root system, which means they spread out linearly versus a taproot system that goes straight down. [They are] very drought tolerant.”
The roof was selected in part because it is visible from offices in the taller portion of SunTrust’s downtown headquarters as well as surrounding buildings. DCR provided funding for the $28,000 grant administered by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Needing to replace the aging roof, SunTrust contributed an additional $150,000 towards the $16-per-square-foot installation.
“Open spaces, forests and wetlands have served as natural buffers to Virginia’s waterways,” DCR Director Joseph Maroon told a rare mingling of conservationists and bankers at the opening.
“As we look at reducing urban runoff and the nutrients that are within it, green roofs are one of the most cost effective strategies available,” explained Bancroft. “Green roofs are great investments [because] a properly installed green roof will double the lifetime of a roof … When you look at the cost of the design, the cost of the plant material, you’re talking about an investment that will recoup itself well before the lifetime of the roof is over.”
C. T. Hill, president and CEO of SunTrust Mid-Atlantic, praised the green roof concept as an example of corporate responsibility that pays off for everyone. “It turns out to be good for business and good for the environment, which is what really got our attention.” He cited longevity, energy efficiency, and habitat for birds and butterflies.
Why Nonpoint, Why Now?
Why hasn’t Virginia made more progress on reducing the impacts of non-point source pollution on water quality? Scientists documented the effects of agricultural runoff, stormwater and other non-point sources in the 1970s. For 20 years, DCR has offered Ag BMP cost-share programs and incentives. So why not more progress? I have heard these and similar questions several times lately, so a little explanation may be helpful.
The Virginia Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMP) Cost-Share Program started in 1984 as a demonstration program that focused on educating farmers about the benefits, both financial and environmental, that various soil and water conservation practices provide. For most of two decades (except in 1998–2001), the cost-share program relied upon very minimal funding that came, in many years, exclusively through federal funds provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. Such funding severely limited the number of farm acres that could be enrolled and limited the funds to only those portions of Virginia in the Bay watershed. As recently as 2003, the state’s BMP cost share funding was virtually zero. More recently, in fiscal years 2005 and 2006, Governor Warner and the General Assembly provided substantial funds.
This new funding is a reflection of Virginia’s increased efforts to meet our 2010 goals for the Chesapeake Bay and to address more of the impaired waters in our Southern Rivers. But in order to demonstrate to EPA our commitment to water quality, Virginia must provide sustained funding at still higher levels. DCR and local soil and water conservation districts also require new staff if we are to increase service delivery capacity and put water quality safeguards on more Virginia farms.
For our part, DCR is working aggressively to fundamentally revamp the 20-year-old BMP program. Our emphasis is no longer education but widespread implementation of more cost-effective BMPs. We have established funding priorities for three practices that are in-line with recommendations of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. These are cover crops, conservation tillage and nutrient management. We have also prioritized two other practices with proven water quality benefits: livestock exclusion (fencing livestock out of streams) and the establishment of riparian buffers. Together, if fully implemented, these five practices could account for 60 percent of the nitrogen reductions and 58 percent of the phosphorus reductions prescribed for agriculture in Virginia’s tributary strategies. Said another way, they would outpace the reductions being called for from sewage treatment plants.
We are also working with Virginia Tech, the agricultural industry, conservation organizations and partner agencies to promote the use of better diet and feed techniques that reduce nutrients in manure, to re-invigorate poultry litter transport efforts, and to replace annual contracts for BMP implementation with multiyear contracts. Moving forward, DCR will redouble its outreach efforts, strengthen its nutrient management regulations, and continue to review and evaluate program effectiveness.
There is another line of questioning I hear in response to our renewed emphasis on agricultural BMPs: What about urban non-point source pollution? Momentum has built for agricultural BMPs because they promise cost-effectiveness as we approach 2010, but this does not mean we can neglect urban areas. (By “urban,” we mean developed land in cities, suburbs and even rural communities.) Urban runoff looms as our next great challenge. DCR is now soliciting proposals from local governments and others for projects to reduce water quality impacts from developed lands. These lands combined contribute 23 percent of the nitrogen and 32 percent of the phosphorus entering the Bay from Virginia. Already DCR works closely with local governments and developers to ensure that construction sites comply with erosion and sediment controls and that new developments and sewers meet Virginia’s stormwater standards. DCR also assists localities in making use of the regulatory authority granted them by Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.
All of this adds up to a tremendous undertaking of historic and unprecedented proportions. Never before—in Virginia or anywhere—has there been such a sweeping pollution reduction effort. Now, in conjunction with our multi-state partners and alongside the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, we seek to achieve these very ambitious goals. Will we succeed?
I believe we can as long as we focus on getting better results from new and proven approaches, receive the necessary sustained funding, increase our delivery capacity, and involve individuals and the private sector.
All too common reed threatens Bay biodiversity Botanists know it as Phragmites australis (from the Greek phragma for “fence” because of its hedgelike density and Latin australis for “southern”). It is also known as common reed. Indeed, it may be the world’s most far-ranging flowering plant, growing on every continent save Antarctica.
In recent decades, however, the reed has spread rapidly throughout North America to the detriment of other wetland species. Stands of phragmites are now found throughout the Chesapeake Bay, Eastern Shore and Back Bay.
By studying the plant’s DNA, scientists have learned that the introduction of a more aggressive European strain fueled this rapid expansion. There is also a documented link between phragmites dominance and human activities. It is quick to find purchase in disturbed soils, flourishes in water with high nutrient content and withstands low oxygen levels.
Erik Molleen, a Virginia State Parks resource specialist, has gotten to know the plant well since coming to DCR seven years ago. “I have seen native vegetation being taken over by phragmites. In areas where you had black needle rush and you had Spartina alterniflora, that’s not there anymore. It’s been taken over by phragmites. I have seen the effects of it just in the amount of time I’ve worked here.”
On a muggy late August day, he and DCR Natural Heritage Program steward Darren Loomis launched canoes at York River State Park to do phragmites reconnaissance in Taskinas Creek. The pair didn’t have to paddle up the winding creek for long to find a small stand growing on the bank. Towering over the surrounding native cord grass, the blue-green stalks and brown tufts of phragmites were easy to spot.
As a protected estuary, the Taskinas Creek marsh remains relatively pristine. However, soil disturbances, such as overturned trees at the edge of the marsh, give invading phragmites a foothold, and it must be identified and treated with herbicide to maintain the native ecosystem.
A Stewardship Ecologist with DCR’s Natural Heritage Program, Curtis Hutto spearheaded an interagency effort to halt the spread of phragmites in Virginia parks and preserves. He orchestrated a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tirelessly applying for grants to stretch limited resources. “When we combine our acreage, it costs less for everybody,” Hutto said. “Our goal is to reach the point where it requires very little maintenance and money.”
Since 2000, spraying herbicide by helicopter has been stage one of the effort. Helicopters are able to identify and access phragmites stands in a marsh environment and can treat multiple land holdings in a single day. However, the aerial treatments are expensive ($100–$200 per acre) and subject to fair weather. Hurricanes and tropical storms are a recurrent factor in early autumn, which is the best time to apply herbicide because many native plants go dormant before phragmites.
The program’s newest piece of field equipment—a nimble boat fitted with a tank and sprayer—enables staff to treat smaller parcels and those that have been stunted by aerial spraying.
DCR recently began using a new herbicide as well. It offers a “wider window” for spraying, and preliminary use indicates it is more efficient in killing phragmites rhizomes. Most herbicides kill the visible plant, but its underground rhizomes often escape. When that happens, the perennial will return, albeit shorter, the following year.
Molleen is increasingly optimistic about efforts to contain phragmites in Tidewater state parks. “It’s an ongoing battle, in that we had to spray it year after year to get a hold of it. But things seem promising with this new herbicide … we are making progress. You can see the effects.”
Curtis Hutto spent six and a half years with DCR’s Natural Heritage program as state natural areas steward, helping to maintain and restore native ecosystems and rare species habitats throughout Virginia. On the evening of Sept. 26, 2005, Hutto died of a heart attack while conducting phragmites monitoring near the town of Oyster in Northampton County. His co-workers lost not only a dedicated, hardworking and brilliant colleague but also a kindhearted and humble friend. A memorial service celebrating Hutto’s life was held on Oct. 15 at Pocahontas State Park. Hutto held a Ph.D. in forestry from Clemson University, and prior to his work with DCR taught forestry at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in South Carolina. He is survived by his wife, Catherine Elisabeth Farrell Hutto, and two daughters, Aaron Elisabeth Hutto and Angela Patricia Hutto. Curtis will be sorely missed by all who knew, admired and loved him.
Pela Plummer Hundley cut Virginia State Parks a deal. The 89-year-old owner of a Gloucester County farm shaved more than $2 million off the asking price when the Trust for Public Lands approached her about creating state park on the site.
The 438-acre parcel includes woodland, marsh and crop fields along the York River. It was selected from several prospective sites for a tentatively named Middle Peninsula State Park. The property offers access to the York and borders the Rosewell Ruins historic site, where visitors tour the roofless remains of a circa-1725 brick mansion.
“My own hope is that this park will provide much enjoyment to the residents of the surrounding area,” Hundley told supporters gathered at the site to announce its purchase in September.
Gloucester County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Adams assured them it would enhance quality of life in the area: “Although Glouchester is surrounded by water, few of our citizens have access to it.”
Purchase of the land was made possible by the Virginia State Parks and Natural Areas Bond approved by voters in 2002. The Trust for Public Land facilitated the sale and will hold the deed on an intermediary basis.
“This property has unlimited potential to become a first-class state park,” DCR Director Joseph Maroon told the crowd. “With its mix of open spaces and hardwood forests, marshes and the deep-water Aberdeen Creek, this property possesses all of the best qualities of the Middle Peninsula.”
Maroon pledged to work side-by-side with Middle Peninsula citizens to craft a master plan for the future park. He also noted that while the bond funds covered land acquisition, additional funding to develop and staff the park must be provided by future legislative action before the park can be opened.
Despite the sweltering heat of the August afternoon, the group of more than twenty marched uphill in high spirits, scrambling over fallen trees and hopping from rock to rock in a narrowing streambed. When at last they halted in a sliver of creek squeezed between steep banks, the crew set to work. Some overturned rocks in search of salamanders and dipped nets into the small pools looking for aquatic insects. Others scanned the surrounding soil and the winding path of the watercourse, an Appomattox River tributary in R. Garland Dodd Park at Point of Rocks in Chesterfield County.
Then, led by James Gregory, a professor of forestry at North Carolina State University, the group began charting data on a special form, assigning points for certain species or for characteristics such as leaf litter and “sinuousity”—the winding character of a stream. Gregory helped develop the checklist, as did Larry Eaton of the North Carolina Division of Water Quality, also in attendance. The pair traveled to Chesterfield County to lead this workshop on behalf of the county and DCR’s Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance program. They led similar training the prior week at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester.
Participants included local government employees and private consultants who work primarily for developers. Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act Regulations require developers in eastern Virginia to identify and buffer perennial streams on a property prior to development. Perennial streams are those with year-round flow, as opposed to intermittent or ephemeral streams, which can disappear completely in dry months. Consultants typically perform the requisite stream classifications, with the local office of water quality double-checking and vetting their work.
Attendees from the public and private sectors alike welcomed the opportunity to practice stream classification side by side. “For me it’s just a matter of getting together with the Chesterfield County guys,” said Patrick Weddel, whose firm, Balzer and Associates, does extensive work in the county. “Looking at the same stream at the same time and going over each individual thing together lets me see what they’re looking at, and they can see what I’m looking at.”
“By getting the localities, the Bay Local Assistance people, and then the consultants together, there’s great opportunity, not only for learning but for understanding each other,” said Aylett-based consultant Garrie Rouse. “I just think it’s nothing but positive … Because ultimately the consultant’s gotta go out there and put a point on the stream, and you know, he wants to get it right.”
For many years, consultants and localities determined the point of origin of a perennial stream using U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps. Topos, as they are known, designate intermittent channels with dotted lines and perennial streams with solid lines. However, the maps often go decades without being updated. Changes in geography and scientific advances dictated a new hands-on method. In 2001, the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board amended the applicable regulations to require on-site classification of all streams. The North Carolina classification method, developed in the 1990s, was widely adopted as a fair and systematic way to classify streams. Fairfax County also developed a modified protocol based on the North Carolina model.
“The methodology we’re teaching can be applied in just about any regulatory program where one is interested in trying to classify a small stream,” explained Gregory. “It provides a consistent approach. So if you’ve got regulators looking at the stream, if you’ve got consultants looking at the stream, they’re using the same methodology.”
The workshop in Chesterfield County was Gregory’s fourth in Virginia. “We have a real good relationship with the folks here, who’ve been very receptive to the program,” he said. “The key for the Virginia folks is that DCR and the local governments have not had to go through the long process of developing a methodology that we did in North Carolina,” he added.
Eaton, who helped refine the method by expanding the biological component, agreed. He also stressed the value of practicing stream identification in the field. “It’s important to get the counties and consultants together. Working together now, they can avoid future conflicts.”
More than a rivulet, perhaps; less than a creek? Most casual observers, even nature lovers, simply enjoy the tranquil babbling brooks that lace the Virginia countryside. Few can distinguish small waterways with perennial flow from those without. But to many species, the question of year-round water flow is a matter of life and death.
Iron-oxidizing bacteria and fungi rely on mineral-rich groundwater and indicate a spring-fed, thus likely perennial, stream. Submerged aquatic plants, like coontail, are also strong indicators of consistent flow. But perhaps the best sign of a bona fide stream is animal life. The larval stages of many aquatic insects require water until reaching maturity. The larvae of caddisflies and mayflies spend a full year in the water. Clams and mussels are also strong indicators, because unlike frogs and fish, they can’t move downstream during a dry spell.
“I am a real believer, let me assure you, in rails to trails,” Gov. Mark Warner told onlookers in the hamlet of La Crosse this September. The red caboose behind him, the centerpiece of the town’s centennial park, served as a vibrant reminder of the town’s past.
La Crosse sprung up at the junction of the Atlantic and Danville Railway and the Seaboard Air Line Railway. But trains no longer rumble through the quiet Mecklenburg County town. In fact, the railroad tracks were removed in 1990, presenting the town with an uncertain future.
“The fact is we all know that Southside Virginia over the last decade plus—we’ve seen some tough times,” acknowledged Warner. “We’ve got to think differently. We’ve got to think about tourism opportunities. We’ve got to think about promoting the history and rich culture of Southside Virginia. And that’s why this opening of the first stretch of the Tobacco Heritage Trail is so important.”
The first leg of the trail runs four miles from La Crosse to Brodnax in Brunswick County. A total of 48 miles will soon stretch west to Jeffress and east to Lawrenceville. Warner facilitated purchase of the necessary right of way with a special appropriation of almost $800,000 to Roanoke River Rails to Trails through his Virginia Works initiative. Luck Stone donated crushed gravel to surface the first leg.
Also speaking at the ribbon-cutting were Sandra Tanner, president of Roanoke River Rails to Trails, and DCR Director Joseph Maroon. DCR provides planning assistance to the group, and Maroon endorsed their vision for a trail network across Southside Virginia: “This trail, along with a network of connector trails, will one day join Southside’s many historic, cultural and recreational assets to create an extraordinary outdoor recreation and tourism destination.”
One day, the Tobacco Heritage Trail network could include more than 150 miles of trail connecting to at least three state parks: Occoneechee, Staunton River and Staunton River Battlefield. DCR’s recreation planners have helped identify potential trail corridors and will continue to help assist the cities, counties and nonprofits involved.
Proponents of the Tobacco Heritage Trail aren’t the only ones making major strides. This July, Warner hoisted a shovel to commence construction on another long-awaited long-distance trail. At Mainland Farm just north of Jamestown, the governor broke ground on the first phase of the Virginia Capital Trail. When completed, the paved cycling and pedestrian trail will stretch 54 miles, connecting Jamestown to Richmond.
“After many years of talking about this in concept, today we actually start building … with plans to have the eastern portion of the trail completed in time for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown in 2007,” Warner said. “The Virginia Capital Trail will be a unique cultural and historic asset for generations of Virginians.”
Work on the trail will take place in several stages. The first extends three miles north from the Colonial Parkway, and the second stretches five miles west to the Chickahominy River. A final completion date for the trail has not been set, but the groundbreaking itself represented a victory for the cycling and pedestrian advocates who championed the effort.
In 1991, a report to the General Assembly recommended a bicycle lane for Route 5. A lengthy feasibility study followed. DCR’s 2002 Virginia Outdoors Plan also advanced the proposal, then stalled by budget setbacks, and urged the careful preservation of the forest corridor along the route.
When finally VDOT was able to plot the route, Bob Munson of DCR’s planning and recreation resources office traipsed through the woods alongside VDOT engineers, demonstrating DCR standards for trails that “lay lightly on the land.”
“We worked jointly to develop a set of standards, and practiced applying them in the field,” Munson said. “The result will be a very attractive trail and a doable construction project.”
Just days after his visit to La Crosse, Gov. Warner was in Washington, D.C. to receive the Conservation Fund National Greenways Award for 2005. Presenters praised Warner for his support of trail initiatives in Virginia and beyond, noting that Warner orchestrated bi-partisan support for a Captain John Smith National Water Trail in his role as chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council. DCR will soon unveil a water trail and auto tour of John Smith’s adventures on the James River that will serve as a model for the proposed Bay-wide trail. Sponsored by Eastman Kodak, the National Geographic Society and the Conservation Fund, the National Greenways Awards have been given annually since 1993.
DCR’s own Planning and Recreation Resources Director John Davy received a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of State Outdoor Recreation Liaison Officers (NASORLO) earlier this year. The recognition honors Davy’s track record for expanding land and water trail offerings in Virginia parks and communities.
Mark Hufeisen, manager of New River Trail State Park, was honored this summer by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the American Society of Landscape Architects. Hufeisen received a Good Idea Award at the conservancy’s TrailLink 2005 conference in Minneapolis, Minn., for his gate design for New River Trail.
“I believe we should grow in harmony with nature, not in defiance of nature,” Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr. told a crowd of architects, planners and environmental advocates at the Virginia Sustainable Future Summit.
DCR joined some 20 state entities, nonprofits and private companies to present the statewide conference Sept. 13–15, 2005 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The agenda addressed sustainable design and development in seven critical areas, including water resources and healthy communities.
Speaking in a panel with Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer and Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Michael Schewel, Murphy advocated a reevaluation of development patterns in the Commonwealth. “We tend to take the very best farmland and convert that to other uses … We destroy our wetlands … We build in floodplains … rather than retrofit our existing buildings once they become obsolete, we tend to abandon them in favor of new construction.”
Schewel echoed the sentiment that sprawl threatens the sustainability of Virginia’s small towns and agrarian character. However, he stopped short of echoing Murphy’s call for growth management planning at the state level.
In his keynote address, Gerry McCarthy, executive director of the Virginia Environmental Endowment and a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, lobbied for a new benchmark in state spending on natural resources: two percent of the state budget, or two cents of every dollar.
“We all use the environmental green infrastructure,” he said. “These resources are considered to be free. We all know that’s not true, but we have not come to the next step of how to pay for our use of them.” McCarthy cited pollution cap-and-trade systems as a promising trend; Virginia’s new nutrient trading program for point-source dischargers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed takes effect in 2006. Public policy wasn’t the only topic of discussion at the summit. Displays highlighted the promise of clean-burning biodiesel, derived from corn. On a field trip to the University of Richmond’s LEED-certified Weinstein Hall, architects got tips on how to meet the criteria for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
“I found the conference very interesting,” said Gary Ziegler, who recently became director of planning for Westmoreland County’s land use administration. “I guess I learned a lot, because I probably took something like 10 pages of notes for the two days I was there.”
“Being from Ohio, I find the state of Virginia is very much ahead on natural resource protections. I was impressed with what you’re attempting to do, but like all regulations … transcending it down to the local level is going to be a tough battle,” said Zeigler. “But I always have a saying: You know, if nothing’s done, you’ll get nothing.”
On the first of October, more than 60 people, including 20 children turned out for a Stewardship Virginia–sponsored cleanup on the James River in Richmond. The volunteers cleaned trash and debris from a two-mile stretch of the river’s southern shore between the Huguenot Flatwater and Pony Pasture Rapids sections of Richmond’s James River Park. A few of the volunteers even took to the river in rafts, snagging refuse from the rocks and logjams. In all, the team filled 70 bright orange trash bags. Starbucks generously donated coffee to keep the volunteers going and a lunch to restore them afterwards.