By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton County Director of Planning and Zoning Susan McGhee recently pointed out some huge demands in the latest draft of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan that could be unaffordable for the Eastern Shore, but at least one supervisor saw the problem coming from a mile away.
“There’s some common sense that has to be applied … but this is bureaucratic overreach,” said Northampton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Spencer Murray on DEQ’s plan.
Purposes of the plan include cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and preventing coastal flooding, but local officials are concerned that DEQ is placing an unrealistic, unfair financial burden on both Northampton and Accomack counties.
The Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission wrote its own version of the plan based on input from three stakeholder meetings held in the summer and fall of 2018. McGhee and Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski were among the participants.
A-NPDC committed the Eastern Shore to management of 51,296 feet of shoreline, but DEQ wants the region to manage 2,566,294 feet of shoreline, or 50 times the distance, McGhee revealed at the May 28 Northampton supervisors meeting.
“Are we going to make some more shoreline or something?” Murray asked.
A-NPDC also determined that no additional tree canopy needed to be planted, but DEQ wants 1,664 acres planted, and federal or state-owned land does not count.
“Who’s going to pay for this management?” Supervisor Robert Duer asked. He also wanted to know how Northampton and Accomack counties could be required to plant trees on privately owned land.
Through the Eastern Shore’s conserved lands and agricultural-forestal districts, “we’re providing open space to a huge part of the state, it seems like to me,” Murray said.
“We are a water-dependent county. We are an aquaculture environment. We care about clean creeks. We care about a clean bay,” he added.
“But I do not want our citizens to have to pay for pollution that we know is coming from the Susquehanna River across Pennsylvania.’”
A May 28 press release from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation states that Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania are responsible for 90% of the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, but Pennsylvania is the “weakest link” in the chain, CBF President William Baker said.
Pennsylvania’s plan for a cleaner Chesapeake Bay is “woefully inadequate” and underfunded with a 2025 deadline looming.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the implementation of the plan, also called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
“If EPA does not hold Pennsylvania accountable, CBF and others must consider legal action,” Baker said.
Eastern Shore citizens also should not be “penalized for DEQ regulations that let Intensely Developed Areas (IDAs) build on a beach like they’re doing all over in Lynnhaven,” Murray added.
There are IDAs that belong to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area, but most of their natural environments had already disappeared by the time the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act was enacted in 1988.
But Supervisor David Fauber pointed out Northampton’s problem hasn’t “sprung out from nowhere.”
“This has been on our books for 30 or 40 years.” Northampton regulations state that “where the buffer doesn’t exist, it shall be established,” he said.
The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act requires a 100-foot vegetative buffer from the water’s edge on land in the resource protection area (RPA).
“I’ve been preaching this from day one,” Fauber said. “We’ve never enforced the buffer.”
Northampton landowners who have grassy lawns extending to the water’s edge should be required to plant hardwood trees to provide leaf clutter that filters nitrogen runoff from farm fields, resulting in cleaner waters, Fauber said.
The deadline to submit public comments on the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is June 7. Comments may be emailed to chesbayplan@DEQ.Virginia.gov