Friday, June 26, 2009

Getting started

All journeys begin with the first step

Everyone has an opinion of what this county needs. Some have quietly begun to make things happen.

On Saturday, three of those groups will be doing their thing in Courthouse Village. Come learn what they’re all about.

Although the James River forms the southern border of Goochland, thanks to the CSX railroad tracks, there is little public access to the water. Last year, the county bought the only riverfront land that does not require crossing the tracks. Although the property lies in the flood plain, it was earmarked for recreational use and eventually dubbed Tucker Park at Maidens Crossing.

A public-private task force, whose members represent county staff, the Chamber of Commerce and interested individuals, are developing a vision for the future use of the park.

Beth Moore, chair of the Tucker Park at Maidens Crossing task force, has already mobilized a corps of volunteers who spent at least one sweaty Saturday on the banks of the river clearing brush and collecting trash. They not only believe in the future of the park, but are willing to pitch in and make it happen.

There will undoubtedly be many more sweaty Saturdays, but on June 27, the Task Force invites everyone to welcome the Batteaux when they arrive at the Maidens boat landing across the river in Powhatan.
Those festivities will start about 11 a.m. Music will be provided by the White Hawk Music Café, another wonderful addition to Courthouse Village, and the Ol’Time Pickers Association. If you’re so inclined, bring your guitar and join in the fun.

The Park is located off of Route 522 just south of the intersection of Maidens Road and Route 6/River Road West. Go towards Powhatan
County and look for signs to the park site. For more information visit

The Batteaux are reproductions of the wide shallow draft boats that were used to transport crops from interior Virginia to the port of Richmond long before there were railroads or even barge canals. The boats are an early example of the American ingenuity.

Each year, the batteaux make the journey from Lynchburg to Maidens. Talk to the crews of the different boats, they all have great tales of the journey. It’s hard enough coming downstream with the flow of the river, especially in times of low water. In their heyday, batteaux moved cargo in both directions.

Batteaux travel on river time, no timepieces allowed on the water, so they get there when they get there. Enjoy the day, catch your breath and try to imagine what life was like back then. Enjoy the river it is truly one of Goochland’s treasures.

Then there is the Goochland Farmers Market on the grounds of Grace Church on River Road West that starts at 8 a.m. each Saturday through October 31.

In addition to vendors who bring locally grown food, crafts and other wonders, this week there will be lots of organized activities for kids.

Sponsored by the Center for Rural Culture (,) the GFM came into being to fill a need for an outlet for local products and a place to build community. The GFM has grown by leaps and bounds. Stop by and see what’s going on. Come back often.

(Full disclosure, the author of this blog is a member of the CRC board.)

Perhaps the best example of local people using their skills to benefit the community are the members of the Goochland Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES.) Thanks to their ham radio skills and community spirit, these are the folks that keep us connected to the world after the power fails. They work closely with the county’s emergency services team and are ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice to keep Goochland communications open locally and globally.

This weekend ARES members will be at the Courthouse Company 5 fire-rescue station on Fairground Road from 2 p.m. on Saturday until 5 p. m. on Sunday participating in a field day competition to see who can make the most contacts in North America.

Learn how amateur radio operators using small, simple, self-contained radios and power supplies can contact people around the corner or around the world using equipment that requires little infrastructure and can operate independently.

This all happened because a few people stopped talking and started doing. Others joined in and look what happened. It’s all part of the journey of Goochland. Come see what’s going on and start something yourself!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rites of spring

The sludge question

Farming is a tough business. The real high rollers in this country aren’t in Vegas—they’re in barns an fields across America. Each year they literally “bet the farm” hoping that the year’s profit exceeds expenses by enough so that they can come back and do it all over again during the next growing season.

High oil prices have driven fertilizer prices through the roof. Some farmers spread biosolids, the processed end product of sewage treatment plants, on their fields and pastures.

Farmers get the stuff at little or no cost from companies paid to dispose of the residue. Use of biosolids can mean the difference between fiscal survival and disaster for farmers.

The practice has supporters and detractors.

Biosolids distributors such as Nutriblend, which delivers the stuff to farmers in Goochland, contend that its product is an environmentally safe and beneficial soil amendment. The Nutriblend website extols the virtues of using its product to enrich farmland while disposing of the end product of sewers and septic tanks. Soil bacteria, one of God’s many miracles, is capable of digesting and rendering harmless some pretty nasty stuff. For that bacteria to do its job, however, biosolids must be incorporated into the soil, not just slathered over the surface so it can move wherever rainwater takes it.

Detractors contend that, in addition to the possibility of bacterial contamination, biosolids contain heavy metals, synthetic hormones, pharmaceutical residue and other substances not good for children and other living things.

The Cornell Waste Management Institute website ( provides detailed information about the contents of sewage sludge.

Recently, some residents noticed that biosolids were being applied on sloping land south of Rt. 6 west of Georges Tavern when the county was expecting heavy rain.

They contacted county administration requesting that application be halted until Hugh Hardwicke, the county’s biosolids monitor, could ensure that all pertinent regulations were being observed and the biosolids were not washing into the James River. Eventually, the matter was referred to the health department and application continues.

A few years ago, an Amelia County ordinance banning biosolids application was declared invalid by the courts. The ruling stated that while biosolids could not be prohibited, their application could be regulated.

Regulations included in pertinent Goochland County ordinances are pretty specific but may not have been updated to follow changes in state law.

Even so, the existing laws give a good picture of what is permitted. (The ordinance can be seen in its entirety on the county website

County rules for application of biosolids seem straightforward. The question is, were the rules followed? Did anyone bother to check?

A very troubling aspect of biosolids use in Goochland is that the chairman of the board of supervisors and former county administrator are believed to be among those who apply sludge to their fields and pastures. There is nothing wrong with that.

Unfortunately, this gives credence to allegations that biosolids application rules are being ignored.

Use of biosolids is one of those sensitive areas where government must find a delicate balance between the property rights of landowners and protecting the health, safety and welfare of citizens.

There are just too many allegations of improper biosolids applications for comfort. Reports of pond ecosystems being destroyed by biosolids runoff from adjoining parcels of land are very disturbing.

Although the Nutriblend website indicates that the biosolids are highly processed, citizens report seeing what resembled used toilet tissue, massive clouds of flies and a suffocating stink following applications of sludge.

It’s one thing to use biosolids on your own land, quite another to allow their residue to slosh onto someone else’s land. That’s just plain disgusting.

Although permits must be obtained well in advance of biosolids applications, it is nearly impossible for county residents to learn when and where the substance will be applied. Often, the only notice citizens receive of biosolids application is from their noses after the fact.

There is also a universal disconnect between the use of biosolids and all of the environmental whacko clean water hullabaloo.

A few months ago, the county presented a new water quality protection ordinance to the planning commission that would require landowners to leave buffers of at least 100 feet around all ponds and streams. The premise is that the vegetation would filter runoff trapping harmful substances that could pollute the water. So any landowner, including those upstream from the fouled water flowing under the closed landfill at Hidden Rock Park, who dared to cut the grass too close to a pond or stream would be in violation.

That ordinance reverted to county staff for revision.

Yet, the county seems, at best, lackadaisical about enforcing its own biosolids application rules.

This is not just a problem for Goochland.

Remember those cute television spots that asked people not to fertilize their lawns in spring to protect the fragile crab population of the Chesapeake Bay? The federal Environmental Protection Agency produced them.

If lawn fertilizer is bad, biosolids, which have a much higher concentration of nutrients, are probably more of a threat.

Yet, searches of websites of several clean water organizations yield zero results for the term biosolids. It could be that those groups believe that, because biosolids application is supposedly carefully regulated and monitored, it is outside their scope of operations.

Last week’s James River clean-up got lots of media attention. Pulling old tires and other junk out of the water is a great photo op. There was no mention of the invisible water pollutants. City folk probably dismiss the whole notion of sludge on farmland, if they ever give it any thought, as not being their problem.

In this part of the world, a significant portion of drinking water comes out of the James River. Hefty doses of chlorine kill the bacteria. The other stuff, however, could come right through the tap.

Regardless of applicable laws, there is no reason that the county cannot list of biosolids application permits on its website giving the location and approximate schedule. Those with health issues that make them especially sensitive to biosolids applications could check and make sure that they keep their windows closed and avoid the areas during time of applications.

There is common law and common decency. Those who spread sludge should do so responsibly and be held accountable for their actions if they do not.

The stuff has to go somewhere and it is naïve to expect a country awash in red ink to implement a program to incinerate sewage sludge any time soon.

In the meantime, it is imperative that the county not only trust that its farmers are using biosolids in a responsible manner, but verify compliance with all applicable laws.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Citizens in action

Making waves

About two years ago, efforts began to rezone the parcel of land around and behind Satterwhite’s restaurant in Centerville with the stated intent of building a shopping center.

This came just a few months after the southeast quadrant of the Broad Street and Manakin Roads interchange was zoned for both age-restricted residential and retail use. To date, that retail parcel is still for sale.

Last Thursday night (May 28,) the latest of several community meetings about matter was held at the Company 3 fire-rescue station. Although attendance was lower than previous meetings, those who came expressed thoughtful and, for the most part, constructive comments about the latest iteration of the proposal.

The initial concept, your basic strip shopping center dumped on the property, has morphed, in response to vigorous constructive criticism from area residents, into an upscale commercial enclave. Proposed proffers, which, if the rezoning is approved, will become law and must be observed when developing the land regardless of who owns it.
One element that no amount of appealing architectural detail or lavish landscaping can change is its location.

According to Darvin Satterwhite, counsel for the owner Richard Nuckols, private traffic engineers and those from VDOT concur that an access point (represented by a stake with an orange streamer just west of the restaurant) on Rt. 250 that includes both left and right turn lanes is safe.

Area residents disagree, contending that the dip in Rt. 250 just west of the location and the tendency for motorists to drive well above the posted 45 mile-per-hour speed limit make the proposed access point a potential death trap.

The intersection of Rt. 250 and Manakin Road is already a dangerous bottleneck at many times of day. This development will add more cars to that mix.

People who use the intersection believe that a traffic signal there is badly needed. The county has the money to pay for the signal, but VDOT, which has the ultimate authority in the matter, contends that the traffic levels have not reached the thresholds that indicate the need for a traffic light. County officials have little to say in the matter. Other than begging VDOT for action they are helpless in the matter.

Changes in the concept of the proposed retail area are quite amazing and happened because a group of concerned citizens would not give up. The concession to build right and left turn lanes on both Manakin Road and Rt. 250, a pricey proposition, is a significant achievement.

Not too long ago, rezoning applications slipped though the county process with few ripples. Citizens might object at public hearings, but, the rezonings went through with little or no modification.

A few years ago, the board of supervisors mandated that developers hold community meetings with nearby residents before any rezoning application reached the public hearing stage.

Kudos to Paul Costello and his group from the Centerville area for thoughtful, careful research and constructive criticisms that “encouraged” the developers to go back to the drawing board.

Money talks. During the meeting, Nuckols indicated that if anyone wanted to buy the land and keep it in agricultural use, the price is $3 million.

Conceptually, the retail project would be similar to an upscale shopping center on Robious Road in Chesterfield, which will undoubtedly make it expensive to lease. It is important to remember that the attractive photographs are merely conceptual, there is no guarantee that a future developer will use the same architectural styles.

However, the county’s Design Review Committee, which oversees application of the village overlay standards, is quite adept at its job.

One major question about this project, which has yet to be answered, is who will locate there? If it is built, will it be leased?

With the myriad retail delights of Short Pump only a few miles down the road, it’s hard to imagine what sort of business would invest there.

The Chesterfield center, which is accessed from a signalized subdivision road, is quite charming.

Although its remote location has little competition, is not fully leased. Tenants include two medical offices, a day spa, a bank, several restaurants, a dry cleaner and a gourmet food and wine store.

If you can drive another few miles to Short Pump, and make no mistake most of the patrons of whatever businesses locate here will drive, why stop in Centerville?

The developer is not evil. Were it not for developers rezoning land from agricultural to residential use, few if any of the people protesting the rezoning would live here.

A larger question is why was that parcel included in the Centerville village in the first place? Manakin Road would seem to make a good natural western boundary for Centerville. Regardless of how many sidewalks any retail use there contains, traffic on both Manakin and Broad Street Roads will discourage anyone from walking into the rest of the village. Pedestrian access and walkability are supposed to be one of the hallmarks of a village. This falls short.

Nuckols has every right to develop his property profitably. The fault in this process is that his choices for development were limited to what he proposes.

The planning commission, which will hear the case on June 18 and the supervisors who will make the final decision on the application after their own public hearing, must balance the property rights of individual landowners with the health, safety and welfare of county citizens.

Thoughtful public comment is a valuable part of the process. People are too often discouraged if they do not get their way. If citizens had not objected to the original rezoning plan, it would be on the books by now. As it is, their input has given the developer more hurdles to cross. It’s too bad that the developer had so few options for his land.