Monday, July 18, 2011

Atlantic Residents Speak Out Against Septic Plans

Written by
Carol Vaughn
ACCOMAC -- A roomful of Atlantic residents this week spoke their piece about a proposed sewage facility in the town.

But despite a flurry of last-minute phone calls, the Accomack County Planning Commission failed to achieve a quorum.

The commission adjourned its regular monthly meeting without conducting any business.

Atlantic Town Center Properties LLC in April applied for a conditional use permit to construct a remote wastewater treatment plant on Nocks Landing Road in Atlantic to treat sewage from a planned unit development several miles away near the former Dream Roller Rink.

The plant also could be used to treat sewage from Chincoteague, 9 miles away, according to a principal with the company.

But a citizens' group that has been meeting for the last two weeks or so opposes the project. A recent meeting held at the Atlantic firehouse attracted some 130 people.

About 140 people have signed a petition sent to county officials opposing the facility.

Atlantic resident Ronnie Thomas said about 120 people opposed to the sewage plant were prepared to attend this week's Planning Commission meeting, but he said, "I had heard rumors it was going to be tabled, so we called everybody off."

Some who came prepared to speak during a public comment period wondered aloud afterward whether the lack of a quorum happened purposefully.

Jack Waterfield, who with his brother owns a farm on the north side of the proposed plant, spoke after the meeting about a July 13 memorandum from Accomack County zoning administrator Dave Fluhart to interim planning director Tom Brockenbrough.

In the memo, Fluhart stated that in his opinion, the conditional use permit application "should not be accepted or processed" because the plant, as a remote, private facility that is not replacing a failing facility, does not meet requirements of the county zoning ordinance for the agricultural district.

Waterfield had planned to speak to the Planning Commission about his concern about a pond on the property where the facility is proposed, which he said flows into White's Branch and then into Watt's Bay.

Two county planning department employees this week toured the site and Waterfield showed them where the branch flows through three adjacent properties and then joins tidal wetlands on his farm, where it empties into Watt's Bay -- making the branch a resource protected area under county law, Waterfield said, citing potential problems from stormwater runoff as well as hurricane flooding.

"Seven hundred thousand to 1.5 million gallons of sewage per day won't stop coming and has nowhere to go but into Watt's Bay in any of these scenarios," he said in a prepared statement.

Bill Paige, president of the homeowners' association of Eagle Sound Estates, a subdivision located at the eastern end of Nocks Landing Road, also had planned to speak to the Commissioners.

In his prepared statement, he said he did not know a wastewater treatment plant was planned for less than a mile away from his home until he read about it in the newspaper.

"Like many who live in Atlantic, I felt blindsided and disrespected," Paige said, also citing the developers' "unusual decision to apply for the permit to construct before first applying for (a) Virginia Pollution Abatement" permit from the Department of Environmental Quality.

Dan Hoppe, a resident of nearby Wishart's Point, also planned to speak. He has two concerns, he said, the first being: "If I have to have a closed septic system living by the water, how can you have an open system that large on that side of the water without concerns about spillage into the water?"

Hoppe said he is also con-cerned about a decline in property values if the sewage plant is built, which would affect tax revenue.

"We're looking at $500,000 homes going down $200,000 -- that's lost revenue to the county," he said, adding, "Do we need a septic system? Yes, we do; but we do not need a developer to tell us where we need it. We need the Planning Commission to do a study on what's best for Accomack County."


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