Heated opposition to Chesapeake Bay ordinance in Loudoun
In response to waves of outspoken opposition from residents at a public input session, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors delayed its decision on a water quality measure that would make Loudoun the first jurisdiction in Virginia to voluntarily adopt the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, including strict water protection rules.
The board's decision followed a forum Monday evening at which more than 100 Loudoun residents signed up to address the supervisors before a standing-room-only crowd. The vast majority of speakers -- including farmers, business owners, local government leaders, developers and homeowners -- spoke out strongly against adoption of the ordinance.
At the session, Purcellville Mayor Robert Lazaro Jr. read from a letter submitted to the board on behalf of the towns of Hamilton, Purcellville and Round Hill.
"The ordinance will have a negative impact on the already weakened economy, especially the county's rural economy," he said. "It's an unfunded mandate that we cannot afford, and we urge you to step back."
Joe Coleman, president of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, was one of the few in attendance who spoke in favor of the ordinance.
"It will not only protect the Chesapeake Bay but also our local streams and local water quality," Coleman said. Voluntary efforts that merely encourage protection of waterways do not work, he added: "We need strong, unambiguous laws that will fully protect and encourage buffers."
The Bay Act requires 84 tidewater localities -- defined as areas subject to tidal influence, including Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties -- to implement strict water protection rules to protect the health of the bay. The act also allows non-tidewater localities to voluntarily adopt the water protection criteria to improve the quality of local waterways and bay tributaries. While Loudoun is not subject to tidal influence, the county is bordered by the Potomac River, which drains into the bay.
Margi Wallo, Sterling district chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee, was terse in her assessment that the ordinance was created for political reasons rather than environmental ones.
"We all know that this regulation has nothing to do with the Chesapeake Bay," she said. "What I don't know is how you can live with yourself if you vote for this, and how you can sleep at night."
The board's close vote Tuesday came after more than two hours of debate over the heated nature of the issue, the uncertainty surrounding the impact that the ordinance might have on county residents and the possibility of adding greater flexibility to the measure's regulations.
Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) said she was encouraged by the tone of the previous evening's public input session.
"Most of the people who spoke made the comment that there need to be changes," she said. "They didn't say kill this, don't do it ... many people talked about being flexible, making some changes. And that was a real change from what has been previously been spoken."
But Waters had a less optimistic take on the feedback presented to the board. "There is still a lot of anger," she said. "I think there would have to be some pretty drastic changes for people to buy in to this being a good thing for the county. I don't feel we've done a good job in identifying what the problem is and how this specifically will solve that problem."
York stated his view simply: "We've blown it," he said. "This is a critical issue and unfortunately we have our community completely divided."
It would be better, he said, to start over with a new plan specific to Loudoun's needs, rather than attempting to adopt the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.
"In hindsight I think it was a huge mistake to go with the Chesapeake Bay," he said.
| September 21, 2010; 5:52 PM ET
Categories: Loudoun County
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