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What Do Builders – and Va. regulators – Have to Hide?

Schlyer-cbr-8502.stormwaterVirginia is developing a new regulatory tool aimed at reducing dirt and other pollution running off construction sites around the state.

If you’ve ever seen dirt tracked off a construction lot or mud running off a building site after a heavy rain, you can understand why it’s important to control this pollution. Muddy construction runoff can quickly foul local streams and rivers, smothering fish, clams, oysters, underwater plants, and other aquatic life. The dirty water also increases the cost of treating drinking water for localities downstream.

That’s why controlling construction runoff with sturdy erosion fences and other good management practices is so important for water quality. Runoff pollution is one the most serious problems facing Virginia waterways and the Chesapeake Bay; in fact, it’s among the few pollution sources getting worse, not better.

In Virginia, the state requires that builders and developers get what’s called a construction general permit before they begin a construction job. Every five years, Virginia re-issues this permit, ostensibly to update requirements and ensure that builders use the latest, most effective runoff-prevention practices.

The newest five-year permit proposed by the state has some strong elements. For example, it requires P1010006 contractors to develop and follow a runoff prevention plan with tough pollution reduction controls, including prompt stabilization of denuded areas and more frequent site inspections to identify and fix runoff problems.

But here’s the rub: Under the proposed new permit, the runoff prevention plans will no longer be available for citizen review. In a serious departure from existing law, this new construction general permit would allow contractors to keep their pollution prevention plans out of public view and secret.

This lack of transparency is a serious step backward. After all, Virginia’s streams, rivers, and Chesapeake Bay belong to all of us. We citizens can help protect our streams by alerting local officials when contractors aren’t following their runoff prevention plans – IF citizens have access to the plans. Public access is critical to holding builders and developers accountable.

What are builders and Virginia regulators trying to hide? If you are wondering about that, too, tell the state you object to this new secrecy provision in the proposed Virginia permit. Insist that Virginia protect the public’s waterways by maintaining public access to builders’ runoff prevention plans. Click here, or write:

Regulatory Coordinator, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

203 Governor Street, Suite 302

Richmond, Virginia 23219

The deadline to comment is June 7.

Remember, they’re our rivers and streams, and it’s our right and responsibility to protect them. That will be hard to do, however, if the government deliberately hides pollution requirements from public view.

Chuck Epes Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photos: Top, Krista Schlyer, iLCP; others, CBF.


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I can tell you first hand what contractors are affraid of: The citizen who buys a lot, builds on it and then years later when his neighbors finally saves enough to build their dream home marches down to the permits office and makes every attempt at stopping his neighbors from building on their lot. He got used to having room around him and enjoys the space without having to pay for it. Then the city/county tries to pacify the busy body for political purposes and puts heat on the builder/contractor. When I built my own home some years back I was even required to put silt fence UPHILL from the site. Like gravity was going to reverse and water flow uphill.

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