“When you’re in a hole – quit digging”

New housing, new strip malls, and other new development creates more impervious surfaces.  When it rains, new development generates more stormwater runoff, our streams get etched deeper, and we send sediment downstream to smother plants, fish, oysters, crabs…

In contrast, redevelopment of existing sites, such as the parking lots along Route 1 and at Potomac Mills, gives us a chance to minimize stormwater runoff.

Low-tax conservatives and “smart growth” planners agree:  we need to focus new growth on redevelopment, and stop paving over the fields and forests.  Soon, the Federal government will get off the sidelines, and help shape the local decisions on where to develop vs. what to conserve.

Chill out, the Feds won’t be expanding their authority and getting into the county’s land use planning business.  The Feds are finally preparing to do one of their old jobs: measure compliance with the Clean Water Act, and reward/punish based on performance.

State and Federal regulations to implement the Clean Water Act require the county to mitigate the impacts of excess stormwater.  Prince William’s performance has been so bad, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has found the county to be out of compliance.  

County officials, in cahoots with developers, have been pretending that streams don’t exist.  County officials, in cahoots with developers, have been shaving the boundaries of streams/wetlands to squeeze another few buildable lots into a subdivision. 

The Federal government’s patience has been exhausted; there’s a new sheriff in town, after the 2008 presidential election.   Looks like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will no longer ignore the county’s weaseling out of stream and wetland protection requirements – and it could cost taxpayers a bundle to comply with the Clean Water Act and Chesapeake Bay regulations…

The county’s Planning Department, Public Works, Transportation, and other organizations have earned Prince William a reputation as a county that bends and breaks the rules.  Blatant violations of Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area (RPA) mandates have been ignored.  Enforcement even along the highly-visible shoreline of Occoquan Reservoir has been a failure.

Now, with a re-energized EPA, Prince William won’t get the benefit of the doubt.  We can’t expect to get any leniency for trying to be good over the last 20 years – with our track record, “that dog won’t hunt.”

Prince William taxpayers are going to get squeezed by mandates from EPA and the state between now and 2030.  We’ll have to mitigate the previous damage done to local streams, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay.

It won’t be cheap.  Because the county has subsidized developers by assuming responsibility for maintaining almost all stormwater ponds, we have a massive unstated fiscal liability on our hands.  Once new state stormwater regulations are finalized, our engineers and accountants should be able to calculate the future cost to maintain and, in some cases, retrofit those ponds.

If the Board of County Supervisors keeps planning for massive new road construction and new rooftops on undeveloped land, without requiring developers to implement and maintain effective stream protection and stormwater management controls – well, we’ll just be digging ourselves a deeper hole before the sheriff arrives. 

Unless the new Comprehensive Plan pushes development in a different direction, taxpayers in Prince William are going to get soaked and hosed, as well as squeezed, by “Save the Bay” requirements we have ignored.   If we keep incentivizing new development at greenfield sites, rather than redevelopment of already-paved areas, then we’ll just dig ourselves a deeper financial hole.

Where should we develop, to accommodate the projected population growth by 2030?  Hmm… should we locate new “centers” in places that are currently fields and forests, or should we implement the Potomac Communities vision and concentrate growth by redeveloping the Route 1 Corridor?

(Is that really so difficult a question?)

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