Environmental protection v. taypayer subsidies

With a diverse landscape that includes both a tidal shoreline and a mountain, Prince William County’s remarkably rich natural resources create a sense of place that is unique within Northern Virginia. However, instead of capitalizing on these assets, the County is paving them over to create a generic suburban landscape that appears to be modeled on Centerville.

Protecting the environment in Prince William has never been a priority for either new development or capital investments. For years, the County has embraced a piecemeal approach with no end game strategy, relying on random taxpayer-funded fixes only to find that problems reappear downstream and must be fixed again… kind of like playing a wack-a-mole game at the fair.

But times are changing. With new EPA-mandated Chesapeake Bay requirements and stiff penalties for noncompliance looming on the horizon, the book could be closing on the County’s fiddle-dee-dee approach to environmental sustainability.

Prince William residents who are concerned about future tax increases should be alarmed. Development that degrades the environment is not just aesthetically unattractive, it requires taxpayer subsidies to fix.

As the saying goes, the first thing to do when you’re in a hole is to stop digging. The current update of the County’s Environment Chapter is a timely opportunity to address past problems and start moving in the right direction.

The Environment Chapter sets the County’s policies for new development, capital improvement investments and taxpayer-funded fixes. It covers a range of environmental issues, including stormwater, clearcutting, wetlands, streams, unstable slopes and more.

Developers know the Environment Chapter is important, they are hard at work lobbying Supervisors and staff for more “flexibility.” Claiming to represent the business community, developers say protecting the environment and attracting commercial development are mutually exclusive… we can’t have both.

The non-developer business community has a different view. Small business owners rank open space and parkland as their highest priority in choosing a new location for their company.1 Corporate CEOs say that quality of life is the third most important factor they consider in locating a business.2 Communities with a healthy network of natural open space are more livable and desirable.

Is an attractive, sustainable community important to you? For homeowners, hikers, wildlife enthusiasts and taxpayers who are tired of paying for quick fixes after the fact, the Environment Chapter is action central.

There’s no reason to settle for the overused government refrain our-hands-are-tied-there’s-nothing-we-can-do.  Citizens can absolutely make a difference. It’s certainly fair to say that citizen outcry is the only reason Prince William still has a Rural Crescent (Avendale is just the most recent example).

Share your views with elected officials, early and often. After years of ignoring environmental needs, it’s clear that the voices of many people are needed to prioritize environmental sustainability in Prince William County.

Who knows? Maybe it is going to take the EPA to get the County’s attention after all. In the meantime, we need to remember that this is our community… it’s our home, our quality of life and our property values that are at stake.

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1 John L. Crompton, Lisa L. Love, and Thomas A. More, “An Empirical Study of the Role of Recreation, Parks and Open Space in Companies’ (Re) Location Decisions,” Journal of Park and Recreation Administration (1997).

2 “Economic Impacts of Protecting Rivers, Trails, and Greenway Corridors,” Washington, DC: National Park Service (1995).

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