In advance of Election Day on Nov. 3, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all 25 candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and both local school boards. In the days before the election, we will also feature their responses to several important questions about key quality of life issues so that you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2015 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2015 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
ALBEMARLE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, FIRST IN A SERIES
How should Albemarle County fund water resource programs to clean up local streams and comply with state mandates for protection of the Chesapeake Bay watershed? Would you support creation of a stormwater utility fee, similar to the one enacted by the City of Charlottesville, which is based on the amount of impervious surface on a property?
Norman Dill (D-Rivanna)
So the first part of the question, clearly this is an important issue. There’s over 1,500 miles of streams that are considered impaired out of about 2,500 that we have in the County. They are considered impaired by the Department of Environmental Quality. So clearly something needs to be done. Again this is a mandate that is unfunded that we have to handle using our own resources.
We have a pretty good system though in Albemarle County, along with the city. We have the Rivanna [Water & Sewer] Authority which is one of the top [water] authorities in the state. We have the Albemarle County Service Authority which provides water to us at a reasonable price and is very stable and well-financed.
Stormwater can’t just be looked at in isolation. It’s part of our entire water system. The rains come, they go into the sewer system, or they go onto the land, or they go onto crops or whatever, but it’s important to see it as part of the whole system and I think we do a good job with it.
As far as the funding aspect of it, I am skeptical of the city’s system. I think it may work in the city where there’s only 10 square miles of land. In the county where there’s 725 or so square miles I just think it would be a bureaucratic mess to try to figure out who is responsible for what. There are easements on driveways that are shared, there is the aspect of [being out] in the country where most of the water goes into the ground. So if you have a house with a big roof, most of that water will just go into the land around it, it’s not going to go into the stormwater drains or anything. So I think some sort of just general tax is better. I understand using market forces to try to encourage people to save water and send it to the right place but I think the bureaucracy around trying to do that is probably too burdensome.
Lawrence Gaughan (I-Rivanna)
The answer to that question is absolutely no. I would not support a stormwater utility fee. I think it is considered by most voters to be a tax and I hear that just about every time I knock on a door.
Now having said that, cleaning up our [South Fork] Rivanna Reservoir, dredging the reservoir, cleaning up our streams and rivers, is of utmost importance [among] our environmental issues. We have to protect our most precious and vital natural resource which is the Rivanna watershed and it is a tributary to the Chesapeake watershed. To do that, again, this should not be an issue of more taxes or fees. We can find the money in our bloated budget by making strategic cuts. And I will continue to fight for those cuts and if I am elected I will do the hard work to go through the budget line item by line item and go to the other supervisors with my proposals of where we can make strategic cuts so that we can put that money into dredging our [South Fork] Rivanna Reservoir.
Richard Lloyd (R-Rivanna)
That’s almost a political question beyond a stormwater question. You know the EPA was sued by 13 states over their [Total Maximum Daily Loads] — and Virginia wasn’t one of them — and a federal judge put a stay on the EPA…. They took the “navigable waters of the United States” and took the word “navigable” out and called it “the waters of the United States.” [The EPA was] trying to regulate the streams and the farm ponds and even the seasonal streams on people’s properties, giving them the right to come on their property and inspect and make their recommendations and enact fines on them. Well the federal court [put in place an] injunction and just said they can’t do that and it will go to court and be litigated. Virginia is not one of the 13 states. So we’ve got this problem. What is the power of the EPA? Will the suit, the injunction, be taken to a national level or will it stay with these 13 states? But it shows there is an overreach within the EPA, an overreach that the federal court has addressed, at least is beginning to address.
The TMDLs bother me because they say here is the TMDL that we are looking for, the Total Maximum Daily Load, and they are looking at only three pollutants (which is a problem in and of itself because there are many pollutants that are not in the TMDLs which are very, very toxic)….The TMDLs that we are looking at up here in Albemarle are inconsequential compared to some of the things that I have seen happen close up on the bay itself….
You can make [the TMDL’s] extremely low, but just think of the cost of trying to upgrade an entire watershed. We haven’t got enough money to do that. So there needs to be some real thought given to this. They say we need to look at the critters in the river, what’s alive, we studied that back in school too. But some of these have natural patterns to their population growth and death. Right now if you look at the last thing that came out from [Albemarle’s Water Resources Management staff] on how to pay for the stormwater, they have a map and it shows the impaired streams. The North Fork of the Moormans River has no development on it, there’s not anything on it, and it is shown to be impaired. I don’t understand that. I’d like to know more data behind it and quite frankly running as a political candidate the door to door knocking is keeping me from doing the research that I would like to do in that area. But we will get that all under control and investigated.
Would you support creation of a stormwater utility fee?
Now we are getting into the continual battle between the development areas and the farms. Who is going to pay whatever these fees are? I think right now we’ve got a $1.8 million fee that we are paying annually to the state. The way it works is the EPA gave a license to the federal government, and the federal government gave licenses to the states. And the states have come out and said here are the normal numbers that we want to attain and you can either adopt those or you can go beyond them.
And Albemarle County has decided they are going to go way beyond them and I think all of that has yet to be completely solidified or codified. I hope that they consider what’s more normal than normal and how do you arrive at normalcy? But will that burden fall upon the development areas – houses, schools, and hospitals, gas stations, and churches – or will it fall upon the rural areas because one of the biggest creators of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water are the forests. How do we sort this out? Who is going to pay the freight?
If the current law that is being established is codified, then you can go onto a farmer’s land and say, “Your farm pond is polluted, fix it.” Well quite frankly have you ever swam in a farm pond? They are nasty! It’s the lowest place on the farm, everything drains to the farm pond. They say don’t let the cows in the river, but that means it drains somewhere else. So I don’t want to swim in a farm pond. But if you are going to look at the farm pond and say that’s the standard, clean it up, you just put the farmer out of business. We need the farmers. We don’t need to put these obstacles on them especially when they are based in questionable determinations. So who is going to pay for them? Well that’s going to be a hard one because is it a real requirement or is it a fictitious requirement to start with?
I want to see the Chesapeake Bay get back to where it was when I was a child, so we have to do something. One of the biggest culprits I see is that I see oils floating on the water from time to time. It is a shipping channel, but there is an awful lot of oil and pollutants coming down the Susquehanna River and there are an awful lot of factories on the Susquehanna….
Richard Randolph (D-Scottsville)
The County will institute in all probability in fiscal year 2016 a stormwater management program. This will come about not because of a cartel of the Obama administration and tree-huggers conspiring to impose new stormwater management expectations on Virginians. It comes about because the McDonnell administration, seeking for Virginia to do its share to contribute to the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay, in 2012 passed a law requiring all localities (including counties) to have a local stormwater management program. Two years later, in 2014, the McDonnell administration passed an updated law that permits localities to either run their own program or have the Department of Environmental Quality conduct the program. Albemarle has elected to run its own program. The state has provided localities with no funding to implement these stormwater management programs.
A year-ago the Board created a Water Resources Funding Advisory Committee to develop recommendations for how to fund Albemarle’s program. While to some just adding this additional cost into the property taxes seems to be the most sensible course of action, I feel that an approach that furnishes incentives to property owners to reduce their stormwater runoff is the best approach. This can be accomplished most successfully with a separate utility fee for which the property owner’s changed practices can produce a lowering of the fee. I look forward to seeing what the committee’s recommendations are to the Board. I believe that we all need to do our part to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, a jewel of a multi-dimensional resource for the Commonwealth and the entire mid-Atlantic region.
Earl Smith (R-Scottsville)
I’ve been to two meetings about this and boy do I have a lot to say about it. I understand that it’s a mandated program and I agree that we all should be responsible stewards of our watershed, but I also think there are more solutions than what is being looked at. I also think there are a whole lot more questions to be asked. We are getting the hurry, hurry, hurry version because all of a sudden we are playing catch up because this is something that was mandated federally down to the state level — back in the 1980s it started. Number one, why are we waiting so long? Number two, when I went to these [meetings] and even in the pamphlets they show you or if you go online to the Albemarle County website and you look at this, they’ll show you photos. One photo will be this pristine cute little creek going through the landscape and then the other one is a raging brown inferno that’s tearing up the soil. Well if you look at them, that’s not the same picture. So why are we using misleading photos? Even the name – STORM WATER MANAGEMENT – that’s like a movie that you are going to go watch, it’s very scary. It’s a rain water tax. It’s the way that we need to manage the stuff that comes out of the air into our streams.
You know Richard Lloyd who’s running for Rivanna Supervisor, he’s a retired engineer, and we talk about this extensively. He is so knowledgeable about what is going on. He actually said something, and I told him I would give him props for it, and I hope he says it when he comes in here, he said why are we requiring beyond normal which the plan is calling five steps beyond normal, but they haven’t had enough evidence to support where normal begins? So how are we going to go five steps beyond where normal is if we don’t know where normal is at?
So there is a mistake right there. How are you going to take money out of somebody’s pocket that they have worked hard for to pay for something? I have looked it up on the Internet, and there is lawsuit after lawsuit about this going on in the whole country, especially when you say ‘utility.”
Now I live on 25 acres 10 miles out of town half mile off the road in a 24 by 32 house. My parents live right next door, kind of same house. We have a garage and two houses. One thousand feet each way is woods and bushes and trees and fields. What’s happening is people like us are taking, if they decide to do a utility, they are taking their county to court and winning because the judge says they are not part of the utility infrastructure as you are not using any of the county’s water or sewer. So how are you charging me a utility fee?
Now [that doesn’t] mean I don’t think we deserve to have some [part in this]. But when I went and made a suggestion, they told me me that 80 percent of it comes from our vehicles. They gave Barracks Road as a big polluter. The lady in charge was talking about the gas and the oil and the brakes and the brake dust and this and that. I said well I’d rather have a $15 extra fee on my vehicle than you coming to my house and hiring another 20 people to come and measure impervious surfaces. So we are catching up but we are hiring and incredible amount of people to work. That might be a good thing, but do we need them? Is that a waste of money? The money that we are having to generate is to pay for them.
My other question was on impervious surfaces. I know a little bit about dirt. Even if we have had rain for two weeks solid, the dirt doesn’t get soaked any more than about 6-8 inches and that’s even after winter and we have red clay. We have land that doesn’t perk. Fluvanna is full of it, now again that’s another county, but where I live we have red clay. That doesn’t soak up the water, it runs on top, that’s an impervious surface.
Again I think this needs to be looked at more and I think only having one group that measured the bugs in the stream, which I am not making fun of the scientists, but even when I mentioned we have had heavy rains, that the water goes from barely covering my feet up to my knees, how fast do those bugs procreate to fill back up for you to look at? I got the funny looking face after that. Nobody answered me. I wasn’t making fun of it, I really wanted to know. I just think it needs to be looked at more.
White Hall District
Ann Mallek (D-White Hall) * Incumbent
This is one of the lion’s dens which I operate in regularly now because I knew this was coming and I’ve been talking about it for years to the great consternation of some of my rural constituents that if each person and each organization pays a little bit, then we will solve this problem without burdening any one particular segment of the economy overly. That’s been my operating basis and we’ve been working for a long time on the committee. It’s incredibly complicated and it affects different stakeholders radically differently so we have learned a lot and I think we are getting there.
I am very appreciative of the fact that we have new stormwater requirements now. Ten years ago the goal for engineers was to get whatever water there was off that person’s property as fast as possible and dump it onto next door. Nobody cared about what was coming from uphill except to get rid of it as fast as possible. And now I think everybody is taking a much more responsible role for the long-term for long-term stewardship to be able to retain what’s collected on their own property, slow it down, and let it lose its pollution or whatever in biofilters and more modern green infrastructure. When we do all those things that benefit us, the Chesapeake Bay is taken care of all by itself. We don’t need to be thinking about ‘what am I going to do?’ and ‘why I am spending all this money for the Bay which is 200 miles away?’ What we’re spending money for now is protecting and improving the water quality of our own streams because we have streams that our grandkids should not play in and that’s a dangerous element to have around here. This is going to be a tremendous benefit for our local humans but also our local wildlife and environment and ecology all around.
The question of the utility fee is one that I have supported in a global and theoretical sense from the very beginning because it is the only one which allows any kind of special categories for offsets for work that you do to already improve your stormwater situation, or offsets that you will do to reduce your impact. My goal is to get the change in the impact, and not to collect a lot of money. That is the reason I am clinging to the possibility of a utility fee at this point.
I will say that my rural constituents are very concerned about a utility fee. There is a general distrust of bureaucracy, period, and they are concerned that all of this extra information gathering and formula figuring out is going to require lots of new staff and lots of inspections and they are foreseeing a big administrative burden. We don’t have enough information about that yet but we have heard from other communities that it has not been as bad as [they] were anticipating. One [full-time employee] as opposed to twenty or thirty. So, this is something the board will be taking on directly over the winter and I do think we will do a good job whatever the answer is, we’ll do a good job with it, but I do hope that… I’m just going to be fascinated to see what comes out of it.
We’ve learned a lot about some of the gaps in our local services because our surveying community, who is the one that is on the ground looking at property lines and location of driveways [and] all of those impervious surfaces all the time in our county have reported to us that there are significant errors in our GIS database. First they say universally that is the best GIS system in the Commonwealth, but they also say that there are mistakes and those mistakes have to be corrected in order for this system that we’re proposing to work. When you have hundreds of feet of driveway on the wrong side of the property line, it makes a big difference in dollars to the person who is getting the bill. We want to make sure the correct person is getting the bill.
That’s just one example of this element of worry on the part of citizens. They want to make sure that they’re paying for…. They all want to do the job. There’s no question about that. They all understand that. We’re fortunate that 60 percent of our county is forested cover. We’re very fortunate that five years ago and right now the state is updating our land cover map so we do have a lot more detail than most communities have to be able to make better judgments about this but it’s going to be really challenging going forward.