- Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 10:21
- Published on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 10:14
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Notice to builders no April fools joke
Anyone wishing to seek a building permit in Colonial Beach will have to wait. Due to the council’s indecision, the Town of Colonial Beach is no longer in compliance with regulations that would allow them to issue building permits, according to R. V’lent Lassiter, Principal Environmental Planner of the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation.
Lassiter stated, “The town does not have authority to review and approve erosion and sediment control plans at this time and therefore must submit all Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) plans to Westmoreland County until they have a program adopted by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board. Staff recommends that the town be granted an extension until September 30, 2013 to develop an ESC program and submit it for review to the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board.”
Colonial Beach has sent out notices to all builders saying, effective as of April 1, “Any permit which proposes to increase the impervious area larger than 36% OR disturbs more than 2,500 square feet of soil will be reviewed at the Colonial Beach Department of Planning and Community Development for zoning and building only.”
The notice then states that after being approved by Colonial Beach, the builder will then have to also seek approval from the Westmoreland County Land Use Office for environmental permits and approvals. These steps must be completed in order to obtain zoning and/or building permits in Colonial Beach.
Town Manager Val Foulds reported that she is working diligently with Westmoreland Building Inspector Bob Fink to iron out a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would allow the town to utilize Fink to carry out inspections for land disturbing events, such as those performed during construction projects.
In an email to the Journal, Foulds reported , “Until the meeting/work session last Thursday, the Town Council has been unclear as to whether the ESC Administration would be farmed out temporarily or permanently. For the first time last Thursday, the council seemed to agree that it would be a permanent transfer. I cannot stress enough that I have not yet spoken with the County Administrator about the details of this new development.”
County Administer Norm Rasavi, who originally stated the county could not entertain a permanent arrangement for inspections was out of town and unable to comment before press time.
Council and staff have hit many speed bumps along the way to resolving this issue, however the lack of concrete decisions, both by last year’s council and this year’s, has lead up to the town’s eventual non-compliance.
Last year on March 19, 2012, the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board passed a resolution, finding Colonial Beach’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act Program did not fully comply with Chesapeake Bay Act regulations.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) notified the town shortly after, that it was currently non-compliant, due to the lack of an appropriate and current ESC program.
An ESC program sets rules that builders have to follow to avoid erosion of land while soil is being disturbed during construction projects, as well as ensuring chemicals don’t run off into waterways or reach drinking water supplies.
The town was ordered to adopt a valid ESC ordinance, develop a program consistent with state requirements, and submit it for review to the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board by Dec. 31, 2012. Failure to do so would result in Westmoreland County having jurisdiction over the town concerning land-disturbing activities.
If the mandate for the ESC program was not met, the town could have been issued a civil penalty not to exceed $5,000 per day, and not to exceed $20,000 per occurrence.
The town did adopt a valid Erosion and Sediment Control program in November 2012, but never hired a professional to carry out the program.
Despite missing the hiring step, the town dodged the fines. Town Manager Val Foulds explained why. she said that the DRC was combining the Chesapeake Bay Act, erosion and sedimentation program, and the storm-water management program. Because of this change, the DRC would not impose fines at the time, but that the town had a December 31, 2012 deadline to comply with the mandate to update the ESC program.
Since then, DCR has graciously worked with the town who has shown good faith and efforts to comply, as well as securing a $25,000 grant to defray some of the cost to start up environmental programs. This has contributed to DCR’s suspension of imposing fines.
The town did not act on hiring a professional partly because the money slated for the position had been previously used to help level fund the schools.
On June 4, 2012, Mike Ham, who was Budget Committee Chairman at the time, proposed transferring $55,000 from the general fund line item (Contracts for Professional Services), to level fund the school system. These funds were earmarked for an erosion and sediment storm-water mandate, and were to be used to pay a professional to carry out the program.
When the town was nearing their December 31 deadline, the council decided to utilize the county’s Erosion and Sediment professional to carry out inspections and issue building permits until the town could hire their own.
Since negotiations with Westmoreland County began, there have been some mixed signals from Westmoreland County, which caused some confusion between Colonial Beach Town Council and town staff. The town was undecided on whether to go ahead with looking for a professional to oversea ESC, or to use the county’s inspector long-term.
Town Manager Val Foulds was told that the county would not be able to support the town’s request for a long-term arrangement.
However at the February 2012 council meeting, Supervisor Larry Roberson told council that the town should consider using the county’s inspector on a long-term basis to save money.
When pressed on the issue by council members for clarification, Roberson said, “The county administrator, Norm Rasavi, works for the county and would do anything to save the county money.” Roberson said that Rasavi would even discourage the town from using services long-term. Roberson added that the town pays county taxes and should utilize those services indefinitely.
The council failed to give staff a definite answer on which action to take. Therefore, the Erosion and Sediment Control MOU never got to the Board of Supervisors’ level.
At last Friday’s council work session, Building and Zoning Director Gary Mitchel told council that the town could no longer issue building permits as of April 1.