By Randy Arrington
LURAY, April 6 — Following a 25-minute presentation on the details of a permit application to discharge 50,000 gallons of treated wastewater daily into the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, officials with Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality listened to 26 speakers share their feelings both for and against the request submitted by Luray RV Resort and Campground on Thursday evening at Luray High School.
Each speaker was given three minutes to address DEQ Regional Director Jerome Brooks, while staff members with the state regulatory agency recorded their comments. Questions raised during the public hearing were not addressed on Thursday.
“No questions will be answered or decisions made here today,” Brooks told the audience of about 75 gathered in the LHS auditorium. “This hearing is only to gain citizen input…There will be a second hearing” for DEQ to offer responses to concerns. After that second hearing, a final review will be conducted and a decision will be made on the application.
Six of the first eight speakers at Thursday’s hearing spoke in favor of the permit application and the campground’s planned expansion — including a DEQ official (staff report on the application) and a few consultants hired by the developer and a staff member. The next 17 speakers, mostly citizens and environmental enthusiasts, all expressed some level of concern over adding any effluent or discharge — even treated — into an already impaired river.
“We shouldn’t be adding anything to an already impaired river…especially in this slow-moving section with high bacteria and low dissolve oxygen,” stated Charles Newtown, a longtime elected Page County representative to the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District. “DEQ also needs to update the Nutrient Trading program to protect the Shenandoah River.”
The Luray RV Resort has purchased “nutrient credits” from the Town of Leesburg in coordination with an expansion that will add 81 acres to an already 100-acre campground, increase lodging options nearly five-fold (growing from 73 to 350 camp sites), and anticipates more than 250,000 visitors before year’s end.
Numerous speakers addressed potential impacts on the river and whether regulations on wastewater treatment plant discharge was stringent enough.
“While we are meeting standards, why is the river continuing to degrade?” asked Cliff McCreedy, who owns a cabin on the South Fork.
However, two speakers not directly connected to the project spoke about other local impacts of the $30-million investment by Ocean City, Md.-based developer Blue Water.
District 3 supervisor Mark Stroupe stated that the project would increase the county’s tax base and help provide funds for needed services, like additional school resource officers. Stroupe spoke in favor of the permit application and noted that both a special use permit for the campground’s plans and a rezoning needed to accommodate the expansion were both unanimously approved by both the planning commission and the board of supervisors in November of 2021 — a few weeks prior to the December 2021 closing on the sale of the property.
Although it was not directly related to the DEQ permit itself, the county’s approval process of the rezoning and the campground’s special use application more than a year ago became the subject of criticism during Thursday’s public hearing. Residents felt that the process was fast-tracked and shortcuts were taken when the county planning commission held joint public hearings with the board of supervisors on Nov. 17, 2021. That evening the two agencies effectively took four votes on two issues following two public hearings within a matter of a couple of hours — as opposed to separate public hearings on separate dates by each government body, thus offering citizens more notice and time to learn about the issue and share their concerns.
“Our board of supervisors pushed this thing through with starry dollar signs in their eyes,” resident Ken Jamenski said. “Maybe we could ship the sludge to Leesburg…they get the money and we get the poop…it doesn’t smell right to me.”
“We all need to pay more attention to what the board of supervisors is doing because this size of a facility should have never been approved,” resident Dawn Liscomb said. She asked DEQ to reduce the discharge limit to 30,000 gallons per day, fearing the plant could grow in size in the future.
Blue Ridge Bank President Brian Plum, a life-long resident of Page County, was the second speaker to support the project noting its economic impact of 45 new jobs, more than a half million dollars in annual transient occupancy tax collections — a one-third increase in current TOT revenues for the county — and more than $180,000 in annual real estate taxes.
“The Luray RV Resort and Campground will bring economic growth to our county, allow more residents and tourists to enjoy our natural resources, provide jobs for our people, as well as meaningful and needed activity in our business community,” Plum said on Thursday. “Our natural resources will be protected. It will not harm the Shenandoah River. I am in full support of the project and application to DEQ to showcase and protect the river.”
However, resident Tim Rocke took a different view of the proposal.
“I don’t think dollars and jobs should figure into whether this permit is approved,” he said. “It’s already an impaired river, don’t add more.”
DEQ officials stated that the $3 million wastewater treatment plant being proposed by the campground would likely produce less than 40,000 gallons per day discharge, and the effluent that flows into the river will have an “insignificant” impact on the health of the Shenandoah River. The complex, multi-tank wastewater treatment system not only removes solids through a series of sludge tanks and a clarifier, but also attacks microorganisms through ultraviolet light radiation. Discharge from the plant would have to meet strict guidelines protecting watersheds feeding into the Chesapeake Bay, as well as undergo regular monitoring and testing.
Other issues of concern raised during the public hearing include the wastewater treatment plant’s close proximity to the 100-year floodplain (but not within the floodplain), remaining “stringent” on amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous allowed, and the fact that many residents claim construction of the wastewater treatment plant has begun without the issuance of its discharge permit.
That last fact alone, gave many residents the feeling that a decision on the permit has already been made.
“This whole meeting is a farce,” fired up Page County farmer Benny Cubbage told DEQ officials.
In general, it seemed that some of the opposition was more concerned about the size and scope of the overall project than they were with the actual environmental impact on the river.
“I’m holding my nose and supporting this permit,” said Mark Frondorf of Shenandoah Riverkeepers. “It’s not a poorly written permit…it’s more stringent than the Merck [discharge] permit in some ways…but could they do more? Sure they could.”
DEQ officials stated that the plant will sit 10 feet above the 100-year floodplain and 15 feet above the high water during Hurricane Fran in 1996. The regulatory agency also claims that daily monitoring will maintain nutrient levels that will protect the recreational use of the river. A DEQ monitoring station will sit just downstream from the plant near the Route 211 bridge.
Overall, now that the project itself has been approved and the discharge permit’s regulations are expected to protect the river, local residents simply want the large developer of campgrounds, hotels and entertainment attractions to be held accountable to do what they have said they will do.
“When a company comes to town, they should take the burden of protecting the river,” said Susan Corbett, who’s 276-acre farm near Alma contains one mile of river frontage. “They should have the responsibility to make sure everything that goes into the river is as clean as possible.”
The public may review the draft permit application
or send additional written comments through April 21 to the DEQ office:
Megan O’Gorek, DEQ’s Valley Regional Office,
4411 Early Road, P.O. Box 3000, Harrisonburg, Va. 22801
– Phone (540) 217-7155 / email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Blue Water answers questions ahead of April 6 public hearing on DEQ permit for campground
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Outlanders planning $30M expansion to campground with Blue Water Development
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