1 of 3
Opponents of the Reedy Creek project at Monday's City Council meeting (Photo by Jackie Kruszewski)
2 of 3
Concrete culverts and channels upstream of the project speed up water runoff in a way that opponents of the project say negates the restoration benefits. (Photo by Jackie Kruszewski)
3 of 3
An area of Reedy Creek on a trail off Northrup Street that shows erosion but that opponents of the project seek to preserve. (Photo by Jackie Kruszewski)
Clad in white T-shirts that read “Reedy Creek Stream ‘Restoration’ ” with a red slash through it, opponents of the project sat in the front row and throughout City Council chambers with signs and handouts stockpiled at their feet. About a dozen turned out Monday night, though council members decided to continue a controversial ordinance on the stream project at their informal afternoon meeting. A presentation by Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and a heated discussion preceded the decision to put off the vote until Nov. 14.
The ordinance directs the city to accept a $635,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for the $1.2 million project, which is part of the city's initiative to keep pollution from entering the James River. The plan also complies with targets set by the federal Clean Water Act to reduce pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay from its six-state watershed.
Water that runs off impervious surfaces such as parking lots needs trees and vegetation to slow its run and filter it of toxins, nutrients and sediment. Currently, the impervious surfaces and upstream concrete channels in the Reedy Creek watershed cause stormwater to flood and erode the downstream areas and don't allow for adequate filtration. Excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, from substances like manmade fertilizers and pet and yard waste, enter the James from the watershed.
The city's plan calls, essentially, for a deeper and wider downstream channel that will flood more naturally.
The city Planning Commission deadlocked the week prior on the issue, leaving the ordinance without its approval.
At Monday's informal meeting, Rosemary Green of the DPU stressed the cost-effectiveness of the project during her presentation, and tried to address concerns from opponents. Council members Jon Baliles, Parker Agelasto and Kathy Graziano asked for clarification and context on some of the city’s data.
Green suggested that failure to accomplish the Reedy Creek project could hinder the city’s legal requirements for pollution reduction under the federal Clean Water Act. “There could be noncompliance,” Green said. “We have projects to complete, but at some point, especially if stream restorations are taken out of the equation, we will be in a fix.”
There were two similar projects with grant funding on the docket Monday night: $552,000 for the Rattlesnake Creek stream restoration and $716,000 for the Goode Creek stream restoration. Both passed on the consent agenda, and neither has elicited the same controversy as Reedy Creek.
Green addressed concerns that the project was unlike any others, in that it affects a small, downstream portion of the creek in what opponents say is a much larger, upstream problem. She cited what she considers a similar project in Fairfax County: Snakeden Creek.
Agelasto pointed out that in the Snakeden Creek project, the county also removed portions of the upstream concrete channel, which opponents of the Reedy Creek project have suggested are a primary culprit for pollution deposits.
At issue as well are the 424 trees to be removed in the area between West Roanoke Street and Westover Hills Boulevard. Green said that 78 percent are “early succession” or invasive species. The DPU plans to reset the Reedy Creek ecosystem with several hundred saplings to replace what it removes.
Agelasto questioned the assertion that a refusal to accept the DEQ’s funding for this project would hurt future chances for grants. “I don’t evaluate any threat or risk of that,” he said.
Baliles pointed out that the required reduction totals for phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment solids, minus the reductions estimated from the Reedy Creek project, were still above the required amounts, according to the city’s pollution management plans.
“That assumes we get the [other projects] done,” said Green. “We’re doing a dance, and we’re identifying many options.”
Green brought up one alternative suggested by opponents: rain gardens in various properties in the watershed. “That would be a whole lot of [ordinances] to Council to do that,” she said.
“I have to be honest; I don’t see this plan moving forward,” Graziano said. “I took the tour from DPU and the tour from [the Reedy Creek Coalition], and I saw two completely different creeks.”
“I don’t know how we can vote on this tonight,” said Councilwoman Reva Trammell.
The city’s chief administrative officer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, said she will be part of a meeting with the director of the DEQ. Agelasto asked to be included, and Cuffee-Glenn said she would have to check with the mayor.
Council members Hilbert, Samuels and Robertson were not in attendance at the informal meeting.