Group forms to protect river

Published 10:51 pm Thursday, February 11, 2010

Recent environmental studies show that the Nansemond River needs help. A group of local citizens has banded together to try to provide that help.

The Nansemond River Preservation Alliance has formed “to protect and preserve the Nansemond River and its tributaries,” according to a press release from the group on Thursday.

“The mission of NRPA is to educate the public about the state of the Nansemond River and promote actions to preserve water quality, the rural setting and wetlands.”

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The group, composed of about 20 Suffolk residents — some of whom have connections to the river that go back decades — came into existence last Tuesday, according to Wilson Browning, a Norfolk-based consultant hired by the citizens to help get the organization off the ground. Members hope to achieve nonprofit status next week, he added.

So far, Browning said Thursday, there has been “no talk of raising money,” and it remains unclear exactly how the Alliance will affect the river or the pollution that has fouled it.

But the members speak with one voice about the need for intervention, he said.

“This river is infected with germs. And also … it stinks.”

Levels of the potentially dangerous fecal coliform bacteria have been high since 1996, when the river was listed as “not supporting the primary contact recreational use” by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Browning said there is anecdotal evidence that the presence of high levels of the bacteria has caused health problems for people who swim in the river, especially if they do so while they have cuts or abrasions.

“It needs to be cared for” he said. “We want it safe enough so people can go swimming in it” and so shellfish can be harvested without worries.

“But that’s going to take a sustained effort.”

According to its press release, the group will work to protect not only the Nansemond, but also its tributaries, including Chuckatuck Creek and Bennett Creek.

The shorelines of the three bodies of water feature vast stretches of marshes and a National Wildlife Refuge and are essential habitats for healthy ecosystems. Suffolk should take steps to protect those ecosystems, Alliance members say.

“The main reason the group formed is concern that poorly implemented development practices could lead to a reduction in water quality and loss of the natural resources and beauty of the watershed,” Alliance Vice President Karla Smith said.

Browning said the group’s concerns about development should not be interpreted as a sign of antagonism against the city. “We really would like to work together,” he said.

The group also has approached the local office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for technical expertise and for advice on developing the organization.

“The Bay Foundation applauds NRPA’s efforts,” CBF Hampton Roads Director Christy Everett said in the press release. “We are proud to help them get started and look forward to working side by side with them to protect the Nansemond, its tributaries and valuable wetlands.”

Members of the Alliance include President Dick Barry, Vice President Karla Smith, George Birdsong, Bill Daughtry, Dana Dickens, David Eberwine, Jack Eure, Thomas Hazelwood, Lemuel Lewis, Alice Mountjoy, John Newhard, Howard Martin, Brian Martin, Jim Shirley, Dwight Schaubach, Michael Stimpson and John Wass.

The Alliance is a volunteer organization; those interested in joining are asked to contact