Bay plan approved

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, December 30, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week approved Virginia’s plan to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

The state’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan was submitted in November. It is necessitated by the EPA’s establishment of a total maximum daily load or the bay. Virginia is one of seven jurisdictions required to complete a plan.

“We are pleased that EPA has accepted the Virginia Watershed Implementation Plan as a part of their Chesapeake Bay TMDL,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a press release issued Wednesday. “Our plan reflects recommendations made by the public and Virginia stakeholder groups and proposes specific actions in appropriate timeframes to achieve significant cost effective reductions in pollution to the Bay.”

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation applauded the plan, but said there is plenty of hard work for the states that border the bay.

“EPA’s actions today reflect a historic change in how government will restore water quality in local rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay and protect the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on clean water,” Foundation President William C. Baker said in a press release. “This plan includes science-based limits, clear expectations and accountability and is the result of years of public involvement and close cooperation between EPA and the Bay jurisdictions.”

However, the American Farm Bureau Federation is accusing the EPA of rushing the plan.

“Earlier this fall, the EPA allowed only a 45-day comment period for the most complex nutrient management plan that’s ever been done, and it’s obvious the EPA was trying to rush this plan through, because it didn’t want meaningful stakeholder input,” said Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Parrish based his comments on a study commissioned in part by his federation, which found inconsistencies between the plan and conservation records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s vital for the EPA to get accurate information, since it would be ordering localities and farmers to spend billions of dollars to retrofit homes, roads and parking lots at a time when people are going to have a hard time finding the money to do that,” Parrish added.

In November, Suffolk Public Works director Eric Nielsen told City Council that complying with the regulations would be a “budget-buster.”

According to a study by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, complying would cost area communities a total of about $1 billion. Suffolk’s cost would equal about $45 million annually, Nielsen said.

The HRPDC also estimates implementing the regulations could cost Suffolk up to $628 million — more than its entire annual budget, which approached $460 million this fiscal year.

McDonnell called the plan “stringent but workable.”

“After much discussion with the EPA, the approved plan balances the important environmental protection concerns with the need to protect jobs in agriculture and farming,” McDonnell said.

The plan identifies actions to reduce the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the bay from all major sources, including sewage treatment plants, industrial facilities, urban areas, agriculture, forestry and septic systems. It also establishes a special process for evaluating the James River based on its unique characteristics and standards that apply only to that river.