Freight site disputed

Published 9:19 pm Monday, August 25, 2014

Wetlands concerns could derail plans for a major new freight distribution precinct southwest of downtown Suffolk.

Project manager Scott Camp said Camp Town LLC wants to develop an intermodal hub covering about 600 acres, plus other related facilities as the market sees fit on another 350 acres.

The land, which Camp says his family purchased from Union Camp, is about 3-½ miles west of the junction of highways 58 and 13.

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Served by CSX and Norfolk Southern rail, the intermodal facility would be developed on the largest chunk of land, which is adjacent to CenterPoint Intermodal Center on the same side of Holland Road. Another 200 acres lies directly to the south, Camp said.

“Basically, it’s a hub for getting freight distributed from the Port of Hampton Roads to all over,” Camp said.

But plans for the project could be undone by the fact that large swaths of the property have been labeled as wetlands by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Camp said he has been working with the Corps for more than five years to get an assessment of the property that would be more conducive to development. But a recent letter to Camp from Tom Walker, the Corps’ Norfolk District regulatory branch chief, seemed to have more bad news than good for Camp, describing wetlands conditions “over much of the area” that has been assessed.

“It’s something we don’t agree with,” Camp said of the Corps preliminary judgment.

Meanwhile, some environmentalists believe the Corps has under-represented the extent of wetlands on the site.

Last week, a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility appealed a 2013 delineation decision by the Corps to the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming the Corps’ Norfolk district “mislabeled as uplands areas that are clearly wetlands,” according to a news release.

PEER has appealed the Norfolk District’s determination to the EPA, and Camp has appealed it to the Corps’ North Atlantic Division. PEER argues the determination threatens environmentally important and rare wetlands by declaring too much land as uplands, while Camp fears the determination declares too much of the land unavailable for development by virtue of its designation as wetlands.

In making wetlands determinations, said Mark Haviland, public affairs chief with the Norfolk District, the Corps follows its congressionally chartered mission and looks at the science.

“We are in the business of balancing the needs of the environment with the needs of the people,” Haviland said.

Camp said he discussed plans for the distribution and warehouse facility with the city of Suffolk back in 2009, when they were launched. But those plans have been on hold while the Corps of Engineers conducted its studies.

The development would be a big generator of jobs, Camp said.

“It’s overreach by the federal agencies to take land away from property owners,” he said, adding that water flows through ditches on his property “maybe (only) two months of the year.”

Laura Dumais, staff counsel for PEER, said Camp’s consultant and the Corps misunderstood the nature of soils in the area and that hundreds of acres of land that should be protected under the Clean Water Act are consequently under threat.

“Wetlands provide a lot of very valuable environmental service in terms of how they filter water,” she said. “Virginia doesn’t have that many wetlands to lose.”