The soil-slinging begins

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Correction appended

Charlottesville voters will be looking at a new spot on the ballot this fall as a result of the city’s membership in the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD). The city has been a member since 2006, but this is the first full year of membership. Charlottesville joined too late last year for spots on the Board of Directors to be appointed via general election.

Current Charlottesville Director John Conover says he and his co-director, Rich Collins, were appointed by the State Department of Conservation and Recreation on the recommendation of City Council. “The governance of [Soil and Water] districts is controlled by state law, and directors are popularly elected in their home communities,” explains Conover via e-mail. And the race is heating up: Incumbents Conover and Collins are seeing their spots contested by a third candidate, John Pfaltz. Although the race is nonpartisan by statute, Conover and Collins, says Conover, “are known Democrats and will say so whenever appropriate,” while Pfaltz is a Republican.

This is all well and good, but the question remains: Just what in the world is the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District? District Manager Alyson Sappington explains: “We deal with a variety of natural resource issues. Primarily, we focus on pollutants that run off the land instead of coming out of a pipe. We work with urban and rural
landowners—farmers—to find ways to control stormwater runoff and protect water quality.”

The TJSWCD is just one of 47 such districts across Virginia that all deal with similar concerns. The districts have been around since the 1930s, when state officials first sought to reduce soil erosion on farms, but Charlottesville is rather late to the party, as Albemarle, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson counties have belonged to the Thomas Jefferson district for decades. And the city is the only member this year looking to shake up the party. Albemarle directors Steven Meeks and Nick Evans are running uncontested, as are the incumbent directors in the other three counties.

Correction July 17, 2007:

Due to a reporting error in a July 3 Government News story, “The soil-slinging begins,” we incorrectly said that incumbent Soil and Water Conservation District directors in Fluvanna County are running uncontested. In fact, only Robert G. Parrish, who is not an incumbent, is running in Fluvanna.

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