At a forum sponsored last week by 15 local environmental organizations, the eight candidates vying for four empty seats on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors fielded questions about their environmental priorities. While candidates’ party affiliations were evident as they talked about global issues like climate change, when it came to local topics, they mostly agreed: The most important voting issue is what to do about stormwater and its impact on the watershed.
Incumbent Republican Samuel Miller candidate Duane Snow noted that runoff is not a new problem in the area. The county has already funneled efforts into stormwater management and is “ahead of other localities,” he said, but new federal mandates are coming down the pike.
“We have a lot of safeguards in place, but we have a new set of guidelines coming down the road that are going to be a lot more stringent than anything we’ve had in the past,” Snow said. “For right now we don’t know exactly what all’s coming or what it’s going to cost, but I personally believe that we will not have a rain tax in our county, and that through working on stream buffers and the other thing we need to work on, we’ll be ready for it. Right now we’re ahead of the curve.”
Several candidates assured the small but attentive audience that, if elected, they would not support a stormwater fee in the county, and the city’s approach to runoff management would not work for Albemarle.
“At the end of the day, the infrastructure has to be paid for,” said Democratic Rio candidate Brad Sheffield. “And that’s the problem we face. We have the growth area, with multi-level dwellings, all the way out to 200-acre land lots, and you can’t have one solution for all of that. The problems range across that type of development density.”
The forum’s sponsoring organizations —which ranged from 350 Central Virginia and Community Bikes to Better World Betty and Transition Charlottesville-Albemarle—collectively asked the candidates four questions: What is your stance on construction of the Western Bypass? How will you address rapid population growth depleting natural resources and aesthetics of the rural areas? What are your plans to address pollution caused by stormwater runoff? How will you localize and address the issue of climate change?
After candidates read prepared responses in the two and a half minutes allotted for each question per person, the audience probed them with additional questions, which touched on issues that ranged from solid waste management to how the Board acquires the most accurate environmental information.
When a member of the audience asked the candidates about their priorities surrounding the Rivanna River, Republican Scottsville candidate Cindi Burket described the Rivanna and James rivers as “our Chesapeake.”
“The Rivanna would play a huge part in any planning we do for keeping environmental concerns at the forefront,” Burket said.
Democratic Samuel Miller candidate Liz Palmer agreed, stating that the county ought to take a “watershed approach” in protecting the Rivanna River.
“We have some wonderful words in the Comprehensive Plan about protecting the watershed,” Palmer said. “However we don’t always do as good a job as we could in enforcing those ordinances.”