The Saga of HB 1774 — Starting Over

Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, discusses VDOT ditch and outfall issues with G.C. Morrow in 2013.

By Carol J. Bova

In the second part of this series, I described how the General Assembly recognized intrinsic problems in HB 1774, a bill designed to remedy deficiencies in stormwater legislation enacted in 2016 and scheduled to go into effect July 1 this year. But instead of killing the bill, legislators passed a substitute.

That substitute, HB 1774 H1, turned from implementation to study, directing the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency to consider alternative methods of stormwater management in rural Tidewater localities.

By passing the substitute, the House and Senate delayed the effective date of the 2016 law and provided more time to work out problems that have come to light.

The Virginia Coastal Policy Center at William and Mary Law School will facilitate a work group for the HB 1774 study. This group will “include representatives from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Old Dominion University, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, local governments, environmental interests, private mitigation providers, the agriculture industry, the engineering and development communities, and other stakeholders as determined necessary.”

It seems rural residents didn’t make the A-list for this group. That’s a shame because citizen groups have studied water drainage issues in low-lying areas near the Chesapeake Bay, and they learned a few things that the experts overlook. Even the HB 1774 substitute, which aims to fix problems in the original HB 1774… which in turn was supposed to fix the 2016 law…  could turn out to be gravely flawed.

The revised HB 1774 changes the project area from six rural counties of the Middle Peninsula to the 29 counties and 17 cities of Virginia’s Tidewater. If the concept moves beyond the study stage, developers in ten urban counties — Arlington, Chesterfield, Fairfax, Hanover, Henrico, James City, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford, and York — will be able to buy stormwater credits generated by the rural Tidewater counties similar to the way developers can offset the impact of their projects by purchasing credits from a wetlands bank.

The “Tidewater” localities are outlined in red.

Nineteen counties have enough rural locations to establish Rural Development Growth areas along their state roads and highways if they agree to manage the new Regional Stormwater Best Practicies facilities (RSPs). In theory, these facilities will generate enough offset credits to let the RDGs use the current stormwater standards instead of the new, stricter standards, and still provide enough credits to sell to urban developers who need them. If the governor signs HB 2009, which passed the House and Senate, the localities could hire a third party to handle both the RSP management and credit sales on their behalf.


The original bill estimated the it would cost the Department of Environmental Quality $490,000 annually to hire staff to monitor the program for its first five years. But the bill provided no estimate of what expense localities would incur to administer the program, how much developers in urban counties might save, or how much income might be generated through the sale of credits. Presumably, the work group will address these issues.

Questions Raised by H.B. 1774

Will the work group recognize that water should not remain in VDOT’s roadside ditches long enough to be effectively treated?

The more frequently roadbeds are saturated with water, the more quickly they deteriorate.

The ditches exist for two reasons. First, to convey water away from the roadbed to prevent deterioration. The Federal Highway Administration explained the connection in May 2006: “If the pavement system is saturated only 10% of its life (e.g., about one month per year), [it]…will be serviceable only about 50% of its fully drained performance period.” (The severity factor for 10% is shown as S=10 in the chart.)

Second, ditches exist to convey stream flow to a pipe under the road to reach its destination stream segment. Stream flow cannot be separated from stormwater in the ditches.

The maintenance of VDOT ditches is VDOT’s responsibility, not that of the localities. Working closely with Mathews County, VDOT has made progress recently through improved maintenance and joint revenue sharing projects to restore failed roadside drainage that has damaged landowners’ property and timberland.

Will the Center’s study encourage or derail those efforts? Let’s just say that VDOT will participate in the study group, and upper-echelon staff still don’t believe roadside ditches need to drain. As the Chief Deputy Commissioner of VDOT, Quintin D. Elliott, said on a Mathews ditch tour in 2013, “Stormwater standing in the ditches has no impact on roadbed integrity.”

VDOT’s stance supports the Middle Peninsula Planning District myth that seal-level rise, not maintenance shortcomings, causes road draininage failures,

Why assign the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding and Resiliency to study rural development and stormwater management when its mission statement points to helping localities build “resilience to rising waters, ” more commonly known as sea-level rise, unless the intent is to perpetuate that myth?

Continued in Part Four: H.B. 1774–What Is the Connection Between Recurrent Flooding and Flooded Roads?

Carol Bova is author of “Drowning a County: When urban myths destroy rural drainage,” a book documenting VDOT’s neglect of its highway drainage in Mathews County.

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7 responses to “The Saga of HB 1774 — Starting Over

  1. This is all quite fascinating, how “experts” and “groups of experts” claim to “deal” with issues and problems. Rheinhold Niebuhr’s analysis of how all of this works in all its rich variety of maneuvers and hidden agendas and intentions is most compelling.

    These power grabs and false claims have been going on since man first started banding together in self-interested groups but they have risen to new heights and complexity with the arrival of the modern version of the “EXPERT.”

    Expert status confers great tools on the often self anointed expert to claim jurisdiction and erect thick clouds of impenetrable jargon deployed like smoke screens to hide what they are doing which typically is making matters worse while benefiting experts at the cost of those truly harmed, the general public paying their bills.

    So here, in this rural county ditches scenario, typical special group self-interest exercised at the cost of the public’s money and at the expense of the true public interest is at play here, going on while hidden behind bogus claims that public spirited people to be working on behalf of the public good.

    Instead, its is the intention of one group (with the help of one or more allied ‘lawmaker(s) is to use myth and misinformation to achieve several political and monetary objectives for private benefit at public cost: namely to use myth and misinformation to misstate to problem so as to co-op jurisdiction over that problem and falsely deepen and widen its alleged threat. And then use its grabbed power and jurisdiction to head off in the wrong direction, solving nothing while making matters worse for citizens truly impacted. These special interests will go to remarkable links to feather their own nests at other peoples expense and harm.

    I have seen this time and again. The the last 40 years thousands of transportation and traffic experts have gotten rich screwing up traffic in northern Virginia. Remember every project there requires a traffic study.
    Now experts have found another mother lode of make work – rural ditches.

    • Edits to above –

      I have seen this time and again. In the last 40 years, many thousands of transportation and traffic experts have gotten rich off screwing up traffic in northern Virginia. Remember that every project there requires a traffic study. Now experts have found another mother lode of make work – rural ditches.

    • Its has been said that an idealistic movement that “starts out as a crusade, turns into a business, and then degenerates into a racket.”

      There is truth in this. Idealistic movements today are too easily hijacked and then manipulated by ideologues and cynical leaders who use them to gobble up other peoples power by taking jobs earlier done by practical people whose intent is to fix their own local problems instead of milking and growing those problems to aggregate power for themselves and the group they lead.

      This happened after the building of the Rossyln to Ballston Corridor. Those who really built the corridor finished the job and moved on to other tasks. Others who had nothing to do with it later claimed that they did. And they leveraged that false claim to build a community activist movement that has curbed to a degree excesses in uncontrolled, irresponsible growth. That is good. But, meantime, it now has morphed into a bonus ideology and movement that twists a practical results oriented philosophy of development into a political tool. One that was built and is used to promote what amounts to a Federal takeover on how local communities are built and operated.

      If successful this political movement built of the back of the achievements of others wants us to follow the example of what happened to American health care and to higher education, turning us into a police state.

      But here I do not intend to single out idealistic movements. Hijacking other peoples’ rightful business – what they are responsible for, and should be taking care of, namely their own lives and their own affairs – all this hijacking of other peoples lives, livelihoods, and property, is going on Right Now everywhere. But we should not be surprised. This lawless behavior has been going on constantly most everywhere since history began.

      So –

      Where ever they are found, beware of cynical leaders driven by personal agenda. Take over artists driven by power and personal control come in many different forms. They work in and hijack governments, communities, private businesses, non-profits, health care, higher education, and the cafe on the corner. Their driving goal is to turn somebody else’s mission and business, whether it be public or private, to their own personal advantage.

      Watch out particularly for the over ambitious politician. He is not working for you, or your interests. He’s working for himself, but must claim to work for the public good, including you, in order to get and keep his job so he can get and keep what he really wants for himself. That’s why he’s a politician. And fixes very little for us. But expands his power voraciously if he can get away with it. Its not ditches in county he worries about, its his own power that drives him.

      The great expansion of centralized government services and power into local communities, and its growing claim of expertise to justify its actions within vast new jurisdictions, and to hide its incompetence within these places, together with growing polarization and alienation within local communities, these are the driving forces of our time corrupting most everything. So some places, we can’t even fix ditches. Or even agree how to fix ditches.

      Why? Because the heart of what is going on here is to organize power over people and things for personal advantage. And it’s happening everywhere.

  2. Can we avoid the bleak outcome you paint? I don’t know. But we’ve been ridiculed, ignored, dismissed as individuals and as a community. We know to look for the lies, the manipulation, the false narratives that seem oh so plausible, until you scratch the surface. And we’re not going to keep quiet about what we learn or give up fighting for our way of life.

  3. Certainly you are both on target, nothing irritates a bureaucratic more than being shown he’s (she’s) wrong. It brings out all the worst circle-the-wagons instincts instead of a real openness to change. You simply have to overwhelm the resistance and push past the wagons to get serious consideration — which is more than most ordinary citizens have the time, inclination or resources to accomplish.

    CB, it took your writing a well-executed documented book to get an audience with VDOT and they still persist in this transparently-wrong sea-level-rise hypothesis, or myth — they sure won’t listen to a simple phone call from just one of us. In fact I tried, on a minor issue with the North River Road rebuild recently, and was asked at one point, “did that Ditch Woman put me up to this call?” Said jokingly, of course.

  4. Acbar: Thanks for posting my chuckle for the day. 😄 Local VDOT folks have really been trying hard to do the right things lately. Saluda’s working with Supervisor GC Morrow and the new planning director to get the revenue sharing outfall projects underway, although that’s a little like moving a locomotive by hand in how hard it is to get it going. But there is movement~

    The MPPDC, though, is something else. They’ve got their story, and they’re sticking to it.

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