Tag Archives: Carol Bova

The Saga of HB 1774 — Recurrent Flooding and Flooded Roads

by Carol J. Bova

HB 1774 was written to address rural stormwater issues and amended to study stormwater management practices in rural Virginia highway ditches. Why, then, does the bill direct the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency, a group formed to help Virginia adapt to recurrent flooding and sea-level rise, to direct the study?

The Commonwealth Center was created in 2016 to study strategies for adaptation, migration, and the prevention of recurrent flooding — deemed to be caused by global warming-induced sea-level rise — in Tidewater and Eastern Shore localities. As the adage goes, to a carpenter with a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Assigning the study to the Commonwealth Center almost guarantees that HB 1774’s stormwater concerns will be viewed through the prism of sea-level rise and recurrent flooding. And that would be counterproductive because state road and ditch flooding have no connection to sea-level rise at all.

This misdirected idea comes from Lewis “Lewie” Lawrence, executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC) and the behind-the-scenes force behind HB 1774. Lawrence has doggedly insisted that Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) drainage failures in rural counties bordering the Chesapeake Bay, like my home county of Mathews, constitute recurrent flooding. Lawrence was instrumental in writing, and then revising, HB 1774 in close association with the Virginia Coastal Policy Center of William & Mary Law School for Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, the bill’s sponsor.

Lawrence has inserted unsupported claims attributing flooding on VDOT roads to sea-level rise in at least nine MPPDC reports since 2009. In the first of these studies, which assessed the human and ecological impacts of sea-level rise upon vulnerable locations in the Middle Peninsula, he used maps indicating that one foot of sea-level rise by 2050 would inundate large portions of Middle Peninsula counties.

Those maps don’t stand up to scrutiny. In one of those reports, the 2050 map for Mathews County reports shows 6.7 miles of VDOT roads in inundated marsh and inland areas, yet fails to show the breach in the Winter Harbor barrier beach that left marshes open to the Bay since a 1978 April nor’easter.

Official projections of recurrent flooding from sea-level rise are based on maps with flawed elevation measurements.

Official projections of recurrent flooding from sea-level rise are based on maps with flawed elevation measurements.

Why is that significant? Because the Chesapeake Bay is connected to the ocean, it reflects the ocean’s high and low tides. The rise and fall of the tides varies from one location to another depending upon the depth of the water and the shape of the coastline, among other factors. Before the nor’easter, a narrow channel at the south end restricted the flow between the Bay and Winter Harbor. The breach in the barrier beach opened the marshes at the north end of Winter Harbor to the tides of the Chesapeake Bay.

The postulated 2050 inundation shown on the map is caused by one foot of sea level rise. But in real life, the daily high tides already run 1 ½ feet to 2 ½ feet, and storm-driven tides can add one or two feet more without having the depicted impact. Nearly three decades after the nor’easter, Hurricane Isabel did cause coastal and inland flooding, but its 7.9 feet of storm surge did not produce the degree of inundation shown for one foot of hypothetical sea level rise in the MPPDC’s map.

Another publication, a September 2016 MPPDC report for the Mathews County Planning Commission, references a 2013 MPPDC study done by Draper Aden Associates (DAA), the Mathews County Rural Ditch Enhancement Study, which said:

One of the primary results of the project was the reaffirmation that poor drainage due to lack of ditch maintenance and sea level rise compounds the flooding problems and flood management solutions utilized within Mathews County.

The supposed affirmation of sea level rise impact in the DAA study was based on flawed LiDAR-derived elevation numbers and an assumed 5-inch sea-level rise in 24 years extracted from the maximum estimate in a 2010 VIMS report to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. That VIMS report described “a total possible sea level rise of 0.12 to 0.22 inches per year in the Mathews County area,” or 3 to 5.6 mm a year. (My book, “Drowning a County,” uses 3.5 mm a year based on the Kiptopeke tide gauge trend of 3.48 mm since Mathews has no tide gauge.)

Draper Aden used 2011 Virginia Geographic Information Network LiDAR maps that show elevations of 2 feet for cultivated fields, forested areas, Route 645, and Gullwing Cove Lane — supposedly the same elevation as the marsh to the west. Yet, contrary to what one would expect from these elevations, normal high tides of two feet do not cause any movement of water from marshes and creeks into adjacent fields. Rather, fresh water floods across the roads because it is unable to flow through damaged or blocked VDOT pipes, ditches or outfall streams to nearby water bodies. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Vehicle Miles Traveled: Where the Action Is

Where Vehicle Miles Traveled has increased the most, 2002 to 2015, as shown on this map of VDOT's transportation districts.

Where Vehicle Miles Traveled has increased the most, 2002 to 2015, as shown on this map of VDOT’s transportation districts.

A few days ago I published a graph showing that Virginia has experienced a modest increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) since 2002, but I couldn’t draw any meaningful conclusions. Statewide numbers obscure the traffic dynamics in different parts of the state, and I didn’t have the time to drill deeper.

Inspired no doubt by my sparkling prose, Carol Bova took the trouble to compile the VMT numbers broken down by Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)’s nine transportation districts between 2002 and 2015. As the beneficiary of her exertions, I no longer have any excuses.

The data make it very clear: While Virginia roads and highways are getting more congested overall, some are getting congested faster than others. Indeed, some parts of the state are de-congesting (if that’s a word). This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Virginia’s demographic trends. The districts with stagnant VMT are experiencing stagnant or shrinking populations.

The overwhelming increase in VMT occurred in the  yellow oval in the map above. Other than an anomalous jump in Interstate traffic in the Staunton district — either Interstate 81 is getting very busy or Northern Virginia’s Interstate 66 commuter shed has leaped over the Blue Ridge Mountains — the overwhelming majority of the traffic growth occurred in just four districts: Northern Virginia, Richmond, Fredericksburg and Culpeper. Those four districts saw an increase of 13.2 million Vehicle Miles Traveled over the 13-year period — four times more than the 3.1 million increase for the other five districts combined.

Even this conclusion cries out for more granularity. The growth in VMT was almost assuredly more concentrated than a glance at transportation districts alone would show. The growth in the Richmond district occurred mainly in the Richmond metro area, not the rural expanse to the south. Likewise, growth in Culpeper and Fredericksburg assuredly took place in the counties in the growth path of metropolitan Washington. (Charlottesville might have added a small kicker for the Culpeper region.)

For all the region’s traffic bottlenecks, the percentage VMT growth in Hampton Roads was modest — on a par with Roanoke/Salem, a less populated transportation district. The Lynchburg district tread water, while the Bristol district lost traffic.

As an aperitif, here is a breakdown of the Vehicle Miles Traveled in absolute numbers (not percentage growth) broken down by transportation district in 2015. While traffic volume may be increasing the fastest in the Culpeper/Fredericksburg exurbs, the districts representing the three main metros — and that includes Hampton Roads — still predominate.

VDOT data exists to drill down locality by locality to confirm or rebut my tentative conclusions. If I ever have the time, I will compare 2002 and 2015 VMT for each Virginia locality and map the percentage increase with Exel’s cool new data mapping software (assuming I can figure out how it works). But don’t hold your breath. My sponsors keep me busy with energy and higher-ed.

The Saga of HB 1774 — Rural Growth, Stormwater Credits

Del. Keith Hodges introducing a substitute for HB 1774.

By Carol J. Bova

Virginia’s part-time legislators saw 3,168 bills introduced in the 2017 General Assembly session according to the Richmond Sunlight website. Inundated with such a volume of legislation, overworked part-time lawmakers are hard-pressed to grind through complex issues.

In such circumstances, speeding bills through the legislature can lead to bad law. And that appears to have been the case with a bill, enacted in the 2016 session, that put into place stormwater management legislation due to go into effect July 1, 2017.

Alerted to deficiencies in that law, lawmakers took up the issue again in the 2017 session. The issues got so ticklish and hard to resolve that legislators threw up their hands and passed a bill that delayed implementation of the original law and gave them a year to reconcile the many conflicting interests.

Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, took the lead on updating the stormwater law this year. He submitted three interrelated bills, which he wrote with the assistance of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center of William and Mary Law School and the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission. One of the bills, which allows jurisdictions to outsource administration of the stormwater law to third-party engineering firms, was uncontroversial and sailed through the House and Senate.

But the other two, HB 1774 and HB 2008, got tangled up in the legislative process. The main sticking point was how to deal with a loophole in the law going into effect in July that set different triggers at which counties had to put into place stormwater management programs. For most of the state, the regulations apply when a project disturbs 10,000 square feet of land up to one acre (at which point the Department of Environmental Quality steps in). But for the 29 counties and 17 cities defined in state law as “Tidewater,” which have the greatest potential to affect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, the requirement kicked in at 2,500 square feet.

The Virginia Association of Counties (VACo), the lobbying arm of local governments, took the position that the 2,500-square-foot trigger was too onerous and described the closing of the “donut hole” — between 2,500 and 10,000 square feet — as one of its primary objectives of the 2017 session. HB 2008 would have accomplished precisely that.

However, at some point during the session, Hodges concluded that even the 10,000-square-feet trigger was too tough. Counties wanted out because they are not in the business of managing the erosion and stormwater impacts of land disturbance. They would have to add staff and find funding from already strained budgets. Counties with little new construction would not generate enough permit fees to offset the costs when they occurred, while even counties experiencing modest growth had no guarantee new fees would be sufficient.

Accordingly, Hodges withdrew HB 2008.

That left HB 1774 as the main vehicle for fixing the soon-to-be-enacted law. Like the Indian parable of several blind men trying to discern the nature of an elephant, the bill seemingly offered something to all the special interests involved in stormwater management:

  • New business opportunities for engineering firms — if there is a source of funding to create the stormwater management facilities.
  • Improved Chesapeake Bay water quality — if the new Regional Stormwater Best Practices facilities (RSPs), or stormwater banks, work as advertised. (See previous story for details.)
  • New rural economic development — if new RSPs actually do reduce costs for developers.
  • New income for localities from the sale of stormwater mitigation credits to developers — if there is an excess to sell and if there is water to treat in the first place.
  • Relief for the Virginia Department of Transportation of obligations for roadside drainage by transferring exclusive use of the water in its ditches to new stormwater management facilities — if the water remains in the ditches and if VDOT can ignore the rights of downstream parties to use of the water.
  • Administrative savings for DEQ — if localities agree to take over the stormwater management and if the 2% of fees paid by developers for excess credits offset the $490,000/year extra in salaries for monitoring.

It all works if the system has enough money. Trouble is, rural counties just aren’t experiencing the kind of population and commercial growth to generate the fees to make all these things happen.  The five-year census update estimate from the Weldon Cooper Center calls the premise into question.

Hamilton Lombard with Demographics Research Group at UVA said in the [email protected] blog :
“While population growth continues or accelerates in most of Virginia’s urban areas, much of rural Virginia will likely continue to experience slow population growth or decline during this decade.”

With all these problems, including the $2.45 million expense to hire DEQ employees to monitor the project, what happened to HB 1774? The House committee didn’t kill it. The legislators requested a substitute bill.

To be continued in Part Three — Starting Over

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.

The Saga of HB 1774 — Bills and Buzzwords

HB 1774 would give credits for projects using water from roadside drainage ditch like this one in Mathews County.

HB 1774 would give credits for projects using water from roadside drainage ditch like this one in Mathews County. Photo credit: The Ditches of Mattews County.

By Carol J. Bova

Virginia legislation usually follows a logical pattern in which bills lay out what they intend to do and the means by which their goals will be accomplished. This series looks at one bill introduced in the 2017 General Assembly session that missed the mark, morphing into a substitute bill that passed the House and Senate. The intentions behind it were honorable. The consequences, however, could be disastrous.

This is not an easy story to tell or to read. Like any mystery, only when all the pieces are laid out and examined will the background and details fit together to fill in the gaps. Even then, the final part of this story will take the next ten months to unfold.

This introduction in a series of four posts sets the stage and describes the contents of HB 1774. Part Two explores the problems in the original bill. Part Three looks at the surprising substitute bill. Part Four shows the mapping errors and assumptions that pointed lawmakers in the wrong direction.

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The requirements of last year’s stormwater management legislation, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2017, will be expensive and hard to incorporate into new developments in the Commonwealth. Many projects will need mitigation credits, which are scarce and in high demand.

Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, teamed up with the Virginia Coastal Policy Center of William and Mary Law School and the Executive Director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC), Lewis Lawrence, to create legislation to alleviate the situation. MPPDC hired a consultant to assist in the work.

Under the combined banners of encouraging rural economic development, easing stormwater management requirements for new development, and creating more mitigation credits for both urban and rural projects, the team crafted HB 1774.

This plan would generate stormwater mitigation credits using new Regional Stormwater Practices (RSP) Banks. The Virginia Department of Transportation would give exclusive use of the water in its roadside ditches to an RSP bank to use in a bioretention or other BMP (Best Management Practice) to improve water quality in order to create the mitigation credits.

These credits would be applied first to Rural Development Growth ((RDG) areas along the highways adjacent to the banks, and excess credits would be sold to other developers.

Under the regulations scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2017, many rural localities chose to opt out of administering stormwater programs for new developments involving 10,000 square feet or one acre of land disturbance, and have the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) continue to administer the program as it had before the new legislation. (Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act areas had a lower threshold for the regulations, 2,500 square feet or one acre of land disturbance.)

Localities would receive fees to entice them into managing the new stormwater program for the RDG areas and overseeing the operation of the RSP banks. States the bill: “The fees for certain stormwater best management practices (BMPs) shall be paid directly to the locality.” From these fees, a locality would place 50 percent of the amount developers saved through the program into an account to operate the RSP bank. (Note: the bill is silent on who determines the fees or how the cost savings would be verified.)

There’s an additional provision for those localities with Chesapeake Bay Preservation areas–the State Water Control Board would authorize “any political subdivision of the Commonwealth that is located in Planning District 18 and is subject to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act … to designate a qualified entity to establish and administer an RSP bank.” This would include Middle Peninsula county governments, and MPPDC. If the Governor signs a related Hodges’ bill, HB 2055 which passed the House and Senate this session, the Rural Coastal Virginia Community Enhancement Authority would become a new political subdivision.

A private entity designated to operate an RSP bank would annually “return eight percent of the [mitigation] credit revenue it generates to the locality in which it is located and two percent” to DEQ.

To enable a private entity to do this, Del. Hodges introduced HB 2009 to allow administration of a stormwater management program by a certified third party. HB 2009 passed the House and Senate with ease.

To be continued in Part Two: Buzzwords and Bills–Donut Hole Defeat and a Second Chance for HB 1774

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.

Increased Density, Increased Costs

Does Virginia really want roads like New Jersey's? Pictured: Hudson County, New Jersey's most populated area.

Does Virginia really want roads like New Jersey’s? Pictured: Hudson County, New Jersey’s most populated area.

By Carol J. Bova

Jim Bacon’s post on November 12th, “Too Little Density, Too Much Road Surface,” concludes that if local zoning policies encouraged higher density population areas, there’d be fewer roads, resulting in lower road maintenance costs. This is urban-centered thinking that assumes only nearby residents use the roads and that none are privately maintained. The idea also overlooks the need to transport locally grown agricultural products, timber and seafood over rural roads to more densely occupied areas. But in addition, we need to examine the study that led to that conclusion.

The Smart Growth America and New Jersey Future road study of New Jersey cited in the Bacon post suggests great savings in road maintenance if there were a minimum of 10 people on each acre. At first glance, that doesn’t seem very dense, but population density is usually referred to in square miles. With 640 acres per square mile, we’re talking about 6,400 people, more than any locality in Virginia except Alexandria.

This must not have seemed extreme for a place like New Jersey, where a 2006 study noted every New Jersey “county in the state is classified by the Census Bureau as ‘metropolitan.’” (Robert E. Wood, Farmland Preservation and Agritourism in South Jersey: An Exploratory Study. ) The Census Bureau uses metropolitan to describe “a core urban area of 50,000 or more population … as well as any adjacent counties that have a high degree of social and economic integration (as measured by commuting to work) with the urban core.”

So how did Smart Growth America and New Jersey Future come up with their numbers? They used different approaches, but in both cases, added the population of a given area to its employment numbers. Smart Growth America eliminated protected land like state parks or wetlands, and computed the amount of road surface per person. New Jersey Future took the population plus employment number and divided by developed square miles to get activity density– after eliminating undeveloped land and excluding roads maintained by the state.

Even without the exclusions, Hudson County, N.J., has a population of 13,731 per square mile. No surprise that Hudson County has the highest activity density in the Smart Growth America report and the lowest per capita road maintenance cost. But per capita cost doesn’t tell the whole story. There is an underlying assumption the New Jersey road maintenance level is adequate. Not true.

Endnote 8 in the Smart Growth America report states that the Reason Foundation said, “…the State of New Jersey spent $42,317 per lane mile on maintenance in 2012.” But the Reason Foundation also said:

• New Jersey ranks 48th in the nation in highway performance and cost-effectiveness, down from 46th in 2009.
• New Jersey ranks 50th in maintenance disbursements per mile and 50th in capital bridge disbursements per mile.

Tripnet.org in ”New Jersey Transportation by the Numbers” said, “Driving on deficient roads costs New Jersey motorists a total of $11.8 billion annually in the form of additional vehicle operating costs, congestion-related delays and traffic crashes.”

How did lower density Virginia do in Reason Foundation’s 21st Annual Highway Report?

• Virginia ranks 25th in the nation in highway performance and cost-effectiveness, down from 15th in 2009.
• Virginia ranks 32nd in maintenance disbursements per mile and 1st in capital-bridge disbursements per mile. Continue reading