Peter Schmidt resigned May 2 as director of Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality.
"Much of what we have set out to do has been accomplished, and despite the difficult decision to leave the administration, it's time to go home to my family," Schmidt, whose family lives in Virginia Beach, said in a statement. Thomas L. Hopkins, deputy secretary of natural resources, took over for Schmidt on June 1. Hopkins has been acting director of the Department of Conservation and Recreation since February. Kathleen W. Lawrence, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department, will take over the conservation and recreation posts.
Schmidt, 47, became director of the DEQ in June 1994 after spending 20 years in banking and small business. His department had come under harsh criticism during Gov. George Allen's term for what environmentalists say is lax enforcement of pollution laws.
A report by a legislative watchdog agency late last year found that many DEQ employees believe that clean air and water have taken a back seat to business needs.
Schmidt oversaw a reorganization that led to many staffers being laid off. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report said it was too early to tell how the reorganization has affected DEQ's ability to protect the environment and provide pollution permits to industries.
Va. official accuses EPA of being too easy on D.C.
Virginia's attorney general, who in the past has accused the EPA of coming down too hard on the state, says the EPA is too easy on the District of Columbia.
In papers filed in May in U.S. District Court in Washington, James S. Gilmore III says a proposed agreement between the EPA and the district to upgrade a sewage treatment plant on the Potomac River fails to protect Virginia waters.
Gilmore said he was making good on his threat last January to take legal action if the Blue Plains plant continued to pollute the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
An EPA inspection last year found that Blue Plains posed a health and environmental risk because of deteriorating equipment and inadequate maintenance.
The agreement proposed in April by the EPA calls for $20 million in improvements over the next two years, as well as improved maintenance and more timely payment of contractors.
But Gilmore said the agreement doesn't go far enough, in part because the plant will be allowed to exceed some permitted discharge levels. "The EPA's agreement is feeble," Gilmore said, adding that it "doesn't even require the District to live up to the terms of the water permit that the EPA itself issued."
He said that the agreement does not require the District to repay $96 million it diverted from Blue Plains for other government operations. Gilmore says the diversion of funds, some of which came from Virginia users of the plant, contributed to the plant's problems.
Ruth Podems, an EPA spokeswoman in Philadelphia, said Gilmore's complaints are without merit. "We were the ones who recognized the problems with the plant in the first place," she said. "We were the ones who forged ahead with the legal action. We feel we've covered everything in this agreement." Proposed reservoir will flood historic Native American site
If the Army Corps of Engineers gives its approval, a 6-mile long reservoir will supply Newport News, Williamsburg and York County with drinking water.
But an archaeological company says it also will cover 2,200 acres of wetlands and 8,000 years of history.
Environmentalists already had questioned the impact of drawing 75 million gallons of water a day from the Mattaponi River and flooding 524 acres of environmentally valuable swamp and wetlands. Now Delaware-based MAAR Associates and the Pamunkey Indian tribe want the public to know about the area's historic importance.
"What's bothering me is, no one's paying any attention to the historic stuff," said G. Warren Cook, assistant chief of the Pamunkey Indians in King William County. The tribe is descended from the powerful Powhatan Confederacy, which ruled the Virginia coastal plains Indians at the time of the Jamestown Settlement. The most famous member of that group was Pocahontas.
The Indians and the archaeological company said the reservoir would drown all 112 campsites and bivouacs they found last summer while exploring the Cohoke Swamp in King William County. The sites are valuable, they said, because early hunters and gatherers left stone tools, pot fragments, fire-cracked rock and quartz arrow points that could provide clues about life in Virginia from 8,000 years ago through the early 17th century, including the "contact period" in which local Indians and the English settlers intermingled.
The archaeologists said that is one of the least understood of all the Indian epochs. In addition, some sites are thought to date from the Early Woodland period of 1200 B.C. to 300 A.D., a time of swift population growth.
The Virginia Department of Historic Resources is reviewing MAAR's report on its initial findings and is expected to decide in June how many of the sites warrant further study.
"We respect the resource and we'd like to do it right," said Donald Rice, water resources engineer for Newport News Waterworks. "We want to be in full compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act."