Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has submitted a detailed report designed to counter the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposition to efforts to build a reservoir in King William County.
Weighing in on one of the state’s most contentious environmental fights, Gilmore submitted a 30-page review dismissing most of the major points made by Col. Allan Carroll, the Army Corps’ top local officer in Norfolk, who denied permits for the city of Newport News to build the reservoir in April.
“I strongly believe that the King William Reservoir Project is needed and in the best interest of all Virginians,” Gilmore wrote in a letter during a 45-day public comment period that ended in May.
Environmental groups have deplored the proposal which would destroy more than 400 acres of wetlands and be the largest loss allowed by a federal agency within the Bay watershed in years.
Newport News officials welcomed the top-level support. “You don't normally see a governor take this strong a position on a permitting issue,” said Randy Hildebrandt, an assistant city manager who oversees reservoir-related work.
The state review concluded the Peninsula needs an additional water supply to meet future demands, and needs it sooner than opponents say. The review also said the reservoir would not significantly damage natural, cultural or historic resources, a concern cited by local Army Corps officials in denying the permit.
The governor’s review is just one of about 1,600 comments received by the Army Corps in the latest comment period, officials said.
Carroll recommended denying the permit, saying the project could not compensate for the loss of the complex system of wetlands that would be flooded. Further, he cited studies suggesting Newport News’ estimates of future water needs were inflated. He also expressed concern about impacts to lands historically used by Native Americans in the area.
The EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have also expressed concerns about the project’s impact.
Because Carroll and Gilmore disagree on the issue, a final decision will be made by Brig. Gen. M. Stephen Rhoades, commander of the Corps’ North Atlantic Division in New York. That decision could come this summer.