Newport News will not challenge King William reservoir ruling

After more than two decades of planning-as well as lengthy environmental challenges-the city of Newport News announced on April 30 that it is suspending work on its proposed King William Reservoir.

A federal judge in March invalidated a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers that was required for the project, and city officials expressed skepticism that the project, which has already been killed and revived several times, could proceed.

"This is a serious setback that will require a comprehensive review of our options, obligations and liabilities," said Randy Hildebrandt, Newport News city manager. City officials requested a meeting with federal officials to discuss the implications of the ruling. Although Hildebrandt said he still believed the 1,500-acre reservoir was the "best long-term water supply solution" for the region, he was concerned about obstacles to getting the necessary federal permits.

In a press release, city officials said they had asked staff to "reassess whether continuing to expend public dollars on a project that is increasingly unlikely to be built is a prudent course of action... it has become apparent to the city that there is an increasing risk about whether the reservoir, river intake and associated pipelines can be built in light of all the challenges remaining."

In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. criticized the Corps for saying the reservoir was the "least damaging practical alternative" because it never revisited old cost analyses of the project, even though the costs of the reservoir had increased sharply as estimates of future water needs declined.

As a result, he said, the Corps acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" when it determined the reservoir, and the associated loss of wetlands, was the least damaging practical alternative to meet the region's water needs. The judge also faulted several other decisions made by the Corps in approving the permit, and said the EPA erred in not using its veto authority to block it.

If built, the project would have flooded more than 400 acres of wetlands, and would have been the largest wetland loss allowed in the region under a Clean Water Act permit.

"We understand that this is a difficult decision for the city, but it is the right decision for Newport News, its citizens and the environment," said Ann Jennings, Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "It should allow all stakeholders to now focus on identifying less costly, less environmentally destructive alternatives to providing water for Peninsula citizens in the coming years."

NOAA approves $7.5 million for VA blue crab disaster plan

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service in May approved $7.5 million in federal funds for Virginia's ongoing program to boost the Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population and aid struggling commercial fishermen.

The first part of Virginia's three-year blue crab disaster relief plan is already under way. The new infusion of federal fishery disaster funds will help ensure the continuation of statewide efforts to reduce harvest pressure on the blue crab, and to continue an innovative marine debris cleanup program using out-of-work crab dredgers.

"This funding will support an important plan that provides both environmental and economic benefits to citizens of the commonwealth," said Gov. Tim Kaine.

Last winter, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission funded a marine debris removal program in which 58 out-of-work crab dredge fishermen were paid to retrieve and dispose of marine debris and derelict crab pots.

The program, expected to cost $1 million over three years, ran from mid-December through mid-March, with watermen recovering more than 8,600 lost crab pots containing thousands of trapped crabs and fish and 61 abandoned nets. The pots were found to have trapped fish, shellfish, reptiles, mammals, and birds in more than 376,000 acres.

In addition to continuing the marine debris program, funds will be used for:

Å License Buybacks: Reducing harvest pressure on the blue crab population by buying crabbing licenses back from commercial watermen through a reverse auction process.

Å Blue Crab Stock Assessment: Significantly improving the scientific knowledge of various biological processes affecting the health of the blue crab population.

Federal approval of an additional $7.5 million in crab fishery disaster funds for the state is pending. Virginia has proposed that money be used to train and supply crabbers interested in transitioning into oyster aquaculture. If approved, the money also would be used to hire commercial crabbers for scientific studies.

USDA, Maryland sign enhanced CREP agreement

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in April signed a revised Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program agreement that simplifies and increases financial incentives for participation.

With expanded financial incentives, the agreement is designed to encourage new enrollment and re-enrollment of expiring CREP contracts to protect soil and water quality in the Bay watershed.

Under the new agreement, the USDA may provide Maryland farmers up to $198 million in rental, incentive and cost share payments to install, maintain or improve conservation practices over the next 15 years. Enhanced benefits included in the agreement allow a one-time signing incentive payment, and a series of other refinements to encourage participation, including a new formula for calculating incentive payments.

Since CREP's inception in 1997, Maryland farmers have enrolled more than 74,000 acres of sensitive cropland and marginal pastureland from production. The program includes incentives to plant streamside buffers, establish wetlands, protect highly erodible land and create wildlife. When fully implemented at 100,00 acres, the program is expected to reduce nutrient runoff from Maryland farmland by 11.5 million pounds of nitrogen, and 1.1 million pounds of phosphorus annually. It would reduce the amount of sediment reaching streams by 200,000 tons annually.

192 PA municipalities have stream buffer rules

A recent survey found that 192 Pennsylvania municipalities have adopted local ordinances requiring riparian buffers to protect streams, and 30 percent of those require a buffer of 100 feet or more in width.

The survey was conducted by Clean Water Action, which is part of a coalition of groups pressing the state to require a 100-foot buffer along all streams whenever new development occurs.

"Buffers are good for Pennsylvania's communities, environment and economy because they help to filter out pollution from runoff, prevent erosion and flooding, provide important habitat for aquatic life, and help reduce drinking water treatment costs," said Bob Wendelgass, national deputy director for Clean Water Action.

MD report backs controlling mute swan population

A report from a Maryland advisory committee recommends that the state continue killing adult mute swans and treating eggs to prevent hatching to control the population of the invasive species.

The report, sent to Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources John Griffin, called the swans an "environmental hazard to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem" because they feed on underwater grass beds and threaten native wildlife. The report said the state should try to maintain the population at the current level of about 500 swans.

The swans, which were released into the wild in 1962, reached a population of about 4,000 in 2000. Control of the swans, which can reach 30 pounds each, has generally been supported by environmentalists, who fear an unchecked population would accelerate damage to grass beds and compete with endangered birds for habitat.

Animal rights activists, though, say the swans cause minimal damage compared to development and other factors affecting the Bay and any efforts to control their population should be limited to nonlethal means, such as treating eggs with oil to prevent hatching.

O'Malley signs aquaculture bill

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley recently signed a new Aquaculture Shellfish Leasing bill that revamps leasing laws to make it easier for watermen and others to grow shellfish in the Bay. The bill stemmed from recommendations from the state's Oyster Advisory Commission, which said most future commercial oyster production would likely come from aquaculture.

"Expanding opportunities for shellfish aquaculture in Maryland waters is vital to the health and economic prosperity of the Chesapeake and coastal bays," O'Malley said. "These changes will not only help restore important aquatic populations-like our native oyster-but also create jobs for Maryland's working families."

The new law will create aquaculture enterprise zones and streamline the permit process in the Bay. It will provide incentives to spur private investment in leasing operations, and encourage commercial fishery experts to transition into aquaculture.

The changes are intended to help bring Maryland in line with states such as Virginia, where the hard clam aquaculture industry is a $50 million business that supports hundreds of rural jobs.