St. Luke’s battles sediment

Published 2:17 pm Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By Diana McFarland
News editor

After a heavy rain, the water in the newly dredged ponds at Historic St. Luke’s turns white, said project manager Lawrence Pitt.

Pitt believes new construction across Route 10 at Benn’s Grant is a contributing factor.

“We’ve become a BMP for the other side of the road,” he said.

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Benn’s Grant landowner Richard Turner said that any time there’s water running down ditches there’s going to be sediment in it.

“This water here has gone that way forever,” Turner said of how the water from different parts of the Benn’s Grant property drain in different directions.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Besides, the fledgling development built on a former “borrow pit” is being outfitted with a series of ponds and, eventually, BMPs* that will drain and filter the water, said Turner of the property that today resembles the high barren plains of the west, except with lightly colored sandy soil. The land was once used to mine dirt and sand and was long ago stripped of trees and significant vegetation.

Pitt is worried that the newly ponds at St. Luke’s, which cost $100,000 to dredge clear of silt, will again be filled with sediment in a matter of years due to stepped up construction at Benn’s Grant. While sediment from that side of Route 10 has always been a problem, now there are fears it will intensify with the new development going in and eventually undo all the work that has been done, Pitt said.

“We’re an organization that relies on donations and we want to keep it open,” Pitt said.

Historic St. Luke’s Board of Directors President Dave Hare agrees.

“We just want to find a solution that we don’t have to readdress in just another couple of years,” he said, adding that the board wants the money it just spent to last decades, not just a year or two.

The ponds at St. Luke’s are located between the historic church building and the St. Luke’s Memorial Park (cemetery). The construction at St. Luke’s included installing bulkheads, dredging, rebuilding a historic road through the property and other improvements.

In addition to construction at the 253-acre Benn’s Grant, Isle of Wight County and VDOT recently embarked on extensive improvements at the nearby intersection. St. Luke’s is downhill from part of both projects, as well as a third player in the mix — Riverside Health Systems — which years ago received rezoning approval for a medical complex, but so far hasn’t disturbed any land or filed a stormwater management plan with Isle of Wight County, said Riverside spokesman George Phillips.

When specifically asked last week if the Benn’s Grant developers had filed a stormwater management plan with the county — now a state requirement — and was it being monitored, spokesman Don Robertson did not answer that question but said in an email that staff didn’t know there was a problem. He suggested Pitt meet with county staff to discuss the issue. Robertson also said staff did not know where Turner had gotten his stormwater permits — “nobody here seemed to know much about this when I previously inquired,” Robertson said.

“We would be glad to meet them onsite so we can determine what, if any, role the county can or should be playing in this matter,” he said, adding that it was difficult to address the problem because staff was in training and then off Friday and Monday for holidays.

Pitt said he had met with former General Services Director Frank Haltom, had looked at the Benn’s Grant stormwater management plan and was assured that everything “would be O.K.”

Robertson said it was useful to remember that Haltom left his job six months ago. Robertson did not answer the question about county staff monitoring the property for compliance with the stormwater plan or why silt fencing had not been installed.

Pitt said that although Haltom is gone, the department is still there.  Is the plan being enforced?, he asked.

(As an aside, Isle of Wight residents and business owners pay a stormwater fee each year to cover the costs of county’s stormwater management program).

On a ride around the property last week, Turner pointed out what he called the “filtration system,” which consisted of a row of cinderblocks topped with chicken wire and surrounded by a pile of rocks in front of each new storm drain on the newly paved streets.

Robertson said that sort of system was good for keeping out big debris, such as leaves and sticks, but would not address sediment.

Turner said the water pumped from the ponds under construction is filtered through a bag attached to the end of the hose. That takes care of the sediment, he said.

Pitt offered up another solution.

Pitt suggested it would be possible to construct a bulkhead that catches the rain, lets water spill over, but the flow back catches the water to allow the sediment to settle before going over to the St. Luke’s ponds.

“They’re in the business of dirt anyway,” he said of Turner, who along with Henry Morgan own Isle of Wight Materials.

Turner said that when completed, the development will have a series of seven ponds and BMPs that will collect the water and filter out the sediment.

There will be more filtration than ever, he said.

At the same time, “you don’t change Mother Nature but so much,” he said.

Pitt is concerned that the runoff will eventually make its way to the Pagan River, James River and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay. Sediment, along with nitrogen and phosphorus, are major contributors to decreased water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.


What is a BMP?

BMP — which stands for best management practices — was coined more than three decades ago to describe acceptable ways to protect water quality and promote soil conservation. It can be a thing — such as a silt fence — or part of the process of development. It’s a tool to cut down on pollution and sediment flowing into waterways.  {/mprestriction}