State steps in to evaluate polluted creek in Virginia Beach

The study comes after years of complaints about downed trees, flooding, erosion, and water quality issues from nearby residents

VIRGINIA BEACH — The city is cooperating with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary to complete a series of tests and surveys on Buchanan Creek here, according to a Dec. 14 letter from Tennille Wade, an engineer and project manager with the city’s department of public works.

VIMS — which is considered among the largest marine research and education centers in the United States, according to its website — is performing the evaluation on behalf of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

The creek’s environmental evaluation came after years of complaints from nearby residents of the Kings Forest neighborhood about downed trees, flooding, erosion, and water quality issues. The city has done little to assuage residents, citing private ownership of part of the creek.

The DEQ was ordered to conduct an assessment of the creek after Del. Jason Miyares of the 82nd district — who represents the district where Buchanan Creek is located — secured $500,000 for study of the creek over two fiscal years. The study was authorized in June as part of the 2018-2020 Commonwealth Biennium budget.

According to the Dec. 14 letter, the evaluation will survey the creek’s shoreline condition, watershed properties, and causes of its polluted water, and will compare those characteristics and historical developments with that of Thalia Creek and Wolfsnare Creek, two similar creeks located nearby in the Lynnhaven River.

The tests will include shoreline and bathymetric surveys, as well as water quality monitoring at six locations. The segment of Buchanan Creek in question runs along the boundary of a former private sewage treatment site called Birchwood Gardens, which is now a neighborhood park.

Debbi Impervento, a resident of Kings Forest who lobbied Miyares for the creek study, has claimed the former sewage treatment site was improperly filled and may have caused the high levels of pollutants found in the creek’s water. City officials, including City Manager Dave Hansen and Deputy City Manager Thomas Leahy, have denied that any environmental violations exist at the site.

Parts of the creek are privately owned by a company operating as Palms Associates. The company has refused to remove fallen trees, dredge the creek, or maintain it in any way. The city has also refused to maintain the creek or force Palms to do so, according to city documents.

“The city does not maintain privately-owned waterways. To do so would be a significant and costly precedent,” Leahy said in a September 2016 memo about Buchanan Creek to Hansen. “If the property owners want to improve the waterway, they need to work with the owner of the canal.”

Miyares said the budget amendment funding will allow the DEQ to enter upon any privately-owned sections of the creek.

“The DEQ has broad regulatory powers in cases like this,” he said. “The department will be authorized to study the private property owned by Palms Properties” or any other private entity.

A report on the creek will be submitted to the governor and the General Assembly no later than Oct. 1, 2019.

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