In Grove, a serene lake snakes toward the south, surrounded by trees and heading toward the James River.
Part of Newport News Waterworks, the long, slim lake — called the Skiffes Creek Reservoir — is tasked with providing fresh water to Newport News and the lower part of James City County.
While the reservoir is now cocooned with trees, only briefly brushing past the Edgemoor neighborhood in Newport News, what regulations are in place to prevent facilities that use possibly hazardous contaminants — such as gas stations — from being built within a certain distance of drinking water?
According to James City County staff, there are no local limits.
“That you could allow construction of a gas station within a relatively short distance doesn’t strike me as a good thing,” said James City County Supervisor John McGlennon, D-Roberts.
Some James City County and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality regulations provide protection against dumping waste and building or spilling hazardous contaminants near bodies of water in the area, but no existing policies specifically address the distance possible contaminants must be located from drinking water.
The issue, which has been a topic of discussion since at least 2015, resurfaced during a recent James City County Board of Supervisors meeting.
On Tuesday, during a Board of Supervisors work session, McGlennon plans to ask for an initiating resolution which would direct the Planning Commission to put together an ordinance that would provide buffers and other protections for drinking water supplies.
An issue resurfaced
McGlennon briefly brought up the issue during a May meeting between the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission.
At the time, Interim County Administrator Bill Porter proposed the Planning Commission develop a policy about deferring project applications.
As a separate note, McGlennon asked that the Planning Commission’s Policy Committee also consider developing another policy setting restrictions on how close possible contaminants, such as gas stations, can be built to water supplies.
“The point for a revision of the ordinance would be to give us some protections of drinking water supplies,” McGlennon said earlier this month.
To describe the issue at hand, McGlennon referenced an application by the Peninsula Pentecostals church to rezone a property in Grove — McGlennon’s district — several years ago.
The application, which was approved unanimously by supervisors in 2015, allows construction of a 2,400-seat megachurch in the 9200 block of Pocahontas Trail, although nothing has been built yet, Planning Director Paul Holt said. The application also allows a gas station, childcare center and restaurant to be built on the property.
The application received an abundance of community support, according to meeting minutes from the April 28, 2015, Board of Supervisors meeting.
While the application was approved, there were concerns in a staff report about building a fueling station because the property’s western boundary is a tributary stream for Skiffes Creek.
“The issue I was raising was simply one that the gasoline pump storage tanks were in relatively close proximity to the watershed for the Skiffes Creek Reservoir,” McGlennon said. “When we were approving the application, I also raised the question about buffer requirements and was told there are none.”
McGlennon called the current lack of restrictions a “red flag in my mind” during the May 22 meeting.
While there aren’t requirements specifically regarding buffering distance between hazardous material storage and public water supplies in James City County, there are several other general requirements in place, said Holt, the county’s planning director.
While James City County does not have buffering requirements, both Newport News and York County have reservoir protection ordinances that set distance limits, Holt said.
At the time of the church’s application in 2015, Newport News Waterworks staff said that they would have strong concerns about any fuel storage and/or dispensing facilities on the property for the church. In Newport News, a reservoir protection requirement in city code prohibits fuel storage with limited exceptions near water sources.
In York County, a reservoir protection ordinance requires 700 feet between the reservoir or tributary stream and any fuel bulk storage or distribution of petroleum.
The application for the megachurch includes a commitment to locate the fueling facility at least 300 feet away from the reservoir.
Under county code, builders are required to have a spill prevention plan in place.
Additionally, James City County code prohibits anyone from disposing of garbage or other waste in waterways or reservoirs. Devices for nutrient management plans, pens and structures associated with intensive agricultural uses may also not be built within 1,000 feet of public wells, water tanks and reservoirs.
If built, the construction site for the church will also need to adhere to stormwater and erosion guidelines set by the county and the state DEQ. Many projects in the county must have a pollution prevention plan that would minimize discharge of pollutants should a spill or leak occur during construction activities.
There are also requirements covering storage of hazardous materials under the Statewide Fire Prevention Code and the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code.
A policy discussion on building fueling sites near water sources has not yet been addressed in other meetings or placed on the agenda for future James City County board agendas, according to online records and meeting minutes.
This story was published in partnership with our sister publication, WYDaily.