Tuesday, November 28, 2023

When a vehicle storage lot or car graveyard is built near a reservoir, what measures protect drinking water?

A York County map shows the location of some Watershed Management and Protection Areas in York County. (WYDaily/Courtesy of York County)
A York County map shows the location of some Watershed Management and Protection Areas in York County. (WYDaily/Courtesy of York County)

Earlier this month, the York County Board of Supervisors approved an application to allow a new use of a gravel parking lot in a small piece of Ewell Industrial Park.

The proposed project is straightforward: Turn an existing gravel parking lot in the industrial park along Mooretown Road into an impound lot and vehicle storage area.

But because of the parcel’s proximity to the Waller Mill Reservoir, which provides drinking water to area residents, there are additional checks and balances to ensure hazardous runoff doesn’t reach the reservoir.

While the special use permit was approved July 16, the project must still go through an administrative process approving site plans and stormwater plan.

All projects must have administrative approval regardless, but the project’s location in a Watershed Management and Protection Area requires additional submissions of an impact study and a plan detailing measures the impound lot will take to reduce the rate of runoff and pollutants, said Joseph Brogan, chief of stormwater programs for York County.

“They’re good housekeeping measures, like not towing any cars or vehicles into your yard that are currently leaking oil or gas,” Brogan said of possible protective measures that could be listed in the plan. “Or, when you do tow a car and there’s something leaking, you could have a containment area where water can’t run off.” 

Since the location was already used as a parking lot, Brogan said the use is unlikely to have a significantly different impact, if a 90-day parking limit and containment measures are followed.

“If you’re towing a vehicle that’s in good working order, all you really have is a parking lot,” Brogan said.

Going through the approval process

Brogan said all site plans go through the stormwater office to ensure they meet the standards in place.

The city of Williamsburg, which owns the reservoir and property next to the industrial park, expressed concerns about the proposed use, according to July 16 agenda documents, but recommended various mitigation strategies to prevent harmful runoff from making its way into the reservoir.

Those strategies included containment measures, limits on the number of vehicles and the duration of vehicle storage, and submission of a Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure plan. 

The York County Zoning Ordinance already provides some protections regarding developments or projects within the Watershed Management and Protection Area, including prohibiting storage or production of hazardous wastes and land applications of industrial wastes.

Similar to what Williamsburg suggested, the zoning ordinance also requires the landowner to submit an outline of the proposed methods to ensure no oil, gas or other possibly hazardous fluids “infiltrate” into surface or groundwater, according to agenda documents.

“You can also limit the number of vehicles allowed to be stored that aren’t in good working order,” Brogan said.

Graveyard versus impound lot

In approving the special use permit, project documents from county staff included information about the difference between automobile graveyards and storage or impound lots. 

“Auto storage/impound yards are not automobile graveyards, but they do have the potential to exhibit some of those characteristics and could transform the character of an area if not carefully monitored,” documents read.

An automobile storage lot temporarily stores vehicles for less than 90 days. Inoperable or wrecked vehicles cannot be stored for more than 30 days. A lot becomes an automobile graveyard when the inoperable or wrecked vehicles are stored more than 30 days.

“You’re guaranteed this way, if any cars are in good working order, they’re probably not going to leak any oils or gas within 90 days,” Brogan said. “But if they’re parking for a year, it might be a different story.”

Drinking water issues

The project and stipulations about its location in a Watershed Management and Protection Area is not the only drinking water-related issue to pop up in government discussions this month.

On Tuesday, the James City County Board of Supervisors discussed a new ordinance under review focusing around protecting drinking water supplies in the county. 

The policy would provide a buffer around reservoirs and possibly some tributary streams prohibiting certain uses. 

The Board of Supervisors first opened the subject of reinforcing policies protecting drinking water in May 2018. The policy-making process is still in the works.

County staff plan to return to the board with additional information and reservoir maps to help supervisors decide which streams should have buffers and which types of uses should be regulated.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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