The following correspondence is submitted by citizen Ken Dufty who has raised the alarm relative to how organizaitons such as the Nature Conservancy are selling tax credits that allow for the nefarious destruction of native wetlands, especially here in Northampton County.
We have been through some very interesting experiences in our mutual fight to keep Northampton County and the Eastern Shore of Virginia and its natural resources preserved in the manner we envisioned and codified in our three subsequent Comprehensive Plans. . We have always, as a group of engaged,committed, and fully informed constituency, stated our case succinctly, enmasse, and professionally. In short, we have been successful in most of our efforts in this regard because we operate as a group, and not just an individual.
I am writing to inform you that at last night’s Northampton County’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Ralph Dodd, owner of Dodd Real Estate in Eastville and an active member of the farming community and organizations testified emotionally that ‘Northampton County Has a Target on Its Back’ and informed the BOS that large corporations are snapping up our farmfields to take advantage of wetland and carbon sequestering and other mitigation measures, allowing them to “sell” credits so, in the case of wetland banking, other existing wetlands and natural areas can be destroyed and paved over. As far as wetland “banking”, once a farmfield is “artificially” engineered to become a “surrogate” wetland (often by removing the fertile top soils that make the land productive for crops), the land can be marketed to a developer elsewhere that may need to build upon a well-established , centuries-old wetland somewhere on the Shore or Virginia Beach.
The going rate for those “new” and faux wetlands is $100,000/acre according to testimony last night by the Nature Conservancy.
The most visible project for those of you who want to see an “engineered wetland” under construction is just south of Exmore on Route 13 northbound. That project by The Nature Conservancy is on a 26 acre field that was planted for many decades with soy or corn or other crops. The top soil has been stripped off and the substrata is being regraded to change the topography so the drainage is changed to let the site hold more water. The “credits” from selling each acre as a surrogate replacement for the destruction of viable wetlands elsewhere will net the Nature Conservancy $1.8 million. It will never be a farmfield again. Note that agriculture is a major component of our local economy, Nor will the parcel ever be a homesite (we allow one house and an accessory dwelling on 20 acres of farmland- along with personal property and equipment that is taxable..but that cannot happen on a wetland). So we lose existing and potential tax revenue, while TNC, a not-for-profit global organization with $1.3 Billion in revenue last year reap large monetary rewards, while we lose our valuable farmland at the expense of a viable and diverse wetland that will be paved over and eliminated.
HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING?? The answer to that is simple. Our zoning ordinance allows it “by right”..with no notice to the public which is THE primary stakeholder in the preservation of our major economic driver..farming. Indeed, when you look under the use tables in this county’s zoning ordinance, “wetland” preservation, creation, and banking is NOT allowed under the heading of ‘agricultural district’.. But when you scroll down the tables and look under what uses are allowed under RECREATION, this use is allowed “by right” in nearly all zoning districts. Our argument here is that a diverse and ecologically unique wetland is not a Disneyland and is NOT a recreational mecca. There are no “frog ferris wheels” or “Salamander Water Slides”: a wetland is a fragile, valuable (on all natural levels), irreplaceable (in real time) , and well balanced ecosystem that takes centuries to develop and should not be viewed as a place for human intervention in regard to recreational activities.
Note here that hardly any of our people we work with on these issues including former Supervisors, Planning Commissioners, Activists, and former Planning Department officials knew that this use was allowed as a recreational activity in our zoning code. Simply, it lurked for decades under the zoning radar. Also note that this county is the last line of defense on mitigation projects like this before the bulldozers begin stripping the top soil from a prospective mitigation site, even though these construction plans are coordinated with the Army Core and DEQ, and cannot proceed unless the county planners issue a “land disturbance” and “soil and erosion” permit to the applicant. In this case, the project was administratively approved by our planning department in 2021, and the final permits were issued in September, 2022. Problem is, the BOS and the Planning Commissioners (or us) were never informed of this permit issuance, and the Planning Department has told me in an email that the department did not have notify anybody because it was a “by right” use in our zoning code. One final admission. By law, before this plan could proceed, the TNC was required to publish a notive in the registry and local newspapers, but they admitted last night that they had made a mistake and published the notice in the state and federal registers under ‘NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY’ rather than Northampton County. So, in essence, it could easily be argued that this ongoing project…stripping the site as you read…is illegal because it was improperly noticed.
Details, details, details. Sometimes they just get in the way..esecially when there are millions of dollars to be made by an applicant.