Proposed Rt. 460 would cause immense damage to wetlands

Published 11:04 am Friday, January 17, 2014

To the Editor:

The Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Program (BNRP) is submitting this letter into public comment and to the Southampton County Board of Supervisors concerning the proposed new Rt. 460. It is this organization’s position that we are not in favor of building the new highway. We believe the harm it will do to the Blackwater watershed will be immense. There are several reasons why. Run-off from all that pavement will add millions of gallons of polluted water into the watershed. The extra oil, antifreeze and, during the winter, road salts, will all seriously compromise the health of the swamps this highway will run through.

There is also the issue of flooding. The millions of gallons of extra water coming off this massive amount of non-permeable surface will greatly increase flooding for places like the city of Franklin. The big stink with this proposed highway is the nearly 500 acres of wetlands that will be destroyed. That’s a stunning amount equal to 378 football fields.

When they say wetlands destroyed, most people think it’s just swamp that will be gone. They fail to realize the impact of that or the fact that what was living in the swamp now dies, or has to move on. Swamp eco-systems are very complex. From macro-invertebrates that live in the mud and shallow water, which are food for larger critters, which are food for fish, which are then food for eagles, otter, coons and other critters. To mussels that clean the water and are then food to muskrats and other critters, these basic building blocks or chain of life cycles will be seriously impacted in the most negative of ways. When those food sources are gone and those species dwindle away and that cleansing of the water is gone, that 500-acre, once bountiful ecological community, is now diseased and sickly, poisoned for no good reason. For the county of Southampton to endorse this $1.4 billion project simply to fulfill a wetlands credit bank in the county is ludicrous. Waste $1.4 billion to make $2 million? Anybody that really believes a man-made wetlands bank is the equivalent to the real thing is seriously deficient in his or her knowledge of our environment. Never ever will a cornfield with some ponds scattered about on it and proclaimed reclaimed wetlands ever come close to producing the diversity of life and the environmental benefits God designed into a real swamp.

We have rail systems in place that are ready now to take an expanding Port of Hampton Roads business, and do it cheaper fuel-wise and cleaner per ton than trucked any day, and rail reduces highway congestion. Evacuation worries with the old 460? Take a third of the $1.4 billion new highway cost and fix ANY existing 460 issues, use the other two-thirds of the $1.4 billion to fix the failing bridges and roads in Hampton Roads and really fix the evacuation issue.

Flushing billions of dollars down the toilet on an ill-conceived, wasteful new Rt. 460 project will certainly drown us all downstream one way or the other. Endorsing the 460 project for a short-term monetary gain for the county is as crazy as allowing uranium mining in your back yard. Fast money, but devastating environmental and public health repercussions for all of us creatures large and small that have to live in this that is our watershed community. Think about it!

Jeff Turner
BNRP Executive Director
BNRP Riverkeeper