County sets timeline on river cleanup

Published 9:16 am Friday, April 17, 2015

Styrofoam piled up along a log in the flood plain. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Styrofoam piled up along a log in the flood plain. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

The Franklin-Southampton County Office of Community Development has drafted an agreement with the landowner allegedly responsible for the Styrofoam debris getting onto the Nottoway River.

Donald Goodwin, the office’s director, said right now they are still in an investigative mode concerning what laws have been broken and what fines might be assessed on the landowner. The main priority right now for the county is getting the river clean.

The owner, who Goodwin declined to name at this time, allowed county inspectors onto the property in question by the river on Wednesday. The inspectors left with the intent of returning the next day to get the agreement signed, but the property owner was delayed and they expect a signature today.

Should this person sign, 14 days will be given to clean up the mess on the river. The county has reserved the right to make inspections on progress.

If significant progress has been made on the cleanup by 14 days, Goodwin said an extension might be given beyond that. Looking at the pictures, he said he believes the cleanup may take longer than two weeks.

Goodwin said the property owner has cooperated so far, and he expects this person to do the right thing.

By Monday, if the department feels the owner is stalling, a citation will be given to the person, who will then have up to 15 days to comply.

If the person does not respond, the county would have to seek bids from contractors to do the clean up, then the Southampton County Board of Supervisors would have to meet to approve the contract.

Should the board call an emergency meeting, work could potentially start by mid-May. If action is delayed until the next regularly scheduled meeting on May 25, work might be delayed until as late as June.

“We do not think it will come to that,” Goodwin said. “There was not any malice in what was done. Farmers have been packing their land with debris like concrete and bricks for a long time. It just so happened that when it flooded, there was Styrofoam mixed in and it rose up.

“He has said that he will do whatever it takes, and that he feels bad about it.”

This has been the department’s main goal since Friday when the office was alerted to the Styrofoam being on the river. Goodwin said he just wishes officials had known sooner.

“If it has been out there for two to three weeks and someone had alerted the county sooner, we could already be closer to getting this cleaned up,” he said.

More than five statute violations could be brought against the property owner. Goodwin said they would assess that once the cleanup has been started.

“We are not cutting any deals,” he said about the property owner signing an agreement to clean up. “It just prevents us from taking legal action at this time.”

The agreement would also prevent the person from removing the debris that did not float down river, so that it could be properly investigated later. Goodwin said, as part of the latest laws, packing bricks and concrete as erosion control in a flood plain is a violation.

The debris, including the Styrofoam, is believed to have come from H.P. Beale and Sons meat packing plant on Ivor Road. The plant, owned by Gene Beale Jr., was taken down in early 2014 by Old Dominion Demolition of Portsmouth.

According to a letter to the Office of Community Development, Beale wrote that he hired David Fowler Jr. to do the cleanup. However, Fowler did not file with the county for a permit to do the work.

Fowler co-owns property with John Wayne Fowler Sr. on River Road that connects to the Nottoway River.

The Tidewater Area Department of Environmental Quality is involved in this investigation and is providing support to the county.

Riverkeeper Jeff Turner, who reported the Styrofoam to DEQ last week, said he hopes that the property owner does the right thing.

“That stuff won’t stay there that long,” he said. “This is urgent and needs to be taken care of soon.”