After Wegmans became interested in the parcel in mid-2019, it appears that wetlands were still a very serious concern. An email dated August 14, 2019 between Katherine Goodwin of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) and Linwood Thomas of Hanover Economic Development, highlighted Timmons' concern about the possibility that once DEQ walked the site, “that the updated delineation done in March of 2018 may not be consistent. ” At that point, Goodwin added that Jeff Steers, a top official at DEQ, was willing to meet with Wegmans, Timmons, the county and VEDP to help.
In Mid-July, Tim Davey (Timmons) created a strategy after meeting with McGuireWoods and Hirschler Law, as follows: First, they would have RK&K reflag the area previously delineated in 2013 plus additional wetlands from a 2018 delineation as quickly as possible. Timmons would then set up a Pre-App meeting with COE only (not DEQ) to get their confirmation of the past delineation. Finally, Timmons would meet with DEQ claiming that COE had confirmed the delineation. The Seller (Air Park) would participate in the meeting to help gain DEQ acceptance of the delineation.
Wegmans, VEDP and Hanover Economic Development were all aware of this plan. Emails obtained through FOIA strongly suggest that Mr. Lane's connections with agency leadership would help correct the wetlands problem.
As part of Timmons' strategy and as a result of the October 2019 delineation conducted during a drought, Wegmans adopted a novel theory that two very large wetlands were “mosaics” and therefore only partially wet. Considering that this delineation occurred during a drought and that this mosaic approach has rarely if ever been used in Virginia, I implore the Corps to exercise caution in allowing this to become a precedent in our community.
There are additional reasons to be concerned with the October delineation. For example, Ms. Holley (from the Army Corps of Engineers) had to correct RK&K’s reports that showed a vernal pool as only 10% wet when it was in fact 100% wet. Ms. Holley further indicated that she preferred to wait and speak with Bryan (DEQ) and the Norfolk office about the idea of applying a percentage for permitting purposes before finalizing anything. By all accounts, Ms. Holley is an experienced and well-respected professional, which leads me to believe that the suggested approach was highly unusual.
I have extensively researched the use of wetland mosaics. Their use is exceedingly rare not just in Virginia, but in the United States. Where used, the standard practice is to limit mosaics to no more than one half to one acre and to include more land as wetland rather than to minimize the total wetlands by a percentage. Wegmans appears to be using this strategy to downplay the number of wetlands they are actually impacting.
Wegmans also proposes to adopt a percentage reduction to secondarily impacted wetlands by applying a percentage to the impact proportional to the amount of dewatering impacted wetlands. Bryan Jones (DEQ) stated in an email to Jamie Robb (DEQ) that Wegmans' proposal was something they had never seen before. He further expressed concern with it setting a precedent across the state and region, and that this situation was unusual because potential secondarily impacted wetlands were not even included in the original confirmations.
The appearance that either the government connections through high-priced attorneys or the importance of the project to the County's EDA would be outcome determinative as to wetlands is disturbing. No political or financial motives should be allowed to influence the science and goal of protecting environmental resources.
It seems that everything about this wetland process has been extraordinary, and that should give each of us great pause. The surrounding community deserves the opportunity to ask questions and to understand the implications associated with this approach.
How to Help
If the summary of what happened is of concern to you, there are thing you can do to help (and it is really important that our readers do help)! We set up a webpage that will help you write letters to request a review of these practices used to skirt environmental protection policies. It has all the information you need. the letter don't need to be perfect, but they do need to be sent. Please take a few minutes to write a letter!