Come hell or high water: Caroline moves forward with plan to withdraw from the Rappahannock

by | Jun 19, 2024 | ALLFFP, Caroline, Environmental

The Caroline County Board of Supervisors voted 6-0 Tuesday night to adopt a resolution condemning 11 acres of land and exercising eminent domain to acquire property off Tidewater Trail belonging to a fifth-generation farmer. 

The acquisition of the property moves Caroline closer to constructing a water intake facility and gaining access to the Rappahannock River, necessary steps toward an eventual goal of pumping nearly 14 million gallons of water a day to serve residents and businesses in the growing Ladysmith and Carmel Church areas of the county. 

Caroline Supervisor Clay Forehand (Madison District) said he does not typically agree with using eminent domain, but the county had no choice after Cory Garrett rejected an offer of $78,400 for the land and right-of-way access. 

“Our hands are getting more tied by the day, and the can has been kicked down the road damn near 20 years,” Forehand said. 

Dozens of county residents spoke out against the county’s plan at Tuesday’s public hearing, saying that taking Garrett’s land is “tyrannical,” and the plan to withdraw from the Rappahannock is harmful to the river. 

Two supervisors from neighboring King William County also spoke out against the plan, as did Essex County residents. Speakers said the amount of money offered to Garrett was insulting. They asked the board to take more time to make a well-informed decision and to consider the impacts on the Mattaponi River, as well.  

No one spoke in favor of the plan, but some residents said after the hearing that their opinions changed once the board explained that the process to withdraw from the river began 20 years ago. Supervisors said the matter was thoroughly investigated, and the only solution for the county’s water woes as presented by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality was to withdraw from either the Rappahannock or Potomac rivers — with the latter posing too many challenges. 

They added that the county needs to turn to surface water instead of groundwater for public use because of new regulations on groundwater due to declining levels in eastern Virginia aquifers. 

The county applied for permits from the DEQ and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, both of which accepted feedback from concerned citizens. The DEQ tentatively approved the plan for the water intake facility. 

Mattaponi District Supervisor Floyd Thomas, the longest-tenured supervisor on Caroline’s board, said that the county decided to withdraw water from the Rappahannock in 2004. In that timeframe, a proposed plan for a reservoir turned out not to be feasible. 

“I personally talked to Hanover County about running water to Caroline, and I also talked to the City of Richmond 10 to 15 years ago trying to get another option,” Thomas said. “[Spotsylvania County] draws water out of the Matta River. They never asked Caroline if they could do anything. Hanover did the same thing with the North Anna and never said a word to Caroline.” 

Spotsylvania officials said the county does not pull from the Matta, and that its water sources are the Rappahannock, Motts Run Reservoir, Ni River Reservoir and Hunting Run Reservoir.

The Caroline supervisors’ comments did little to placate Garrett, who remained upset at the end of the public hearing. 

Supervisors said the Garrett farm was identified several years ago as the ideal location for the in-take facility because the river bends in that area, and experts informed county officials that the water is deep and plentiful at that point.  

They said the 35-mile pipeline to the western part of the county is necessary, with Chair Jeff Black saying that the number of homes in the county could double without the supervisors approving another development because of existing approvals of subdivisions. 

Forehand also stated that Garrett received approximately $643,000 for a conservation easement on the property. Garrett acknowledged the easement when he spoke during public comment. 

In an interview after the hearing, Garrett noted that he purchased the 143 acres of land from his aging aunt in 2020 to keep it in the family. He took exception to Forehand’s claim that he knew the county wanted to purchase the land, and he stepped in to block it. 

“The plan going forward is it looks like we’re going to be in court,” Garrett said. “It’s kind of disingenuous to say there is misinformation and I’m portrayed as trying to get out in front of this and stop it when I knew it was coming. Am I wrong for doing that? Am I wrong for protecting what has been in my family for years?” 

Garrett said his relatives entrusted him with the property because they believed he would move the family’s legacy forward. He and his wife, Rebekah, were both frustrated by the board’s vote and their comments.  

“I’m beyond being offended at this point,” Garrett said. “The darts are going to fly. Figures don’t lie but liars use figures is the statement I always grew up around. People typically use the talking points that prove their agenda.” 

Garrett said he would be willing to work with county officials if he believed the water would be primarily for residential use. He claimed that according to the county’s justifications in its request to the DEQ, most of the water would be for industrial use — including for data centers. 

“If this was about Caroline County residents, the residents of Caroline County’s voices would be considered,” Garrett said. “You can look at the documentation in the draft permit application. The lion’s share of the water is not for residential use … If this is about getting water to commercial and industrial developments that they want to do, that is not for the county.” 

Supervisors, however, said that supporting businesses with water would help residents by lessening their tax burden. 

They also noted that residents in the western part of the county deal with extremely hard (high in mineral concentrations) water and that issues in Bowling Green forced many residents into using only bottled water. Supervisors said that if they do not act now, residents will likely return years later angry that action wasn’t taken sooner. 

“We looked at all the other options,” Bowling Green District Supervisor Jeff Sili said. “Some of the data on some of the other rivers, the Mattaponi, the amount of water that’s there won’t do anything for us. I heard everybody saying, universally, ‘Look at other options. This was the lazy option.’ I don’t know what else to do. We have talked to everybody there is, and we paid a lot of money to get this looked at.” 

Port Royal Supervisor Nancy Long, whose district includes the farm, noted that Garrett will still have plenty of land remaining. She made the motion to adopt the resolution to condemn the property, after stating that she sat with Garrett at his kitchen table, and he made it clear he would fight the process to the end. 

“We can’t make water,” Long said. “We have to cherish it, and we have to pull it out of the river because that’s the only choice for our future … Will it be great for everybody? It will be 20 years from now when you’ve got water.” 

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