The Nelson County Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a public hearing on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s request to obtain variances for 11 floodplain crossings in Nelson County totaling 4.5 miles of floodplain, 3.5 for pipeline and one mile for access roads. The public hearings will be February 12, 2018, 7 p.m., at the Nelson County High School.
Variances are required because, under Nelson’s floodplain ordinance, pipelines qualify as “critical facilities” whose construction is not normally allowed in floodplains. “Critical facilities” are prohibited because even a slight chance of flooding poses too great a threat to public health, safety, and welfare. Critical facilities include “structures that store or transport highly volatile, flammable, explosive, toxic, and/or water-reactive materials,” as well as nursing homes, police stations, and public utilities. The ordinance also lists hazardous materials, including natural gas, which may not be stored in Special Flood Hazard Areas for longer than 30 days because they “would pose an unacceptable risk…during flooding”.
The floodplain ordinance is available online. It is Article 10 of the Nelson County Zoning Ordinance.
During their January 16 meeting, the BZA adopted procedures for the public hearing: speakers must sign up to speak during the hearings and will be limited to three minutes unless they are representing a group, in which case they have five minutes to speak. The BZA will take up and make decisions on the 11 floodplain crossing applications individually, because they want to provide a “clean record” for each application. Application hearings will be held in the same order as they appear in the application, from the westernmost crossing, S. Rockfish River up near Wintergreen, and ending with the Wingina crossing near the James River.
People who want to speak MUST SIGN UP BEFORE THE MEETING STARTS. If you cannot get there before the hearing starts, you may have someone else sign you up to speak. You (or the person signing up for you) must provide your name and address to ensure that the County has an accurate record of exactly who spoke.
People must sign up separately for each crossing they wish to comment on and will have 3 minutes to speak at each. (5 minutes if they represent a group). You may only sign up once for any one specific variance hearing.
If you have “general” comments that would apply to more than one crossing, you may specify during your comments that you want them to be applied to all eleven crossings (or to three of them or whatever). This will help avoid unnecessary repetition of the same testimony from a single speaker. You may request that your comments be entered into the other hearing records regardless of which hearing you choose to speak at. Or you may speak specifically about a particular variance, e.g. Muddy Creek or South Fork Rockfish River 1.
Nine of the eleven variances requested are in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA). Such zones are determined based on events (determined by the American Society of Civil Engineers) that may occur in them, and Nelson County has 6 of the 8 determining factors: mudslides, flash floods, high velocity flow, erosion, alluvial fans, and winter ice jams. Nelson County’s flood plain ordinance includes what are called Higher Standards prohibiting Critical Facilities & Hazardous Materials in floodplains (e.g. pipelines carrying natural gas at high pressure).
People may submit written comments and any supporting documents for the public record online by e-mailing them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also submit larger files directly to a dropbox they have set up at
If the submissions are made by Tuesday or Wednesday (February 6 or 7) before the public hearing, they will be included in the BZA packet that is distributed and posted online before the meeting. However, since it is highly unlikely that the BZA will make its decision that night, written comments may be submitted after the meeting as well and still “count”. Submissions that are not included in the BZA packet will be made available to the general public, but it may take several days for the County to post them to the website for public access. We recommend that anyone speaking at the meeting also provide the BZA with a written copy of their comments.
The county will be making audio and video recordings of the meeting, but they will not be uploaded to a website. They will be made available to people on request, however. Attendees are also welcome to tape/videotape the hearing themselves, as long as the equipment is not disruptive (e.g. blocks access to the podium, etc.)
If the meeting goes on for too long (it has not been defined what “too long” means), the BZA will continue it at a later date to be announced.
Some suggestions for what to include in your comments (at the hearing or submitted in writing):
- Why the existing ordinance is wise to prohibit the placement of infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines in the floodplain
- Why the BZA is obligated to uphold the intent of the ordinance
- How granting a Variance in this case runs counter to the description in the official Standard for BZA Review of Variances
- What specific dangers exist at specific crossings
Learn more! Come to Rockfish Valley Community Center on February 5, 2018, between 6:00 and 8:30. Get educated about the importance of floodplains in our county and why we need to protect them from Dominion’s ACP. We’ll answer questions and provide “talking points” for the upcoming BZA meeting.
Most importantly, we urge everyone to attend the hearing, even if you do not plan to speak. Ask the BZA to PROTECT our floodplains and DENY DOMINION’S REQUEST to cross floodplains so that our safety as well as our water quality and water supplies are preserved!