Letter from the President and VP
ESSEX COUNTY IS A RARE AND SPECIAL PLACE
Over the last ten years, the ECCA has worked to advocate the protection and preservation of Essex County’s rural and scenic lands and its historic properties. We have done this through a variety of education initiatives that remind land owners and our County’s leaders that, in this day and age, Essex is indeed a very rare and special place. Residents of Essex are privileged to live in an area with unspoiled natural resources and steeped in well documented history that dates back to the earliest period of our nation’s founding. It is useful to remember that Captain John Smith explored the Rappahannock in 1608 and when he landed at the site of Tappahannock, our County seat, it was an indian town before it was patented as an English settlement in 1645. Our scenic landscapes, clean water and abundant wildlife have long been the essential characteristics of our County. They are literally the reason the first settlers located here and for over 400 years they have defined our region and the values of the people who have lived on the shores of the Rappahannock.
The ECCA’s message to the residents of Essex County is clear. We are not trying to turn back the pages of history or ignore the present day needs of our County. But as Essex’s leaders struggle to meet the County’s economic goals, we believe it is essential that the decisions they make reflect a uncompromising commitment to protect and preserve Essex’s critical natural resources, its rural and scenic lands, and its historic properties. These are the assets that distinguish Essex, they are our most attractive features, and if nurtured and protected, they will help fuel our County’s economic needs by promoting tourism and encouraging compatible businesses and retirees to relocate here.
The ECCA takes pride in the fact that today over 23,000 acres of rural land in Essex County are protected by conservation easements. Much of the land we have helped to protect borders the Rappahannock or surrounds its tidal marshes. Still other acreage borders the creeks and beaver ponds that flow into the Rappahannock and contain wetlands which provide food sources for wildlife. By any measure, the Rappahannock is one of the most pristine and scenic rivers in the Chesapeake Bay region. It is to be treasured and as stewards of land which borders its shores, Essex County residents should strive to preserve and protect it.
We are also pleased to report that, with assistance from the ECCA, the Millers Tavern District of Essex has achieved state certification as a Rural Historic District. We are currently working to obtain the same certification for the Occupacia District. Rural Historic District certification is important because it creates the potential for tax credits when historic structures are rehabilitated.
While our conservation efforts continue in our quest to preserve the Rappahannock and adjacent lands, it is clear that major challenges lie ahead. The threat that critical natural resources areas will be sacrificed for development is a constant challenge, as we learned from the Fones Cliffs rezoning experience in Richmond County. But another threat, which could impact the entire Rappahannock River Valley, is presented by oil and gas companies who advocate extraction of natural gas in the Taylorsville Basin through the process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking”.
The ECCA has worked hard to inform Essex residents about the destructive nature of fracking and the irreparable damage it could inflict on our rural tidewater environment. We have published and distributed articles which describe the fracking drilling process, including its use of highly toxic chemicals in the fracking fluids that are pumped deep into the ground in order to fracture the underground rock formations where natural gas exists. We have described the flow back to the surface of the toxic waste water and the waste ponds that typically exist at each drill site, and we have emphasized that with fracking there is a constant risk of spills or leaks which could contaminate ground water and seep into the creeks that feed the Rappahannock. In 2014, The ECCA also hosted representatives from three townships in Pennsylvania who came to Essex and spoke at our annual meeting about the damage to their townships that fracking had caused. And, we have repeatedly urged Essex landowners not to sign gas leases.
Our position on fracking, and our message to the residents of Essex, is unequivocal. We believe fracking poses an unacceptable risk to tidewater Virginia and particularly to Essex and the other counties which border the Rappahannock. It is important to emphasize that much of the land in our tidewater region is less than 20 feet above sea level and is environmentally sensitive. The primary sources of revenue for our tidewater communities are farming, forestry, fishing, recreational activities, and tourism. Fracking, with its heavy truck traffic and constant threat of water contamination, would materially change the rural and scenic character of our tidewater region. It is likely to drive down property values, hurt tourism, and materially diminish the traditional revenue sources our residents depend upon. It should be prohibited by the local governments of our tidewater communities.
Our concerns about fracking in tidewater Virginia are consistent with the warnings expressed by other conservation organizations, including Friends of the Rappahannock, the Rappahannock Wildlife Refuge Friends Group, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and American Rivers, a national river conservation organization. American Rivers recently designated the Rappahannock as number 5 in its 2017 report on America’s “Most Endangered Rivers” due to the threat posed by fracking.
Proposals to develop key natural resource areas and to allow fracking in our tidewater region are on-going threats which require our constant vigilance. But they are not the only serious challenges that confront us. In the State legislature, there have been proposals to cut the level of tax credits available to landowners who place conservation easements on their lands. And at the local level, land use taxation policies which are intended to encourage the preservation of rural lands and open spaces have come under attack by some citizens who contend that “use valuation” gives owners of farms and forests an unfair tax break.
We have never experienced a time since the ECCA was formed where our advocacy for conservation was more important. We hope this message helps you better understand the work of the ECCA. Please support our efforts to keep Essex County a rare and special place.
Peter Bance, President Hill Wellford, Vice President