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Well head protection, convenience store plans move ahead

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By John Barnhart

Both a well head protection overlay and a convenience store, both in the Hardy area, received the Bedford County Planning Commission's approval last week.

Virginia Ridge Water Company, a private water company that serves the Virginia Ridge subdivision on Hardy Road, requested the well head protection overlay. This would restrict how parcels of land within 1,000 feet of each of its three well heads could be used. Certain uses, including fuel storage, are prohibited within 500 feet of the well head.

Beyond that, but within the overlay, these uses are regulated. The landowner must demonstrate to state and local agencies that adequate precautions have been taken to ensure that contamination won't leak into ground water. The county's public service authority, and the board of supervisors, along with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), are the agencies that make this decision.

"Our goal is to try to protect this resource," said Stephen Rossi, the company's manager.

Rossi said that the company has invested $500,000 on the water system and spends $5,000 each year testing the water. The company also treats the water to remove dissolved iron and manganese. Rossi said that these minerals are present in the water and, while not a contaminant, must be removed so that the water doesn't stain clothes and household fixtures.

Some residents spoke against the overlay. Walter Feather, who owns land nearby, said that he doesn't like somebody telling him what he can or cannot do with his property. Raymond Harmon, another resident, said that the well head overlay came up after talk began about building a service station nearby.

Other speakers favored the overlay.

"I urge you to realize that water is a natural resource limited on earth," said Susan Perry.

The overlay ended up gaining the planning commission's unanimous approval.

Richard Crockett, who represents District 1, noted that applying it to these well heads meets the goals of the county's comprehensive plan. The comp plan indicates the clear intention of the planning commission, and the board of supervisors to protect well heads.

"I can't see how you can possibly deny this request," he said.

County Attorney Carl Boggess agreed that he understood the comp plan to indicate this intention on the county's part.

Steve Wilkerson, who represents District 3, said that the overlay does not place an unreasonable burden on landowners.

The planning commission's recommendation of Conny Oil's request to build a convenience store, with diesel and gasoline sales, across Hardy Road from Virginia Ridge did not meet unanimous approval. Steve Stevick, who represents District 5, cast the sole dissenting vote on this project.

The proposed convenience store is on land zoned AV (agricultural village) which allows commercial development as a use by right. There are restrictions on this and the convenience store/service station combo required a special use permit. The public hearing on this request began on Oct. 15, but was continued to Dec. 4 in order to coincide with the scheduled well head protection public hearing.

Bill Slade, a Virginia Ridge resident, spoke against the store. He said that he has worked at a gas station and witnessed people overfill their tanks. Rain later washed the spilled gasoline into the ground, he noted. He expressed concern about tanker trucks on Hardy Road. He also wondered why a gas station was needed there, stating that people would be able to drive a short distance where gas is 20 cents a gallon cheaper. Others expressed the concern about gasoline tankers.

Feather, who also spoke at this hearing, and Samuel Williamson questioned this concern.

"You got 18-wheelers running that road all the time," said Feather.

Some opposing the store said that there is no way to guarantee that the store's gas tanks won't leak. Bill Feagan said that even modern tanks leak. Another speaker added that all it will take is one leak, one time, to contaminate ground water.

Others didn't like the idea of a commercial development. They said that they bought their homes there because it is rural.

Barry St. John, representing the developer, noted that he can build commercial projects as a use by right. He said he only needed the special use permit to install the gas tanks. He also brought a representative from DEQ who said that modern tanks are unlikely to contaminate the ground. The tanks are double walled and a monitoring system will alert store employees if the inner tank leaks.

Crockett saw the convenience store to be a land use issue, and most of the other board members agreed with this. He noted that the property is zoned AV and the comprehensive plan encourages mixed uses in these zones.

"I keep wondering why the store is needed," commented Board Chairman Frederic Fralick, noting that there are other gas stations within three miles.

"I probably wouldn't put one there," replied Crockett, again stating that the convenience store is a land use issue.

A condition was placed on the special use permit requiring the developer to install a containment system to keep gasoline and diesel spills from washing into the ground.

The board of supervisors will have the final say on both the special use permit and the well head overlay.