Events of the past few months has caused me to reflect on the importance of the Roanoke River Basin Association (RRBA) to the citizens, and communities presently and in the future. The RRBA represents the people, and advocates for conservation and appropriate development and use of one of the greatest natural resources in the USA.
The key events I thought of are the threat of uranium mining in Southside VA, the Dan River Coal Ash spill of 39,000 tons of contaminated coal ash and the 24-year endeavor to finally achieve a protocol for flood control and operating procedure of water releases out of Kerr Reservoir that do the job without causing environmental destruction. That new process called Quasi-Run of the River just proved its worth in handling the floodwaters created by Hurricane Matthew. The Roanoke fared far better than other basins in NC which do not have the same level of flood control protocol. There are other activities that bear watching in the future as well. Poultry farming and Pipelines are just two, that if not done properly could endanger clean water and other natural resources of the Basin.
This, of course, is nothing new for the RRBA as the advocacy mission has existed for over 7 decades starting with the building of the Dams after WW II. Previously the Roanoke River was known as “the river of death” due to major flood events causing destruction and fatalities downriver to the coast.
During all of these years it is worthy to note that the RRBA has gained many allies and affiliates that are required in order to carry out its mission. They include government agencies, other non-profit groups and municipalities all with a common interest whether by regulation or voluntary community service. While the RRBA may not be revered by all groups at times, it is clear it is respected by all as a group representing all the citizens of the Basin from the mountains of Virginia to the coast of North Carolina. As a 501 C (3) charitable organization our membership consists of many County, Cities, Towns, Businesses and Individual Citizens.
Among the groups we work with and allies and affiliates of the RRBA are:
- US Army Corps of Engineers – Wilmington District
- VA Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ)
- NC Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)
- Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission
- US Wildlife Service
- NC wildlife Service
- VA Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries
- The Albemarle Commission
- The Upper Coastal Council of Governments
- The Kerr-Tar Council of Governments
- The Piedmont/Tremont Council of Governments
- Virginia Beach Public Utilities
- Vance County Dept. Of Tourism
- Roanoke Rapids Sanitary District
- Henry County Public Service Authority
- The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC)
- Duke Law and Environmental Clinic
Other 501 (C) Organizations
- The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
- Dan River Basin Association (DRBA)
- Roanoke River Partners
- Lake Gaston Chamber of Commerce
- We the People of Virginia
- Hands Across the Lake
- Kerr Lake Park Watch
- Virginia Coalition – Against Mining Uranium
- NC Coalition – Against Mining Uranium
- Upper Reach Program
I believe you would agree that this is an impressive list and I apologize if I neglected any group. Also, worthy to note at this current time are two important activities on-going:
- As a result of the 2014 Coal Ash spill in the Dan River, the RRBA is engaged in an intervention suit filed on our behalf by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). It intervenes in a suit brought about by NC DENR against Duke Energy in order to get remediation in a number Coal Ash Sites in NC. Among those are Hyco Lake and Lake Mayo in the Roanoke Basin. We are intervening due to the fact that we believe the remedies being sought by DENR are not sufficient to protect our rivers and lakes from further coal ash contamination. We seek removal of all coal ash from the sites on our rivers and lakes to adequately lined storage facilities away from our waters. The intervention action has just concluded the discovery phase and so far, we have made good progress in that regard. Also, as a result of discovery we have disclosed a number of violations of the Federal Clean Water Act by Duke Energy at Hyco Lake near Roxboro. Duke is dumping coal ash pollutants from that site into tributaries flowing into the Dan River and Kerr Lake. This is in violation of Federal permitting and this week in our behalf the SELC has filed an intent to sue in the Federal Court notifying both Duke Energy and NC DENR.
- Relative to Uranium Mining in south Virginia we have partnered with many allies such as the Uranium Ming Working Group, Virginia and NC Coalition, the SELC and others to successfully stop actions by Virginia Uranium Inc. (VUI) to get the current ban on uranium mining lifted by the commonwealth of VA. While VUI continues to file suit against the Commonwealth they have been unsuccessful to date. We remain diligent in this regard.
A few words on the Upper Reach Program as a major activity of the RRBA. Over many years, it seemed like all our efforts and expenditures were aimed at preventing and mitigating bad things for the Basin by whistleblowing, advocacy and legal actions at times. Then a few years ago, Scott Murray, current Director of the Upper Reach Program, contacted us and proposed conducting activities that did good things for the Basin. To me it was a godsend.
Since inception the UR has developed launch ramps, paddle and hiking trails mapping and signage of greenways and blue ways, conducted outdoor excursions and geo-caching, wildlife enhancements and educational programs. Gaining Federal and Commonwealth grants UR has constructed world class Launch Ramps (handicapped and wounded warrior accessible) both at the spillway below the Kerr Lake Dam, downriver at the US 1 Steel Bridge site, as well as a ramp on the Andrew Lester access at Leggett’s Bottom on the Dan River. These projects have received Federal and Municipal awards and there are more coming. The RRBA is proud to have the UR a crucial part of its mission and purpose.
Going forward the RRBA will continue to be an organization of importance regarding Basin issues and the advocate as well as spokesmen for conservation and economic development.