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Small perch pose problem
Endangered fish hold up Philpott water expansion
This is a photo of a Roanoke Logperch, a fish that measures about 41?2 inches, that is on the endangered species list. The fish is holding up permits to increase production at Henry County’s Philpott Water Plant.
Friday, March 1, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The permitting process to add water production at Henry County’s Philpott Water Plant is on hold due to concerns about a 41?2-inch-long fish that is on the endangered species list, according to county officials.
“We are backing up right now, trying to determine which of two or three paths we could take” to increase water production at the Philpott Water Plant, added Michael Ward, director of regulatory compliance and technical applications for the county and the Public Service Authority.
County officials are not far enough along in the process to discuss specific alternatives, Ward said.
A small fish — the Roanoke logperch, which is on the endangered species list — is responsible for holding up permits needed to increase water production from the current 4 million gallons per day to 6 million, Ward said.
Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner said there are concerns that the project may further threaten the fish.
However, “I grew up on the Smith River, and I have never seen a logperch,” he said.
According to consultants hired to work on the project, Ward said, “there is no evidence of logperch within our immediate withdrawal area.”
The fish can grow up to 4.5 inches long and has a dark green back with greenish to yellowish sides and a white to yellowish belly, according to www.ecos.fws.gov?species. It is found “further downstream in Bassett and Fieldale,” Ward said.
Initially, it appeared that the James spinymussel — a fresh water mussel that is found in the upper James and Dan River basins, according to the website — also could pose a problem to the water plant expansion, Ward said. But that appears not to be the case, he added.
Increasing the Philpott plant’s output is needed for a number of reasons, including the Virginia Health Department’s 80 percent rule. It states that water plants must plan for an increase when production hits 80 percent of the plant’s capacity, Ward said.
The Philpott Water Plant is designed to produce 4 million gallons per day, he said.
But “on average, we produce about three million (gallons per day), maybe a little less in winter months,” Ward said. In the summer, water production at the plant is “bouncing right around 80 percent. Right now, we’re at 75 percent or so.”
Another reason for increasing the plant’s output is existing and future economic development, he said.
“It’s always good for economic development to be able to show you’ve got ‘X’ amount of water to supply to industries” that may be considering locating in Henry County, Ward said.
The ability to supply water needed by industries that may locate in the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre “is a factor,” and as is the ability to provide water to existing industries that are growing or expanding, he said.
For instance, Monogram Foods in the Patriot Centre industrial park expanded and needed additional water, “and there are a number of others,” Ward said. “We’ve lost a lot (of industries) over the years, but we are growing as well, and we want to make sure we have a good, adequate water supply” for existing and new industries.
To be “proactive and get things moving” in the process for an increase, Ward said about a year ago, the county filed a Joint Permit Application (JPA) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Philpott Lake, and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Those agencies forwarded the application to several others for approval, including the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF), he said.
“Right now, the biggest players are the Fish and Wildlife and DGIF,” Ward said, because of the Roanoke log perch, which is on the endangered species list.
The federal and state agencies are “kind of holding us up right now,” Ward said.
At the last meeting with federal and state officials, Ward said the county was asked to “do an additional study (of the project) that will take three years and cost an additional $600,000. That $600,000 would go a long way towards building” facilities needed for the increased production, he said.
Currently, the county and PSA are looking at other options for the project “to gather some additional facts and then determine which way we want to go,” Ward said.
“We were hoping have some answers this spring” on the permitting process “that would show us a path forward,” Ward said. “But with the curveball they gave us, we have to back up and re-figure our direction.”
The Philpott plant, which opened in 1985, handles all the county water operations and draws water from the Smith River, not Philpott Lake, officials said last year.