The state has slapped another violation on a developer planning to build a 30-home subdivision in the village of St. Louis, a project that now has triggered federal review.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality last year issued the developer, Mojax, an initial violation for impacting about a half-acre of wetlands, as well-drilling work commenced on the site of the proposed Middleburg Preserve, a planned 30-single-family-home subdivision along Snake Hill Road. This year, the state issued Mojax a second violation for re-impacting a fraction of that same wetland. Now, neighbors are concerned Mojax will impact more than three times that amount of wetland, just as the federal government begins to review impacts of the proposed subdivision on the village’s designation as an historic community.
Mojax intends to impact 1.83 acres of wetland, according to its April 17 Virginia Water Protection Permit Program application. While DEQ is giving the development company until May 23 to resubmit that application with completed information, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already is reviewing it.
Army Corps of Engineers Northern Virginia Field Office Project Manager Ron Stouffer said on Monday the department would issue a public notice by Tuesday and that, because Mojax’s Middleburg Preserve project proposes to impact wetlands, the Corps will be matching Mojax’s application up with Section 106 of theNational Historic Preservation Act to determine whether the project would adversely impact the village of St. Louis’ designation as an historically black community. Stouffer said the Corps looks at any application that proposes to impact any amount of wetland and that Mojax’s application is standard.
A Mojax representative who requested to remain anonymous said the development company knew from the start that the Army Corps would review the application in coordination with the federal act. And, according to Mojax’s application, the developer intends to mitigate the impacted wetland by purchasing wetland credits at a compensation rate of anywhere from 0.5-to-1 to 2-to-1 for every acre impacted.
Friends of St. Louis Treasurer Sally Fletcher said the civic organization is hoping Mojax’s application is found to be in violation of the act. She said that while the group’s members understand those federal violations most likely won’t stop development, they should slow it down. “That is a nightmare for a developer,” she said.
That same organization, along with the Unison Preservation Society,urged the state last month to imposeharsher penalties on Mojax when DEQ issued the developer an initial violation notice for impacting 0.57 acres of wetland.
Last year, DEQ ordered Mojax to pay a $27,500 fine, purchase wetland credits and perform other remedial actions in response to that impact, which Mojax completed. But the two organizations felt the state should impose greater penalties to deter Mojax from impacting more wetlands and to impact its cost of doing business.
Last month, the state issued Mojax a second violation for re-impacting 0.01 acres of wetlands. DEQ Environmental ManagerMark Miller said Mojax re-impacted that wetland by driving equipment through it.
According to Loudoun County Public Information Officer Glen Barbour, there are no outstanding violations of county regulations in connection with the Mojax project.
Area residents have mounting strong opposition to the subdivision, first raising concerns that drilling 27 wells for the new homes would threaten their water supplies, and that construction could disturb dozens of unmarked slave graves.
Friends of St. Louis President Job Woodill said that one of his wells is dry, while another 600-foot-deep well produces only 2 gallons of water a minute.
The Mojax rep said he didn’t understand how some residents aren’t getting the water they need. He pointed to the 16 wells Mojax has already drilled—wells that, for the most part,are less than 300 feet deep and are producing anywhere from 8 to 50 gallons of water every minute.
When asked if the amount of neighbor involvement and complaints about Mojax in St. Louis are more than what DEQ typically sees, Trisha Beasley, DEQ’s Virginia Water Protection Program permit manager, said the state deals with several projects each year that feature a good deal of resident involvement.
“It’s not uncommon for citizens to have a very active role in what we do,” she said.
Miller said he couldn’t quantify whether the amount of neighbor involvement in the village is atypical, but that there might be more complaints in St. Louis simply because neighbors are paying close attention to Mojax’s activity.
Miller said DEQ plans to renegotiate the consent order with Mojax.
As for the status of the Middleburg Preserve project, a Mojax representative said the company is waiting to hear from the state and that crews aren’t drilling wells right now, since there has been so much rain recently and continuing to drill wells would “make things worse” in the village.
According to National Weather Service records, the area around the Dulles Airport experienced 5.56 inches of rainfall last month, making April 2020 the sixth wettest April since 1960.