In the past year, a developer seeking to build a 30-home subdivision in the village of St. Louis has come under fire from the state and neighbors for the wetlands its crews impacted—wetlands company leaders claim were created by one of their strongest opponents.
The Mojax development company, headed by Jack Andrews, in the past year had been drilling wells on a property in the village to prepare for construction of the Middleburg Preserve subdivision. Although that project has now stalled and the land is pending sale to the county government for $1.5 million, the state is still requiring Mojax to remedy the wetlands its crews impacted.
But according to Mojax leaders, those wetlands weren’t there when they bought the property, nor when they began work on it. Moreover, they claim they were wholly unaware that the wetlands existed even after they were created.
They claim the wetlands were created in recent years by Job Woodill, who lives across the street from the Mojax property, serves as the president of the Friends of St. Louis civic association and is one of the most outspoken neighbors in opposition to the subdivision project.
Woodill said Mojax’s allegations are “totally ludicrous” and “retaliatory.”
According to a May 20 letter to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Mojax’s attorney James Campbell, Woodill in recent years cleared and excavated land on his property and imported soil that was “more suitable for construction.”
“J2 Engineers have determined that illegal filling on the Woodill property likely resulted in the creation of wetlands on the Mojax property that were not previously there,” Campbell wrote. “Wetlands appeared on the Mojax properties only after Mr. Woodill cleared, removed material and filled the wetlands on his property.”
According to a September 2013 determination letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a site inspection on one of the Mojax properties verified that “no waters and/or wetlands regulated under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act … exist [on the property].”
Although the Army Corps determination letter expired in September 2018, Hobie Mitchel, who has been helping Mojax with aspects of the project, said county maps showed no wetlands on the Mojax property at that time. That’s why, Mitchel said, crews continued to drill wells, which led to two DEQ violations for adversely affecting 0.63 acres of wetlands.
In its May 2020 letter, Mojax demanded DEQ and the Army Corps “enforce all applicable Wetlands and Environmental Regulations” and “investigate Mr. Woodill’s actions.”
Campbell alleged that although DEQ has investigated Mojax multiple times following complaints lodged by Woodill, it has done nothing with the multiple complaints Mojax has submitted regarding Woodill’s actions.
In addition to Campbell’s May letter, Mojax Manager Michael Oxman also sent a letter to DEQ on July 23 requesting the state investigate Woodill.
DEQ Regional Virginia Water Protection Program Permit Writer and Compliance Inspector Christoph Quasney said DEQ staff conducted a site inspection of Woodill’s property on Aug. 28, which, he said, turned up no unauthorized impacts to surface waters.
“DEQ staff did not observe any other surface waters on-site that would indicate onsite structures and construction-related activities occurred in surface waters, and thus such activities are not under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Water Protection Program,” Quasney wrote to Oxman on Sept. 1.
Loudoun County Public Information Officer Glen Barbour said it’s unclear whether the wetlands were inadvertently created.
Mojax leaders also claim Woodill did not obtain permits for the work he performed on his land, but instead obtained them only after the work was done.
“[H]e did not obtain a grading permit to do the work on any of his properties,” Campbell wrote in his letter.
Barbour said that while the county staff confirmed Woodill constructed two agricultural buildings on his property in recent years, they were unable to determine whether Woodill obtained permits to grade the land and build those structures.
Barbour said the county has since issued Woodill one required permit and that the county’s role in the situation is to simply monitor the state’s pending consent order for corrective action to the wetlands.
Woodill said he obtained permits for the work and noted that the DEQ staff inspected his property and formally closed the matter in August.
“It’s a ridiculous assertion on so many levels I can’t even respond to it,” he said. “I have permits for everything we do here. … I don’t want anybody to question what I’m doing here.”
But Mojax is still pushing for DEQ to investigate Woodill. Matthew Clark, of the same law firm as Campbell, sent the department a new letter on Nov. 4 requesting the state provide an update on the status of its investigations into Woodill.
Quasney responded to that letter via email on Nov. 6, writing that “As based on the observations from the August 28, 2020, inspection report, no unauthorized impacts to state surface waters were observed.”
Mitchel said he’s unsure what Mojax’s options are now.
Regardless of what comes from the matter, Mojax is still obligated to remedy the wetlands its crews impacted. Under the proposed consent order with DEQ, the development company is required to pay a $32,275 civil penalty, restore wetlands and purchase 0.6 acres of wetlands credits. Residents have until Nov. 30 to comment on that proposed order.
Beyond Mojax remedying the wetlands, the county government is expected to soon ink a deal to purchase 16.4 acres of the 21.3 acres Mojax owns in the village. Once that happens, the county intends to place the land in conservation easement and create a park for passive recreation.