Supervisors approve coal ash zoning requests; deny Ballinger Bluff permit

By Heather Michon

The Board of Supervisors approved two rezoning requests by Dominion Energy following a lengthy public hearing at their regular meeting on Wednesday (June 16).

The request to reclassify approximately 225 acres from A-1 (Agricultural) to I-1 (Industrial) is the next step in a 10-year project to move 6.2 million cubic yards of coal ash from an unlined pond to a fully lined and capped landfill.

Dominion has been ordered by the state to secure or recycle coal ash — the toxic byproduct of decades of coal-fired power generation at Bremo Power Station and other plants around the state —  within the next 15 years.

Prior to the legislation signed in 2019, Dominion had consolidated the coal ash at Bremo from two ponds that sat within the James River floodplain to the current North Ash Pond.

Now, Dominion plans to move the ash from that pond to the newly re-zoned property, where it will be completely encased in approximately three feet of liners and drainage layers designed to prevent the ash from seeping into the water table or escaping into the air. Under the plan, the coal ash will be moved entirely within Dominion’s property and not have to be transported on local roads.

The public hearing, which lasted for approximately 90 minutes, included a review of the project and some changes to the original conditions set by the county.

A major concern of residents is that the term “sanitary landfill” could be used by Dominion to dump outside trash at the site. James Ashby Shipp of Bremo Bluff Road said the imprecise wording could allow even Dominion to contract to have garbage brought in from states like New York or New Jersey.

Dominion spokesperson Sarah Marshall said the site would only be used for coal ash from the site, construction debris from the project, and the liner on the current ash pond. Revised language in the conditions set by the county has been strengthened to prohibit outside trash.

Nadine Armstrong of Bremo Road said she has lived near the plant for most of her life and has been very aware of the coal ash issue in the West Bottom neighborhood. Voicing her concerns about the safety of moving the landfill even closer to West Bottom homes,  she said “you can say what you want to say in reference to the coal ash not leaking, you’ve been saying things like that for years.”

Talking about the $47 million offered to the county from Dominion to upgrade area water systems and recreational facilities, she said she was “talking about people. I’m not talking about recreation. I’m not talking about water towers. I’m not talking about communities. I’m talking about people. What are you doing for the people, themselves. Can you answer that question?”

Supervisor Mozell Booker, who represents the district, asked the Dominion representatives to continue outreach through local churches, to have points of contact where people could ask questions about Dominion’s legally-mandated monitoring of area wells.

She and Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) also noted there is a cemetery near the proposed construction site, and asked if Dominion could set up a system where any noise could be stopped during graveside services.

One area where Dominion was slightly less willing to compromise were days of operation. The county prefers to limit construction to Monday-Saturday, but the company would like Sunday operations as well.

They also want to be able to operate on a 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. schedule. Several supervisors thought a 7 a.m. start time would be better for residents, but Marshall pointed out that the hours fall within current county noise ordinances.

As a compromise, they suggested that no heavy equipment be used in that first hour or so; however, county Planning Commission official Douglas Miles said, for the sake of consistency, his department would prefer not to put those sorts of limits on specific operations.

Both zoning changes passed by a vote of 5-0.


A local developer’s fight to build a new 20-home subdivision just east of the Village of Palmyra hit another snag late in the meeting as supervisors voted 3-2 to deny a special use permit for a central sewer system for the proposed Ballinger Bluff development.

Supervisors first heard the request for the special use permit at their May 19 meeting. Developer Tim Miller proposed a sewer system where clusters of four homes would share a septic tank and drainfield, rather than the usual system where each home has its own tank and drainfield. While the shared system isn’t a new concept, it hasn’t been used in this type of rural cluster development in Virginia to date.

Residents with properties around the proposed development have been critical of the project from the start, arguing that it might deplete the scant water supply in that part of the county. At the May 19 meeting, they issued several concerns about the potential impact to their properties if such a novel septic system were to fail.

Supervisors voted 5-0 to defer a decision until this week’s meeting to get more information from the Virginia Department of Health on the safety of the system.

Jack McClelland, Director of Environmental Health for the Blue Ridge Health Department said that the proposed system is on the Virginia Department of Health’s approved list and has been certified for use by the National Safety Foundation (NSF).

After questioning McClelland, it became apparent that some supervisors had doubts about how this system would work in real-world conditions.

Weaver and .Eager voted to approve the special use permit, with O’Brien and Booker voting against. After pausing for a moment, Sheridan voted no, and the motion failed.


County Administrator Eric Dahl presented a survey of pay rates for Boards of Supervisors all over the state and came back with a staff recommendation for a 6 percent increase for each member.

Under the proposal, the chair’s annual salary would increase from $10,200 to $10,812; vice-chair would increase from $9,600 to $10,176, and other members would increase from $9,000 to $9,540.

After over a decade with no change in pay, supervisors last voted on a pay increase in May 2019, approving an additional $100 per month for each member by a vote of 3-2.

This vote broke along the same lines, with Supervisors Sheridan, Booker, and Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) voting for the raise and Supervisors Don Weaver (Cunningham) and Patricia Eager (Palmyra) voting against.

The new rate will go into effect January 1, 2022.

In other matters, supervisors:


  • Approved a VDOT plan to abandon and replace a short segment of Academy Road (Rt. 652);
  • Approved an $18,000 funding addition for replacement of Kent Store Volunteer Fire Department’s Engine 30;
  • Approved a contract with Robinson, Farmer Cox Associates for financial auditing services.
  • Approved an amended version of the county’s mutual aid compact with Louisa County to include assistance with sheltering should Louisa suffer a nuclear accident
  • Renewed the contract for County Attorney Fred Payne at the current rate of $10,000 a month, plus small hourly increases for county attorney staff members of less than 10% per employee.

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