State sues Fones Cliffs golf course developer over violations; adjacent land to be preserved

By: - October 11, 2018 6:05 am

Fones Cliffs, the site of a planned golf course development, has seen major erosion since the developer illegally cleared the site. (Image via Chesapeake Conservancy)

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the State Water Control Board have filed a lawsuit against the developer of a luxury golf course in Richmond County for repeat environmental violations after DEQ referred the case to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office.

The Virginia True Corporation cleared 13.5 acres of forested land near Fones Cliffs above the Rappahannock River without a permit, causing erosion and landslides from the cliffs into the river.

“This lawsuit includes some very serious allegations that Virginia True repeatedly disregarded its responsibilities to protect the land and waterways around its project, failed to seek and obtain the permits it knew it needed, and continued to cut corners and ignore its responsibilities even after receiving multiple notices of violation,” Herring said in a news release.

Virginia True was notified of the violations multiple times, but the infractions continued, according to the lawsuit, which says the company engaged in unpermitted land clearing as well as failed to stabilize the land it was disturbing and failed to prevent sediment runoff.

Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn said the group was happy the state is “taking this environmental travesty seriously.”

“We are hopeful that the penalties will include remediation of the site and will be commensurate with the significant losses of habitat and archaeological resources,” Dunn said. “We remain hopeful that we can permanently protect the cliffs for current and future generations.”

In total, the suit alleges 17 counts, ranging from unpermitted land disturbance in violation of the State Water Control Law, failure to install sediment trapping controls and failure to identify qualified personnel, among others.

The lawsuit states that recent inspections show that the violations are ongoing at the site.

“We’re asking the court to put a stop to these violations, and to compensate the commonwealth for the predictable and needless damage that has been caused,” Herring said in the statement.

A four-mile stretch of land above the Rappahannock River, Fones Cliffs are notable for their white coloration, which is due to the presence of diatomaceous earth, and for the large concentration of bald eagles that both live at the site and migrate there throughout the year.

In 1608. it also was the scene of a hostile encounter between Capt. John Smith, an early English explorer, and Rappahannock Indians that Smith noted in his journal.

“While it is our policy not to comment on pending litigation, Virginia True has taken issues raised by the Department of Environmental Quality over the course of the year seriously and will review any action taken by the Office of the Attorney General in a similar manner,” said Edward Mullen, an attorney for the developer. “Virginia True has been engaged with the Department and has worked actively to address issues raised by it. It remains firm in its commitment to resolve them.”

Another potential development on an adjacent 250-acre parcel, was shelved by developer Terrell Bowers after his wife convinced him to conserve the land instead, the Free Lance Star reported.

The property, on which Bowers had planned to build 10 high-rise condominiums, is now under contract with The Conservation Fund, a national group which will hold the land until it can be sold to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Many people will rejoice that a large section of this iconic landmark will be conserved forever instead of built out with 10-story condominium towers or houses,” Bowers said in a news release.

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Katie O'Connor
Katie O'Connor

Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.