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Battle of Courtland Woods

Loudoun County Sanitation Authority requires reduction in size of Courtland Woods.

Opponents of the proposed Courtland Woods subdivision have won a skirmish in their battle to stop the development, but it appears to be short-lived.

Historic and environmental organizations have been trying to thwart construction of the Courtland Woods housing subdivision on meadows and woodland directly in view of the Oatlands Plantation, built in 1804, and near the protected Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve.

The Loudoun County Sanitation Authority has required a reduction in the number of houses that can be built, based on the developer's sewage disposal plan for the project. The developer, Courtland Farms Loudoun LL, plans to be the first in the county to use an irrigation spray system to dispose of the effluent. It has permission to build 184 units instead of the planned 277, said Todd Danielson, manager of LSCA community systems. The developer's engineers are taking another look at their plan and could come up with a counterproposal that would allow more than 184, he added.

AMONG COURTLAND FARMS Loudoun LL's alternatives are finding additional land to spray effluent or treated wastewater on, discharge it into Goose Creek or place it on drain fields, he said.

Danielson said Brad Kline, a managing member of Courtland Farms Loudoun LL, has not identified other options so far.

Kline said Tuesday that the developer has received permission to proceed with the first of two phases of the subdivision. "This is not alarming to us. We have the area and the land and technology to get the full 277," he said. "We are studying the spray fields, and we have alternatives."

Mark Herring, an attorney for the Campaign to Save Courtland Woods, recently wrote the LCSA, citing three concerns about the subdivision's proposal to spray effluent along route 15, a scenic roadway. He wrote that the physical characteristics of the soils and topography in the area along Route 15 were "unsuitable to handle the large amount of effluent generated by 277 new residences."

The Loudoun County Health Department studied the plan in January 2003 and 2004, and Phillip Cobb, a Virginia Tech soil scientist, investigated it in January 2004. The department and Cobb found many of the areas proposed for spraying were unsuitable because of rock, slopes, absorption capacity and other conditions, according to Herring.

Andrea McGinsey, manager of the Campaign, said the soil is not able to absorb the effluent. "This is the wrong development in the wrong place," she said. "We really just want to buy the land and give it to the public." The developer has opted to proceed with construction rather than sell the property.

Herring asked the LCSA to require a corresponding decrease in the number of houses — as many as 90 units — in Courtland Woods. Danielson said LSCA made that decision last year.

ANOTHER CONCERN is that the effluent will threaten the Goose Creek drinking water supply. The developer plans to transport the material through a pipeline under the river to a spray irrigation system along Route 15, Herring said.

Kline said the spray is treated and will not harm the water supply. "He has no business saying that, because it is not true."

Herring said the concern is that if the soil cannot absorb the effluent, there will be no filtering before it goes into Goose Creek. "Soil scientists have repeatedly stated that the physical characteristics of the soils and typography in the spray irrigation area are unsuitable to handle that amount of effluent."

He said that area is too close to the drinking water intake. "Regulations designed to safeguard the drinking water source for tens of thousands of Eastern Loudoun residents do not permit discharges of any amount of effluent within a certain distance of the drinking water intake."

Herring said the campaign's other concern is that many of the other areas that might be suitable for spraying do not meet zoning regulations. Specifically, the areas do not conform with the county's Waste Disposal Plan, which outlines a 200-foot buffer between the Virginia Department of Transportation right-of-way line for Route 15 and the areas where the zoning might permit spraying. Herring recommended that the LCSA reject any proposal to accept a smaller buffer. The Campaign favors reducing the number of new residences by an additional 25 percent to 40 percent beyond the 90 units, he said.

"Not only is the buffer required by the development's zoning approval, but it may be required to protect public health, the environment and tourism," he wrote. "One can only imagine the public's reaction to driving on Route 15 through an aerosol mist of sewer water migrating off-site."

DANIELSON SAID he turned the zoning issue over to Melinda Artman, the county's zoning administrator, last month for clarification on setback requirements.

Kline said Herring, a former member of the county Board of Supervisors, served on the Land Use Committee that recommended approval of Courtland Woods. "It is an ironic twist and probably a conflict that he represents them."

Herring said he was committee chairman, but the project already had received zoning approval in 1995. His vote was for a proposal to minimize the environmental damage. "The choice was between the original design and a proposed design that would minimize some of the environmental damage," he said. "I made it very clear that the development was in the wrong location and should not be developed at all. Because of the prior zoning decision, that was not an option." He served on the board from Jan. 1, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2003.

The effluent spray, which looks like clear water, does not have an offensive odor, Danielson said. "You are not supposed to drink it, per se, but you could swim in it."

"It's cleaner than Goose Creek," Kline added.

THE SEWAGE goes through an advanced wastewater treatment process before being intermittently sprayed on the land, he said. Spraying is prohibited if it is rainy, windy or the ground is frozen. "If it's too rainy, then the ground is too saturated and the effluent would not be absorbed," Danielson said. "The whole premise of a spray field is the effluent would be absorbed by the grass."

The spray could not be absorbed in a frozen field, and the wind would scatter it, he said. A 10-million gallon pond would be created to hold 120 days worth of effluent during the winter.

Kline said using a spray system is environmentally preferred over discharging the effluent into the river. "You get an extra filter layer before it gets into the water table," he said.

A Sept. 17 court date has been set for the lawsuit involving the project. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Audubon Naturalist Society filed suit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to overturn a wetlands permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. The permit grants road and storm water infrastructure to allow construction of the development on meadows and woodland directly overlooking the plantation. The Army Corps of Engineers has maintained the permit was proper and has asked a judge to dismiss the complaint. Elizabeth Merritt, deputy counsel of the trust, said the September hearing will be on the merits of the case.