Neighbors concerned about fate of their nearby spring

Published: Apr. 25, 2019 at 7:14 PM EDT
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Recently, a neighbor of the Seawright Springs in Augusta County reached out to us about some concerns they had with what seemed to be a new project at the springs.

Neighbors said Flow Beverage purchased the springs and are planning to pump water from a well there. Those neighbors have several different concerns, including safety, county transparency and the impact to their own water.

They were concerned about some construction and other work. They notified the county about their concerns, and when we spoke to county administrator Tim Fitzgerald, he said they did check on the work.

After checking it out, Fitzgerald said all the work fit within the guidelines, and the size of the building and grading did not require additional permits.

Shaun Mooney lives near the springs. He said he and about 70 other neighbors have come together to share their concerns.

"An organization here in our community to ask questions," Mooney said. "Questions about water, about the permits that are required, about the zoning of the area, what the accepted uses would be."

The county first gave permission for Seawright Springs Water Corporation, who owned the land at the time, to work on the property in a zoning certificate. As part of that zoning certificate, work there was limited to the "marketing, packaging and selling natural spring water in bulk and bottles."

For shipping, it only allows nine tankers and three trailers per day. Any additional work or changes needed additional approval of the county.

Mooney said he and others have concerns about those tankers and trailers. The roads are very narrow, and Mooney said there is only one road in and out of the springs. He added that the traffic would also have to pass Fort Defiance High School, and neighbor Tim Lawrence echoed those concerns.

"I walk this, my road, daily, for exercise. I ride bikes on this road, and the surrounding road," Lawrence said. "My wife works nearby at the high school. She's going to be traveling on these roads."

Fitzgerald said he understands the roads are narrow, but he said the county still thinks the numbers of vehicles are fine.

"In talking with VDOT, I think that's a reasonable number to hold to," Fitzgerald said. "If they wish to expand that, we would then do another review."

The neighbors also have concerns about the transparency of the county. They feel they should have been notified before work began.

"I think we have a concern of the governance and the transparency of the project, and the fact that when we began asking questions, of county officials, that they wouldn't respond to us, when it's clear that they have been involved in some way," Mooney said.

Fitzgerald said the county is limited in what they can share, but they are aware of the concerns and frustrations of the neighbors.

"We have tried to answer the questions of the citizens as good as we can do," Fitzgerald said. "Some of that is exempt from freedom of information, just because of the nature of the project."

Residents said they're still frustrated with the amount of information from the county, which they claim isn't much at all. Robin Hawkes, another neighbor, also expressed concerns about the zoning certificate, specifically with the age of the document.

However, Fitzgerald said an updated one was filed in December 2018, and he said that had the same guidelines.

One final concern of the residents was about the impact to their water. Lawrence said he gets his water from the spring, and he's worried what may happen if the company is drawing thousands of gallons out of the well every day. The county said that's an issue that would need to be discussed with the Department of Environmental Quality.

The residents said they don't feel like their concerns are being addressed, and they want the chance to share their concerns with the county and to be heard.

WHSV reached out to Flow Beverage for a comment, but has not gotten a response.

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