Tom Botkins, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to the paper industry from the Technical Association of Pulp and Paper Industry, is ready to go public with his environmental concerns about Cedar Creek.
He will make a presentation to the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors during its Feb. meeting about his concerns that improper practices and techniques are being employed in addition to inferior materials being used to complete the “Jackson River Trail Phase 5 Project.”
“The Alleghany Co./Bath Co. Jackson River Trail Phase 5 Project” designed to covert approximately 1.5 miles of an abandoned railroad bed beside Cedar Creek into a scenic trail is being competed by Hurt & Proffitt, an engineering company with locations in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg and Wytheville. Summit Contracting of Roanoke has been doing the work via permit number VAR10Q914.
Botkins owns land on both sides of Cedar Creek that flows into the Jackson River less than a mile south from Gathright Dam.
Cedar Creek is classified as state Trout Waters, and the completion of “The Alleghany Co./Bath Co. Jackson River Trail Phase 5 Project” will achieve the two counties’ goal of completing an expanded and inter-connected Jackson River Trail network.
Botkins is concerned that the way the conversion of the railroad bed into the scenic trail is not being conducted in a way to respect the integrity of Cedar Creek which will have a negative impact on the habitat of the Jackson River downstream.
For example, railroad ties that contain creosote have been splintered during the removal process during which some have wound up in the creek.
Botkins was born in Bath Co. in 1950, and he began working for Westvaco in 1969, currently WestRock. Both as an environmentalist and as a landowner, he believes that the project as it is being completed is not being conducted properly in terms of using effective material to prevent bank erosion as the original plan specified.
Botkins remarked, “If they are going to do the project, it should be done right.”
He noted that the Alleghany Co. Code concerning the 100- year-flood plan dictates that any development project requires the outcome not to exceed the increase of one foot, and he questions whether an adequate study has determined the projected outcome.
He also is concerned about the projected methods the construction company has changed to complete the project, ones that are inferior in his opinion to what is called for in the original plan.
For example, a cofferdam was part of the original plan, but the construction company now anticipates it will not need to construct one to reinforce the creek bank adequately.
Botkins pointed out that the $1.6 million price tag for the construction project does not provide funding for maintenance, and he questions whether or not adequate parking space has been included in the plan.
Cedar Creek flows from the middle of the former Lower Cascade Golf Course in Bath Co. where it is formed by the convergence of Cascades Creek and Hot Springs Run. On its way to the Jackson River, Cedar Creek’s flooding has cut out part of the railroad bed.
Botkins questions the quality of the materials that are being used to restore those sections that were washed away, and he has taken photographs of materials being used in order to compare them to the materials described in the plan that was submitted to the counties.
The bulk of Botkin’s work in the paper industry in Covington from 1969 till 2012 was in environmental operations where he advanced to the position of being responsible for all environmental on-site operations, permitting, compliance, and public relations.
Botkins said, “I spent a lot of time, especially in the labor years working with regulatory agencies and industrial organizations.”
During his career, he served as the committee chair of the environmental committee for the Virginia Manufacturers Association.
He also chaired the Southern Regional Committee for the National Council of Air and Stream Improvement, and he chaired a committee for the American Forest and Paper Association.
As a landowner of approximately 40 percent of the area on both sides of Cedar Creek where the “Jackson River Trail Phase 5 Project” is being completed, Botkins expects the construction company to use techniques and quality materials that will protect Cedar Creek from pollution, debris, and future flooding.
On Jan. 11, Eric Millard, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s VWP and Stormwater Manager, sent a warning letter to Matt Combs of Summit Contracting, stating in part, “The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has reason to believe that Summit Contracting may be in violation of the State Water Control Law, Regulations, and the General VPDES Permit for Discharges of Stormwater from Construction Activities No. VAR10Q914 (Permit) at the property known as the Jackson River Scenic Trail Phase 5 project, located at 6100 Coles Mountain Road in Bath and Alleghany County, Virginia (Site).”
The letter was written in response to DEQ’s Jan. 4, visit to the site where three violations concerning the project along Cedar Creek were observed and reported to Combs.