County sees delays in permits for big projects

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County officials say major development projects remain on hold awaiting state approval of environmental permits.

These delays might prompt the county to rethink its decision to let the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) handle stormwater management for new construction. County leaders chose to let the state issue stormwater management permits for new construction take on this part of the development process rather than take it on locally.

The Aldi grocery store in the U.S. 340-522 Corridor as well as the IT Federal project planned for the former Avtex Fibers site still require stormwater management permits. The DEQ has had the paperwork for the 35-acre, IT Federal project since November, David Beahm, building official for the county, said last week. The agency has yet to approve the permit for this project submitted by the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. The county approved the erosion and sediment control for the IT Federal project in late December, Beahm said.

The DEQ has yet to approve the permit for the second middle school. The agency has approved permits for the Health and Human Services Complex, the upgrade for Front Royal’s wastewater treatment plant and a lay-down yard for the town’s Department of Energy Services. DEQ also has approved a permit for a fueling station at the Walmart in the corridor.

Stormwater permit approval might not go any faster even if the county handled the process, Beahm said.

“My sense as far as what is happening is that the state is understaffed in the plan-review staff,” Beahm said. “If it comes down to the county, we are going to be extremely understaffed to begin with, or we are going to be beholden to an outside source to do this plan review for us.”

Beahm and Martha Shickle, executive director for the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, updated the Board of Supervisors last week about the stormwater management permitting process.

There’s been outreach to local governments and the development community to look at the implications of having separate regulations for stormwater management and erosion and sediment control that don’t line up.

“Basically it’s made it very difficult to get a straight-forward answer to an applicant for a project about what the requirements are gonna be, who’s responsible for what piece of the review process and how that’s going to work from a fee structure,” Shickle said. “I think that there’s this effort right now to streamline some of the regulations and also to be able to give a third option to localities as far as sort of revisiting this idea of who’s responsible for administering the program.”

What opportunities the state would make available to localities remains uncertain until after the next General Assembly session, Shickle noted. The commission will continue to offer support to localities through the process, she added.

“Every community is facing the same challenges as far as how do you manage growth but at the same time be accessible to making sure that the growth you want to see in the community is happening in the way that you want to see it,” Shickle said.

County Administrator Douglas Stanley reminded the board that the county’s options to deal with stormwater management included hiring more staff to handle applications, partner with the commission or other jurisdictions or contract with an outside firm. County officials determined that the fees it could charge developers for the work would not cover the local cost to administer the program, Stanley said.

But the DEQ only has a limited number of people reviewing stormwater management plans statewide, Stanley noted. Beahm explained that reviewers have 15 days to make sure an applicant includes all necessary documents and then 60 days for the review.

Private and public projects fall into the same pipeline, Stanley said. Leach Run Parkway and the future middle school are among the public projects in the review process.

Beahm pointed out to the board that the IT Federal project has state and federal backing. The EDA announced details about the IT Federal project in June.

“We were assured that this project would not be delayed,” Beahm told the board. “It would be pushed through and it would go no matter what.”

The county could opt out completely and let the state take over both stormwater and erosion and sediment control. While that might help the county save money, it could mean delays for all development, including residential construction, Beahm said.

If the county took over both parts of the process, the commission has proposed the possibility of making available a pool of contracted engineers who would perform the work.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or