Rapidan River Tier III  
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Rapidan River "Exceptional Waterway" Nomination

In October 2000, Trout Unlimited and the EPA signed an application to designate the upper Rapidan River a "Tier III Exceptional Waterway".  The nominated stretch of the river clearly flows immediately adjacent to Rapidan Camps (despite a claim to the contrary by Tier III supporters).  While Tier III is intended to ensure that water quality remains at a very high level, the regulations necessary to maintain that quality have not yet been finalized.  Further changes to the rules would be enacted exclusively by the EPA, and the river could not be withdrawn from Tier III without with EPA approval.   Neither the EPA nor Trout Unlimited contacted those who owned the land they proposed to subject to Tier III regulation.  They also failed to send anyone supporting their proposal to well-publicized public meetings on the subject in Madison and Richmond.  In response to these deficiencies, the individuals and groups who would be subjected to Tier III restrictions--including Rapidan Camps--rose up against the nomination with its unspecified long-term restrictions.  On October 4, 2001 the Virginia Water Board officially denied the application.  The Rapidan River will continue to flow as clean as ever.


The first we heard about the application was in June 2001, when we received these two documents from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ):

  • A letter (24/30 May 2001) notifying us of the Tier III Exceptional Waterway nomination, and
  • The Guidance Document (4 November 1997) for implementation of exceptional surface waters regulation

Shortly thereafter, I spoke with Dave Whitehurst of the DEQ, who said Tier III designation would currently impact only "point-source discharges" into the river--outlets that flow into the river.  Rapidan Camps has no such outlets, and he said our three septic tanks will not be affected by the designation.  However, he said that the DEQ's provisions for maintaining the quality of Tier III waterways have not yet been approved by the EPA, and was likely to change over time.  Further, once the guidelines are approved, the EPA may revise them further.

Others near the Rapidan River were also concerned--there was an article in the Madison Eagle describing vigorous opposition to the Tier III designation.

The EPA seems oblivious to our private property on the bank of the Rapidan, even though we are conspicuously visible from the road and river and our cabins are shown on area maps.  In a letter dated March 22, Thomas C. Voltaggio, Acting Administrator of the EPA's Third Region, wrote of the proposed Tier III area,

"The area is contained entirely in a National Park and State Wildlife Area.  Impact to landowners is none."

This statement is contrary to fact.

On July 10, the Board of Supervisors held a meeting in Madison.    Nobody at the meeting spoke in favor of the Tier III designation; it received only very weak support from Doug Morris, Superintendent of Shenandoah National Park.  He was clearly not comfortable with the absence of the other signers of the initial application--Trout Unlimited and the EPA.  He said they were the instigators of the proposal, and that he had signed the application to show his willingness to have the designation applied to land within the National Park.

I called Jay Henderson, Virginia Council Chairman of Trout Unlimited, who explained that he had not been notified of the July 10 meeting.  In his view, Tier III designation is intended more to honor pristine rivers than to impose environmental restrictions on them.  When I told him how surprised we were to receive official government notice in June about an application they signed eight months earlier, he said he understood that it was customary for Trout Unlimited to contact owners of private land adjoining rivers they nominate.  He said they would perhaps limit the Tier III proposal to federal and state land if a private landowner objected.  When I told him our cabins were quite conspicuous from the road and the river, he said he understood that the Rapidan chapter of Trout Unlimited had walked along the river before submitting the application. 

The other signator of the proposal was Marcia Woolman, President of the Rapidan Chapter of Trout Unlimited. I left two messages with her in July, but she did not return my calls until she returned from Montana in September. In a voicemail message, she stated that she had been aware of the July 10 Tier III meeting in Madison, and unsuccessfully attempted to send representation from Trout Unlimited in favor of the proposal.  The Rapidan chapter of Trout Unlimited is located an hour away in Warrenton.

Rapidan Camps joined the Madison County Board of Supervisors in opposing Tier III designation.  It's theoretically possible that Tier III designation might help the Rapidan River.  But until the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality defines what Tier III designation means, we must oppose such as-yet-unspecified restrictions on our property.  Further, since Trout Unlimited submitted the proposal and allowed months to pass without even mentioning it to us, we are forced to conclude that they either presumed we would oppose it, or they were derelict in following the standards of reasonable political activism--to inform and engage those directly affected by their proposal.

Susan Littell and Rapidan Camps Secretary Dick Littell are practicing lawyers who enjoy fishing the Rapidan.  Susan prepared this response from the Rapidan Board opposing the designation, which was officially filed after I sent e-mail to all members for whom we have e-mail addresses requesting comment.  We joined every other private landowner on the Rapidan River near the proposed Tier III area (and several others nearby) in opposing Tier III.

The State Water Control Board decided the matter on October 4 in Richmond.  Susan Littell and I represented Rapidan Camps at the meeting.  A few others spoke out against Tier III on specific rivers, and one person supported Tier III in general.  Trout Unlimited was again absent.  The board was vigorously opposed to Tier III on the Rapidan River, and rejected Tier III status for all five rivers nominated by Trout Unlimited and the EPA, citing the following reasons:

  • They expected DEQ would be making further amendments to water quality standards, as required by the EPA.
  • The EPA has not finalized the means of ensuring Tier III standards.
  • The state rulemaking process has not yet been approved.
  • The Rapidan nomination was made by outsiders, and was opposed by all local residents who submitted comments, including every single landowner with property adjacent to the nominated stretch of river.

If you have any questions or suggestions about Rapidan Camps' response to Tier III on the Rapidan, please send contact Tom Jones, Rapidan Camps President.

For questions about Rapidan Camps, please contact the President and Registrar via email.