Home » Locals Voice Concern: Floodplain Site Too Risky for Gas Fracking

Locals Voice Concern: Floodplain Site Too Risky for Gas Fracking

1996 flooding on Bergton Road, within 1 mile of proposed well site. Photo credit: Marge Peevy

1996 flooding on Bergton Road, within 1 mile of proposed well site. Photo credit: Marge Peevy

The proposed Marcellus hydrofracking well was located in the floodplain between two creeks, in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Several Bergton area residents compiled information on past flood events in the immediate vicinity and this information is presented below in a June 18th, 2010 letter from resident Bruce Dove to the Board of Supervisors.

Bruce C. Dove
Bergton, VA

June 18, 2010

Rockingham County Board of Supervisors:
Mr. Pablo Cuevas, Chairman, District 1; Mr. Frederick E. Eberly, District 2; Mr. Dee E. Floyd, District 3; Mr. William B. Kyger, Jr, District 4; Mr. Michael A. Breeden, Vice-Chairman, District 5. Mailed to home addresses as given at http://www.rockinghamcountyva.gov/showpage.aspx?PageID=95.

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors:

On behalf of concerned citizens in Bergton and beyond, I am writing to present a summary of flood history in the area where the Carrizo gas well is proposed. County staff have expressed concern that this proposal to “frack” for gas is in a 100 year flood plain. There is good reason for apprehension. According to U.S. Geological Survey, the “100-year flood” is an estimate of the long-term average recurrence interval, which does not mean that we have 100 years between each flood of greater or equal magnitude. Floods happen irregularly, as indicated by the attached documentation.

Based on probability statistics, during the span of a 30-year home mortgage, a house in the 100-year floodplain has slightly more than a one-in-four chance of being flooded at least once during those 30 years.

As documented in the attached newspaper reports from the Harrisonburg Daily News Record (abbreviated hereafter as DNR) and the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, the Central Shenandoah Valley, and western Rockingham County in particular, have historically been highly susceptible to floods not only from heavy rains during hurricanes, but also from rain on top of snow.

In the “Flooding Hazard History” compiled by the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, western Rockingham County is repeatedly listed as suffering significant damages beginning with the flood of 1870, one of the earliest documented flood events. Major floods occurred in 1896 and 1906, and in 1936, the report states that “In the Shenandoah Watershed, streams and creeks reached record depths in Bridgewater, Brock’s Gap, Rawley Springs, Lynwood, Keezletown and Port Republic.”

In 1949, the report continues: “The flash flood left … parts of Rockingham and Augusta Counties forever changed. The torrents of water came through with such intense velocity, man-made structures were not the only things to suffer the consequences. The natural landscape was re-shaped as well; new channels were carved and soil removed.”

Hurricane Camille in 1969 was so terribly costly in lives and property damage that “In the western part of Virginia this name is synonymous with unequalled destruction.” In 1972, the Central Shenandoah Region was again flooded by Hurricane Agnes, and the North Fork reached the highest level yet recorded. Recent memories of Camille spurred people to evacuate early, so loss of life was mitigated.

When Hurricane Juan hit in 1985, the DNR featured a front page photo of the demolished Riverside Church on the North Fork of the Shenandoah between Bergton and Fulks Run. On Nov. 9, the paper reported that the worst financial losses were to agriculture, including 210 acres of land obliterated and 1,150 acres severely damaged. In a special supplement on November 21, the paper reported:

“The western portions of the county were the worst hit, and Monday afternoon evacuations were called for in Bergton, Briery Branch, Clover Hill, Criders, Fulks Run …In Bergton, the post office was flooded, and in Criders, the water level was over the top of the counter in Stumps [sic] store … Entire secondary roads in the Bergton area were washed away … In the Bergton and Fulks Run areas, firefighters were cut off from the community by flood waters, reported Broadway Fire Chief Mike Hoover.”

Four county residents were killed in the ’85 flood, including one swept into the North Fork at Timberville, and costs in Rockingham County totaled over $22 million in agricultural, road, and property damages. A video made by Ronald Turner of Fulks Run, attached in DVD format (available at the Turner Ham Store in Fulks Run, and JMU’s Carrier Library) graphically shows some of the damage specifically in the Brocks Gap Communities: Criders, Bergton, and Fulks Run. His footage was used on local Channel 3 television news because no reporters could get through the washed-out roads into Bergton and Criders.

On November 6, 1990, the DNR published a short article in remembrance of the 1985 flood effects on the election of 1985: “[Elwood] Hoover won the election by 194 votes, but [‘Woody’] Brown may have been denied his base of support at Bergton by the flood. Of the 300 eligible voters at Bergton, only 49 voted. . . Flooding was so bad that the Bergton polling place was moved to Fulk’s Run Elementary School. The Bergton site was the only polling booth to be moved.”

Yet in 1996, two 100-year floods caused even more damage. In January, heavy rains on top of snow devastated parts of the region, and the North Fork crested less than a foot below its all time high in 1972. But “[Hurricane] Fran and September 1996 is THE FLOOD in the Shenandoah Valley,” reported the DNR in its special flood section on Sept. 16, 1996. According to that section, the North Fork crested at 32.27 feet in Strasburg, the highest ever recorded. Several portions of the roads that Carrizo trucks would travel, Rts. 820 and 865, were completely washed out. The “Broadway/Timberville area … became a flashpoint for Friday’s widespread flash floods and the scene of a number of calamities,” the paper stated. About 15% of the County’s corn crop was estimated to be lost, a $3 million setback, with the “worst of the damage in the western portion of the county.” VDOT stated that road damage caused by streams would total at least $8 million.

Many residents of the Bergton/Fulks Run area vividly remember the 1985 and 1996 floods and can testify to how much they suffered (see the two attached testimonials). “Past Is Key To Flood Prediction,” read a DNR headline in the Oct. 11, 1986 issue, in which William Davies, a former U.S. Geological Survey official, pointed out that major floods will happen again, including back-to-back tropical storms pursuing similar patterns of past storms.

His words have been verified several times since. Rockingham County was affected by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, with damage to roads, downed trees, and agricultural lands. On Sept. 29, 2004, the DNR reported that high water from tropical storms closed “portions [of] Bergton Road (Va. 820)” – again, the road to be used by trucks associated with the proposed gas drilling.

Like death and taxes, flooding in Bergton is inevitable. A gas well drilling/fracking pad with its storage containers of highly toxic chemicals, diesel fuel, lubricants, vehicles and equipment, and open pits of wastewater, would be highly vulnerable to being swept away in the next flood into the headwaters of the North Fork of the Shenandoah and, ultimately, all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. I encourage you to supplement this flooding history with quantitative, scientific data, such as is available from the U.S.G.S. gauge at Cootes Stores. Please consider this documented flooding data in your discussions of the costs and benefits of the Carrizo request for a special use permit.
Sincerely,

Bruce C. Dove

cc: Jeremy Hunt, Jeff Mellott, DNR reporters (jmellott@dnronline.com); Lauren Jefferson, ed., North Fork Journal, DNR (journals@dnronline.com); WHSV TV (newsroom@whsv.com); Jim Heffernan, Northern VA Daily (jheffernan@nvdaily.com); Chris Graham, Augusta Free Press (augustafreepress2@gmail.com); Andrew Jenner, freelancer (akjenner@gmail.com); Susan Thompson, Seven Bends of the Shenandoah Valley (susan@7bends.com); Steven Johnson “Hydrofracking VA” blog (steverinojohnson@mac.com); Kate Wofford, Director, Shenandoah Valley Network (kwofford@svnva.org); Jeff Kelble, Riverkeeper (jeff@shenandoahriverkeeper.org); Kim Sandum, Community Alliance for Preservation, (ksandum1@gmail.com); Butch Lambert, Deputy Director, Division of Gas and Oil, VA Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy (butch.lambert@dmme.virginia.gov); David Asbury, Director, Division of Gas and Oil, VA Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy (david.asbury@dmme.virginia.gov); editors@hburgnews.com

References

Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission. All Hazards Mitigation Plan, Appendix A. Staunton, VA: Sept., 2005. http://www.vdem.state.va.us/library/plans/mitigateplans/censhenval/appendix_A.pdf

U.S. Geological Survey. 100-Year Flood–It’s All About Chance. General Information Product 106. http://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/106/

Attachments

Turner, Ron. 1985 Flood. DVD format, copy of 1985 video tape. Available for purchase at the Turner Ham Store in Fulks Run, and for viewing at JMU’s Carrier Library.

Bergton Flood Reports 1985, from Harrisonburg Daily News Record transcripts and scans (PDF 334KB)

Bergton Flood Reports 1993-current, in the digital archives of the Harrisonburg Daily News Record

Flood of Sept. 1996 Testimonials from Marge Peevy, Bergton resident, and Priscilla Blosser-Rainey, Timberville resident. (PDF 196 KB)

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