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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.

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Silt in Rappahannock River putting Fredericksburg at risk?

The silt that is building up in the Rappahannock River along Fredericksburg’s shores is exposing the city to the possibility of extensive and expensive flood damage, Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority Chairman Joe Wilson said at the EDA’s meeting this morning. Wilson made the remark during a discussion of the EDA’s strategic long-term plans. He suggested that the group consider paying for a study on the silt levels, which he said have been rising due in part to the blowing up of the Embrey Dam in 2004. He said the silt islands that have formed in the river have made it hard for riverboat cruises to navigate the Rappahannock near the city.

In addition to the river, the EDA has identified downtown revitilization as among its primary goals. The group today discussed ways to encourage downtown businesses to stay open later, bring in new restaurants, improve building facades and encourage more arts-focused events. They agreed that one key way to improve downtown business is to have more people living there.


  • TPKeller

    Didn’t they spend at least a decade doing environmental impact studies before blowing up the dam? Why didn’t this problem come out in those studies?

  • LarryG

    There was substantial dredging done upstream of the dam before removal and it was trucked to the top in that field behind the 7-11 on Fall Hill Ave.

    But once the dam was down – it was clear that not all the silt had been removed.

    At that point, I’m not sure who made decisions and what those decisions were based on but I don’t recall any more removal work.

    I’d speculate that only in recent years has dam removal come into vogue and they’re still learning … and then of course the tried and true budget issue. They had a certain amount of dollars appropriated by Senator Warner to do the work and once that money was used – there was no more.

    But it was obvious after the dam was removed that much silt remained – that was going to move downstream when high flows occurred subsequent.

  • bhaas

    I suspect both TPK and Larry are correct here.

    However, since several localities were involved in the removal process decisions, should not each locality be responsible for subsequent silt removal in their locality, if required? Or is the Army Corps of Engineers responsible?

  • Jason

    Guess they nor the EPA have checked just upstream from the I-95 bridge when we get a good rain. A stream that comes from the Stafford side which leads right up to Celebrate North is always brownish red when we get a good rain. They should find out and why and take care of it but they won’t because of who it is. Watch for it the next chance you get, the river will be clear but that stream will be spewing nasty colored water into the river.

  • LarryG

    That would be England Run I suspect and yes.. it’s one of a number of area streams that have been affected by development and impervious surfaces and I would not minimize their impacts but more to the sediment associated with nitrogren and phosphorous than the much more substantial amount that accumulated behind the Embrey dam for about 100 years and then got released when the dam got removed.

    Nothing will get done – NADA – about accumulated sediment downstream without the Army Corp who … would need to be convinced to do a study first and then be convinced to grant approval to dredge and that would be contingent of where the money would come from of course.

    The EPA does not usually get involved at the local level on water pollution issues – DEQ – the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Conservation and Economic Development would be (I think) the primary organizations ……

  • Anonymous

    It was the army COE together with the City that is mostly responsible. Silt was there before the dam was removed.
    Good idea gone bad. Atea behind dam could have been dewatered and silt removed w front end loaders saving Millions but COE required dredging. Then we have the City and the COE designing a very bad system to keep water in the canal-high maintenance and not sustainable. Good ideas xed up by gvmt.

  • LarryG

    I too wondered why the remaining excess sediment could not be removed after the dam was removed and I don’t know the answer but I suspect money was involved.

    I think Senator Warner was given a $$ number as to the cost of removing the dam (to include the silt) and that’s what he had earmarked and when that money was gone – there was no more to do any more work.

    I’m not sure I’d say it is the “gvmt” fault per se especially if you are a person who is opposed to “big govt” to start with.

    The dam would probably never have been removed without Sen. Warner’s earmark.

    I guess some folks would have preferred to not see the dam removed to start with – or if it was – for the job to be done completely.

    Who underestimated the amount of stuff to be removed and the cost?

    I don’t know but would not be surprised if the ACOE had a role.

    But I’m not totally convinced that a bigger flood would result either but a study might provide a more definitive answer.

    I wonder how much such a study might cost?

  • TPKeller

    I wonder how much “convincing” it would take for the ACOE? Maybe they could send a guy down to watch the riverboat wallow around on a “silt-bar” for about 15 minutes before it can continue its trip down the river. I’ve seen it, it’s not a pretty site.

  • LarryG

    well they’ve had to dredge the river before – before the dam was out…. rivers silt up over time with or without dams. But dredging is not cheap to do and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen dredging done to gain more “floodway” although it probably makes sense. But I strongly suspect it’s going to take a study to determine how much new/additional silt there is…where it is… and where it could be removed.