Town Council update: Sinkholes and contaminated well water in Blacksburg

by Lewis Millholland, originally posted on January 24, 2017


The Blacksburg Town Council breezed through its Tuesday night meeting. The public hearing for adjusting the boundary of approximately 26.6 acres near Windsor Hills Apartments was canceled per applicant request, and the resolution to adopt the Capital Improvement Plan through fiscal year 2022 passed unanimously and without discussion.

The easy nature of the evening shifted when the floor was opened to citizen comments.

Douglas White, who introduced himself as “the guy in the white truck who likes to irritate you,” was the first to speak, laying a hefty stack of documents on the podium and carrying poster-size photos under his arm.

The photos showed a new sinkhole that appeared next to the Windsor Hills pump station. White suspects that the sinkhole was created by the heavy rainfall in Blacksburg over the past two days. Recently, the Bradley Company of Roanoke has proposed building 99 private residences adjacent to its existing complex.

Locals were concerned by the potential damage from the construction to an already endangered water system.

The ridge line in that area of town is a karst system, a type of topography characterized by sinkholes and underground drainage systems — in this system, contaminated runoff can sink into these natural drains and be pulled up into local wells, a primary water source for Harding Road-area residents.

Several Blacksburg citizens took the podium next to tell personal stories concerning well contamination and the resulting illnesses.

“September, I had a little stomach problem and I ignored it … I’m young, I’m stubborn, foolish, whatever,” said a resident who bought his house on Harding Road a year and a half ago. “Blacksburg’s on the top of a mountain, and all water and waste runs downhill. It affects everybody.”

The pump station sends sewage and runoff up to the top of Harding Road, where gravity takes over. Given the current town-county boundaries, the runoff from the gravity system will only impact residents on county-owned land.

“Blacksburg won’t feel a thing,” said Gary Glesener, a member of the Virginia Tech geosciences department.

White and other worried residents brought their concerns to the town in 2009 when another developer wanted to build houses in the same location that the Bradley Company is eyeing now. The developer later withdrew the application, and the conversation ended.

The recent proposal for boundary adjustment provided an ideal platform to reignite the dialogue.

“There are indications that the channel below the Windsor Hills apartment complex is inadequate, and therefore any development in that area should be closely monitored,” said Javad Torabinejad, a Blacksburg-based ecologist. “Residents living downstream should not pay the cost of someone else’s gains upstream.”

Torabinejad also advocated for a grade-separated interchange to be built on the intersection of North Main Street and U.S. 460. In December, the state board rejected the $37.7-million plan in favor of a simpler $3.3-million alternative that has been met with public disdain.

“We are all concerned and fearful that another precious life may perish at that intersection,” Torabinejad said. “This is the time for VDOT to come to its senses and abandon the R-cut plan, and the CTB (Commonwealth Transportation Board) to fund the construction of the ultimate solution, a grade-separated interchange.”

The online petition demanding a grade-separated interchange has reached nearly 400 signatures.

The Town Council will next convene in a quarterly work session on Jan. 31 and again in another work session on Feb. 7. The next regularly scheduled meeting is Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, at 7:30 p.m. in the Blacksburg Municipal Building at 300 South Main St.

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