Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Areas have been around for a while, but many residents living with them didn’t know it.
The state identifies RPAs as all bodies of water with perennial flow, the surrounding wetlands and a 100-foot buffer around the water, said Wade Hugh, chief of watershed management for the county.
Certain activities, such as clearing trees and building accessory structures such as pools and sheds, are limited or prohibited in RPAs.
In 1990, Prince William County adopted the provisions required by the state’s Chesapeake Bay Act, one of which was to map RPAs.
Earlier this month, the county’s public works department mailed letters to the 9,100 county residents whose property is in an RPA.
“This is the first complete citizen mailing,” Hugh said.
In 2002, the public works department sent letters to 600 residents with RPAs in the Occoquan River area, he said.
Since the July mailing, the public works department has fielded more than 180 calls from residents asking questions about the RPAs, Hugh said.
Representatives from public works and the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department will hold a public information meeting on Monday to answer some of those questions.
Public hearings on the RPAs were held when the areas were first designated in 1990 and again in 2002 when the county updated its designations, Hugh said, but still some residents did not know about them.
“This is just coming out of the blue,” said John Cotton, a resident of Briarmont Lane near Manassas who was surprised to learn an RPA was on his property.
Many violations come from residents who didn’t know about the RPA, said Deb Oliver, public works spokeswoman for the county.
“The Chesapeake Bay Ordinance is not that new, but we’ve found that people don’t always pay attention to that information,” Oliver said. “When we find violations a lot of times people will say ‘Well, I didn’t know.’ So we just wanted to educate them upfront.”
So far this year, the public works department has seen seven major violations of RPA regulations, Hugh said.
Most violations consist of over clearing of trees.
“In some cases, a developer submits plans and is approved to clear in certain areas, but goes beyond that to clear in an RPA. Then there are other cases where people have lived on the property for a number of years and decide they want a better view of the water so they clear away trees.”
Dead and dying trees are the only trees that can be removed from RPAs, Hugh said.
The county used overlays of maps containing several types of information to create their RPA map, Hugh said.
“A lot of people have asked if the RPA maps are complete and we feel that they are complete,” Hugh said.
The state ordinance mandates that local jurisdictions designate RPAs, but leaves the method used to determine those RPAs to the local governments, Hugh said.
“As new developers come into the county, they are required to do studies to find the Resource Protection Areas on their properties,” Hugh said. “In some of the older areas we haven’t had field verification, but we feel and the state feels that these are accurate maps.”
Some residents are questioning the county’s designation of the perennial streams on their property.
“In my particular case, the stream the county has designated as perennial is usually dry,” Cotton said. “Even after the heavy rains we had [Wednesday night] it remained dry.”
Residents who are uncertain about what activities are permitted in the RPA on their property can contact the watershed management department for help, Hugh said.
County officials expect more than 150 citizens to attend Monday’s meeting.
The meeting will be 7 p.m. Monday at the McCoart Administration Building on Prince William Parkway in Woodbridge.
Televisions will be set up in the atrium of the building to accommodate citizens unable to sit inside the room.