The Lynchburg derailment on the James River. Credit: Michael Cover
Yesterday the James River Association rolled out a campaign aimed at highlighting the threats posed by toxic chemicals that move through and are stored in the James River watershed. The campaign — Our River at Risk — intends to raise public awareness of the threats and the gaps in our regulatory structure that allow those threats to exist.
Adrienne Kotula, the JRA’s policy specialist, said the effort was triggered by the Lynchburg train derailment last April; a Feb. 2 coal ash spill into the Dan River 10 miles from the Virginia border; and Jan. 9 leak of toxic chemicals in the Charleston, W.Va. area that put drinking water off limits for 300,00people for five days.
“The train derailment was certainly the biggest turning point for the James River Association,” Kotula said. “After that occurred we decided to step back and look at what the threats specifically to the watershed were. Once we had that groundwork of info to work from, we started looking into the regulatory schemes for each of these and when we revealed the gaps in each of these areas that’s when we knew it was something to move forward with.”
The group set up a website — riveratrisk.org — that includes a map showing all the toxic storage sites, coal ash ponds and rail lines that carry the highly flammable Bakken crude oil that spilled into the James last spring.
Kotula said the Our River at Risk campaign will begin with community engagement in the form of three town hall-type meetings: In Richmond’s Virginia War Memorial tomorrow night; the Lynchburg Museum on Thursday night; and Nov. 18 at Jamestown Settlement. The group is also reaching out to the companies responsible for the toxic storage and transport to see if self-regulation could stave off state and federal legislation and regulation. Failing that, the JRA will look to the General Assembly and the U.S. Congress to see how these sites might be made safer.
“The conversations with legislators on these topics will be ongoing over the next several months and into the session itself,” Kotula said. “We’ll see what pieces of legislation come up.”