Letter: A painful dilemma: resources vs. jobs
The RockTenn paperboard mill at West Point has applied for a renewal of its groundwater withdrawal permit for another ten years. If the permit is granted, the mill could pump 8,407,200,000 gallons of water a year from underground reservoirs that are already imperiled. Decision makers confront a painful dilemma.
Several factors favor approval of the permit. First, the West Point mill has a long and venerated history, going back to the beginning of the 20th century. The mill utilized groundwater for papermaking decades before the passage of Groundwater Management Act of 1992.
Second, in the past few decades, the mill has instituted numerous water conservation technologies, including water-reuse.
Third, the mill provides a payroll for roughly 600 employees and funds at least one-half of the town’s tax base. Closing the mill or reducing its production would have a severe economic impact on the
The case for denying the permit rests chiefly on the need to safeguard an already stressed groundwater supply. First, the mill is the second largest user of groundwater on the Virginia coastal plain, behind only the International Paper facility at Franklin. It withdraws nearly one-fifth of all groundwater used on the Virginia coastal plain and more than 60 percent of all groundwater pumped on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.
Second, according to a recent report by the VDEQ, the demands for groundwater to support desired growth on the coastal plain can no longer be sustained by the aquifer system.
Third, continuing the historical rate of groundwater withdrawals at West Point will hasten the depletion of the coastal plain groundwater supply and cause serious damage to the aquifers.
What is painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make. Yet, the future of the region depends on making the right choice.
Frank W. Fletcher