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Marine Biologists Take Stand Against King William Reservoir

Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences recommends the state withhold a permit to build a 12.2 billion-gallon reservoir

Citing concerns over American shad, the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences recommends the state withhold a permit to build a 12.2 billion-gallon reservoir to serve the city of Newport News and its neighbors.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which relies on the institute for technical advice, is scheduled Aug. 11 and 12 to consider for a second time whether to give a permit to build an intake pipeline in the Mattaponi River, which would feed the reservoir.

Newport News represents a coalition of Peninsula localities that has sought to build the King William reservoir since the late 1980s. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have opposed to construction of the reservoir.

The institute recommends that the Marine Resources Commission withhold the permit until Newport News monitors American shad and other fish that spawn in the tidal river for at least eight years.

"Eight more years of uncertainty doesn't do anybody any good," said Dave Morris, the city's reservoir project manager.

Morris said city officials didn't want to spend more than $2 million to study the river's fish without knowing that it could build the reservoir.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has endorsed the project as "the least environmentally damaging," it has told the city to secure state permits before seeking a federal permit.

The marine commission rejected Newport News' initial permit request in May 2003, after biologists at the Marine Sciences Institute found that construction would destroy thousands of fish eggs and larvae, including those of American shad, which are protected by a fishing ban in Virginia.

The commission agreed to a second hearing after Newport News sued.

Newport News revised its plans the second time around, offering to better protect young fish by halting water withdrawals when water temperatures are favorable for spawning.

Lyle Varnell, assistant director of advisory services for the institute, said studies indicated that a pumping halt likely would last much longer on the Mattaponi than the two-month average estimated by the city's experts.

Morris expects city officials to follow up on other suggestions made by institute scientists and to continue fine-tuning their proposal.