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Residents complain about wetlands floodlands

May 04, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

If he wanted, Mark Schultz could joke that he was swamped while operating his Greenside Up Nursery and Landscaping business along the Jefferson-Berkeley county line on W.Va. 45.

Swamped not in the sense that customers were endless and business was booming, but swamped in the literal sense.

A foot or more of water flooded Schultz out last fall, and the water is just now starting to recede.

Black plastic planting pots, tree skeletons and the dilapidated remains of a greenhouse jut from the water on the south side of the road, the former site of Schultz's business.

On the northern side, bright green grass rises out of the water. Recently, two Canada geese floated lazily among the reeds.

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Although residents of the area worry the water could be a health hazard by providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can transmit the West Nile virus, an environmental inspector with the state Department of Environmental Protection said nothing can or should be done.

"That's a natural wetlands area," said Kevin Lilly, who covers Berkeley and Jefferson counties for the DEP. The property, intersected by W.Va. 45, is on a national wetlands list.

Since Lilly started working for the DEP in 1986, he said that about three times, the water table had risen in the area, forming wetlands.

People tend to forget about that as dry years pass and water is absent, he said.

Some residents who live near the area are not satisfied with an explanation that the area is wetlands. They've written letters to local and state representatives, including county commissioners and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Charles Gower has lived a quarter-mile or so from the area since 1979. He worries about mosquitos using the wetlands as a breeding ground.

"If it gets infected, it's very dangerous health-wise," Gower said. "Somebody's going to have to do something."

Gower blames a nearby small stream for the flooding, although Lilly said the stream is not the source.

If the stream was dredged, it would flow better and not back up, Gower believes.

"You're talking about life and death," he said. "Nobody's going to do anything until somebody dies."

Several children live in the area and mosquitos have been a problem in the past. Recent wet weather could prove to be ideal conditions for the insects, Gower said.

"All I can tell them is that the property shouldn't have been developed," Lilly said. "The development shouldn't have encroached on it as close as it has."

Although it might be little consolation to those concerned with West Nile possibilities, a report compiled by two West Virginia University officials expounds on the importance of wetlands. It was published in the August 2001 issue of West Virginia Farm Bureau News.

The article, by Jim Anderson and William Grafton, said that wetlands account for around 102,000 acres throughout the state, less than 1 percent of West Virginia's land area.

"Wetlands are definitely not 'waste lands,'" the article said. They provide a habitat for wildlife, can help prevent flooding, help with pollution and sediment control and can have agricultural uses, among other functions.

Depending on the type of wetland, it can provide a habitat for fish, turtles, frogs, beavers, raccoons, numerous types of birds and other animals.

As for agriculture, wetlands can help keep contaminants like fertilizers and pesticides from polluting waterways.

"Many West Virginia farmers manage wet meadows and hayfields as insurance to provide forage during dry periods," the report said. "These wetlands may be the only productive fields during the 10-year cyclical droughts."

Schultz, said when his nursery flooded, he lost around $170,000 in inventory. He rented the land, and said he was not told flooding was possible.

"It's a total loss. Everything's dead," Schultz said.

Since he was swamped, Schultz has since relocated his business to "higher ground" on U.S. 11 near Spring Mills, W.Va.

Schultz said he is pleased with his new site.

"It's a better location," he said. "Half of Martinsburg would have to be under water before this place would get wet."

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