Thousands of fish will suffocate and die if the Stafford County pond they live in is emptied this week, said a Stillwater Estates owner who is fighting to stop a developer’s plan.
Jason and Olya Salley moved from Prince William County to the small Stafford housing estate in July, but Sona Homes, who built their house, is ready to remove the pond. Salley said there doesn’t appear to be a plan to spare the fish.
“My stomach just turned upside down,” Salley said, when workers on site preparing to empty the pond acknowledged that the fish “would die in place”.
Salley’s protests to the developer and county officials seem unlikely to stop the work.
“I’m not a tree schoolboy, but… it’s an atrocity,” he said.
Salley said lots of wildlife live nearby and in the pond. Beavers build dams there and thousands of fish live there. Foxes, deer and turkeys live nearby.
In addition, the neighborhood is supplied with well water and Salley is concerned that a drained pond could be a safety concern for residents in the event of a fire. Currently, firefighters would be pulling water from the pond, he said, noting his home insurance would surely increase. “Are you going to put the community at risk to save a few dollars?” A net is not enough to put out the fire.
Stillwater Estates is a small development established in 2017, with 16 homes planned. Currently only four houses are occupied in the subdivision and one just outside, the remainder being lots for sale. The Salleys live on just over three acres on Stillwater Lane, and the pond sits on the nearby vacant lot.
The pond is not a stormwater retention pond, but an agricultural pond. Salley said that according to photos of the county land, the pond is at least 25 years old and could be closer to 40 years old.
“It really needs to be taken care of and you will be fine,” said Salley, who was vice president of his former homeowners association in Prince William.
Stafford County Supervisor Gary Snellings, R-Hartwood, who represents the area, said there is nothing the county could do as the pond is privately owned and is breached and caused damage.
“The owner of the pond has been advised that he needs to repair the pond or empty it as he could be held responsible for any future damage,” Snellings added. “He chose to empty it.
Snellings said the Stafford Fire and Rescue Service did not have a dry hydrant agreement with the owner.
Sona Homes is a small family developer who has been building homes in the county since 1989.
Sona’s owner Amit Parbadia and her son Adarsh Parbadia said everything was licensed properly, approved by the county and done by the book. The pond emptying plan was approved in early 2021.
The father-son team said the pond “has been there for some time but is not maintained” and is not part of an HOA nor is it required for stormwater management.
“We thought we had already discussed it and left it behind,” said Amit Parbadia, explaining that maintaining the pond only benefits one or two people.
If the pond remained, the Parbadias said, it would have to be maintained and paid for through an HOA.
“Do you keep the pond, make a maintenance contract, and put it on an HOA?” Adarsh Parbadia asked. “We tried to do our best. It is a difficult situation.
Ultimately, Sona was uncomfortable with the cost of resolving the situation beyond the pond drainage, citing the cost and potential liability.
When asked about the fate of fish and other wildlife, the Parbadias recalled working on another draining pond in Culpeper. In this case, they said, the equipment filtered the water through pipes and the fish were rerouted downstream.
However, Salley said in the Stafford case that there wasn’t even enough water to create a stream – just a little extra water when it rains.
“There is nothing to drain it downstream,” he said.
The extra water is what triggered the problem in the first place, Salley said, noting that a neighbor outside the development complained to the county about a problem with the pipe flooding his driveway. The neighbor problem has been addressed and corrected, said Salley, at no cost to the neighbor; however, the current issue, which will affect the neighborhood, has not been addressed in the same way.
Salley said Sona’s homes are “immaculate,” but he doesn’t understand the need to empty the pond. Stafford firefighters, Salley added, even used the pond for training.
Sona was unaware of this use until recently and said no one should be on the property. However, this is difficult to enforce – the Parbadias realize that a few residents have fished there as well. Salley said the pond should be reclassified as a holding pond because there is an increased risk of fire by removing it – but the Office of the Fire Marshal is unable to intervene.
Salley said that instead of requiring Sona to fix or drain the pond, the county should demand that the developer fix it.
Meanwhile, Salley has sought help from many, including John Saunders, Environmental Programs Manager for Stafford County. Saunders did not immediately respond to InsideNoVa, but Snellings said county staff were asked to respond further to Salley.
Salley is asking for a delay for residents’ concerns to be fully heard. “Maybe it was a farm pond then, but it’s now a holding pond,” he said.
And, he wondered: why should thousands of fish needlessly die? He said the county is doing what’s easy – not what’s right.
“I don’t think the county is thinking about this,” he said. “Just because the county says it’s good doesn’t mean it works. ”