Top Ten Spin – Is C-ville “Endangered”?


By. Neil Williamson, President

A headline in the Washington Post caught my eye over the weekend (5/20/12)  Potomac ‘most endangered’? Just hype Post columnist Robert McCartney highlighted the lack of scientific data behind an environmental groups declaration that the Potomac as “America’s most endangered river”.  McCartney writes:

The top ranking wasn’t based on pollution levels or other scientific data. It wasn’t warranted by trends or policy changes that threaten our river more than any other. It isn’t as if the Potomac has been gradually creeping up the roster and finally reached the peak. This was its first appearance since the annual list began in 1986.

No, the advocacy group American Rivers highlighted the Potomac this year primarily for slick political and public relations motives. The group picked what it called “the nation’s river” in order to rouse citizens to fight efforts in Congress to weaken the Clean Water Act on the law’s 40th anniversary. It helped that it’s an election year, when Washington is in the news.

I thought that I had seen an  Albemarle County project highlighted in a similar list recently.  A quick web search found that the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) had listed Charlottesville as one of the Top Ten Endangered Places 2012 (

In reviewing the supporting material placing Charlottesville on this list, it was clear, like the American Rivers designation,  there is not significant scientific ordering to the ranking.  The “threat” as described by SELC is as follows:

A wasteful, destructive bypass would mar landscapes, cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, endanger public health, and fail to solve traffic problems.

Interestingly another environmental group, who is also opposed to the bypass, the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), issued a media release in January highlighting the number of acres that have been permanently placed on conservation easement in Albemarle County:

In Albemarle County, 2,283 acres were protected by conservation easements in 2011, adding to a total of over 85,700 acres, or 18% of the total land. . . . In total, conservation easements in Albemarle County now protect 372 miles of streams and rivers, 32,000 acres of prime farmland, 57,000 acres of forests, 23,000 acres along Scenic Byways, and 36,000 acres in historic districts. These resources make Albemarle and Charlottesville great places to live and are fundamental to the local and state economies. [Emphasis Added – NW]

PEC’s trumpeting the large volume of land under permanent conservation easement seems to be in conflict with the idea that Charlottesville is “endangered”.

Both the American Rivers and SELC “endangered” top ten lists lack clear methodology.  The Washington Post article discussed the American Rivers communications strategy: 

Public relations experts faulted both American Rivers for hyping the story and the media for being too ready to bite.

“The number one ranking implies that the Potomac is worse than everything else. How is that not a lie?” said Paul Argenti, a corporate communication professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

“You have to have some sort of measurable justification when you do a ranking,” he said.

Just as Mark Twain once wrote, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story”, The Free Enterprise Forum takes the SELC (and American Rivers) top ten listings with a grain of salt.

We do not believe Charlottesville is one of the most endangered places due to the construction of the US 29 Bypass.  Conversely, we believe when constructed the Bypass will not only improve the safety of our areas roadways but also both provide efficient and effective traffic/freight  movement.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website


One response

  1. “In reviewing the supporting material placing Charlottesville on this list,…… (edit) …..there is not significant scientific ordering to the ranking.”

    Such is deviancy in the utmost performance and high order. Such tactlessness is sadly too pervasive. It is really quite a stretch anymore, in trying to be polite and dismissingly call it shameless abased promotion.

    Thank you for the hyperlink to the appropriate SELC page

    Click over there and by the third paragraph down, the SELC is heavy into its (read the stitches on its fastball) hard sales pitch.

    “The Charlottseville-Albemarle community has spent years developing solutions that are more cost-effective and less destructive—and would improve the circulation of local traffic and allow through traffic to flow more freely.”

    Oh yeah, don’t the people know the many years that have been spent peddling all the revolving door revised reversions of these:
    _over/underpasses to replace busiest 29 traffic light intersections
    _parallel roads and extentsions of Hillsdale and Berkmar Drives
    _pedestrian-oriented / mixed-use (zoned) development reducing vehicles with “reliable and attractive transit options.”
    Obviously, this isn’t any list of shining efficiency but the honesty over what years have been spent can’t go on indefinitely being ignored.

    Permit me to play devil’s advocate and counter the above one by one.
    _replacing even one of three (Rio/29, Greenbriar/29 and Hydrualic/29) intersections with an over/underpasses potentially increases the likelihood of a mixing-bowl interchange at the Best-Buy Ramp (in my humble opinion.)
    _the easiest and least intensive (Hillsdale and Berkmar) to accomplish is most often the first fix applied
    _roads need to not only be safe, practical and maintained for solely the bike-riding lobby and the fringe indoctrine peddling enviromental extremists

    Ultimately somewhere down the road, such disingenuousness serves up as a disservice to the SELC. So too does taking stats and playing (or in ths case, locking-up) entire easements of acerage, as the point your editorial makes considering the Piedmont Enviromental Council (PEC.)

    “PEC’s trumpeting the large volume of land under permanent conservation easement seems to be in conflict with the idea that Charlottesville is ‘endangered’.”

    Yes, and there’s another term for it, with which a number of assorted parties more and more find it useful to play the ends against the middle. Listen out for it cause most likely, you’ll be hearing lots of the phrase “in perpetuity” to come. Lately, the City of Charlottesville (either by the Soil and Water Conaservation District or through Parks and Recreation Department) seems to be racking up an awful lot of acreage this way. Oh but it’s for future posterity and one doesn’t know what next will be earnestly categorized “endangered.”

    Yes, there’s no refuting these organizations truth about the years spent. No, it’s the manipulation of what’s dragged out and dronned on about being cost-effective or less destructive, redefining the practical and actual. Please, less painting of the western bypass by these organiztions to make the situation as they would want and more seeing through this group think ranking racket for what it is not.

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