Meet the candidates for Soil and Water Conservation District

Candidates for the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District say what motivates them to seek a seat on the board and why they are qualified to serve as stewards of the environment. They made their comments at a recent forum. The FCDC Endorsement Vote is at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, May 21, at Lake Braddock Secondary School, 9200 Burke Lake Road, Burke, VA 22015.

Chris Koerner

I am an environmental scientist and a professional engineer. I was California’s first Superfund person in 1980 and I worked for 35 years cleaning up some of the worst toxic waste sites in every state that I can think of except for North Dakota and at 12 different foreign countries.

I have a degree in engineering. I have a degree in chemistry and biology and I also have an Executive MBA degree from George Mason University. Part of what the Soil and Water board does is act as a fiduciary responsibility for the funds that we get from federal and state groups and look at how the we follow the rules from the Soil and Water Conservation District that were set up during the Dust Bowl days in the 1930s. Our rules and our structure are really set up federally and state-wise for the old style type of conservation and stewardship where you take care of wind and dust bowl issues and try to conserve the stream banks and riparian habitats.

I have worked as the director of the local Sierra group for 10 years and  as a political director before that so I have a strong advocacy role in really trying to push the government to do the right things. Lately, I’ve been involved more in the inside part. I chair the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance Committee, and we look at developers that want to build and encroach in the resource protection areas along the stream banks.

We recently denied an application. It was the first time it was really done, with a guy who wanted to put 300 truckloads of dirt in a floodplain to raise his house. I wrote three pages of technical comments in response to that. Even though the staff was supporting it and advocating for approval, the committee unanimously denied it. More importantly, we went before the Board of Supervisors when they were asked to appeal and reject our decision and we were attempted to be shut out by the staff. I met with (Fairfax County Chairman) Sharon Bulova who did a great job in supporting her old Braddock District and it ended up with a unanimous decision to support us and also set a good policy now for floodplains in resource protection areas and riparian areas to be looked at together rather than as separate stovepipes. I use the Soil and Water District staff to help me out on some of those comments.

I’m a diplomat with the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, which is an honor to have been bestowed. And I supported all levels of the environment as an expert in  groundwater and riparian habitats in most of the sites that I worked on. There are four positions here.  As you can see, three of us will be endorsed by the Democratic party, and since the Democrats are really the only ones that believe in the environment, I hope that that’s really a way to get elected in November.

Monica Billger

I’m coming from a unique place and I think I bring a unique voice because my background is actually in public health. I was a nurse for 10 years. I went on to get a public policy degree in healthcare and spent an additional 15 years advocating at a federal level for patients and individuals in the healthcare arena. Based on my boots on the ground outreach and clinical experience as a nurse, I was able to be an effective community outreach organizer who created opportunities for individual residents and citizens to be advocates for their own issues.

That experience transcended to the environment when I had children. I took a little time off and one of my favorite and passionate things to do is to go hiking with my family. I introduced my kids to hiking and a love for the enviironment at a very young age. My three-year-old actually hiked 3 miles in Shenandoah and I’m very proud. But when my children asked me if they could wade in the streams of Fairfax County barefoot, I didn’t know what to tell them because as a nurse, I knew the impact the environment has on health and I was deeply concerned about the fact that our streams may not be in the space that my children can play in.

So I took my advocacy, my passion and experience and decided to dedicate that experience to the environment because the one thing that just killed my soul was the fact that our children can’t play outside anymore without the concern of what’s going to happen to them.

I care about fish. I care more about the fact that Myrtle Beach has to shut down for months at a time or weeks at a time because they have contamination and E.coli issues. I care about birds, but I care more about the fact that there are communities that don’t even get to see them because they have no trees in their neighborhood.

We’ve reached our tree canopy in Fairfax County, but I can assure you that inequity exists in our areas, where children don’t even have any place to play except for the street that they live on and maybe there are a few of trees in the distance. Those are things that don’t belong in this county. So that’s why I’m here today to lend a voice from the grassroots experience that I have working at the Audubon Naturalist Society and now with AlexRenew.

It’s to lend my voice from a public health experience and to use that experience towards environmental issues that we face and to really dig in to how we can be better at reaching out to the community because as you can tell by the people in this room, the school board is a priority, but without healthy children and a healthy environment, the school is only one component of what we can promise for our children’s future.

Gerald (Jerry) Peters

We have five directors. Three of them are elected and three of us here are going to be those people because Republicans, as far as I know, don’t have a chance this fall. The other two directors are appointed.

I’m asking for your vote to remain as a director of the Soil and Water Conservation District. I started working with the district 10 years ago as an associate director and I would say the difference between associate director and a director is that I get to vote and I sit on one side of the table. All of our associate directors get to participate in all of the deliberations we do because it’s really a great group of people. We interact with the excellent staff of the Soil and Water Conservation District, who work for the county.

I am an incumbent. I started as an associate director in 2009. In 2015, there was a vacancy that I was elected by the board to fill and then later in 2015, I ran for the office and was elected. I hope to serve for another four years. And with your endorsement vote, I hope you will put me there.

I spent 30 years as an environmental consultant working with private firms doing mostly federal contracting with engineering firms to prepare environmental impact assessments, to clean up hazardous waste sites, to help the Department of Defense establish policies for how it ran its environmental programs, including writing guidance for hazardous waste site cleanup programs across department. I have a long history of doing this kind of work on a professional level.

I graduated from UVA way back. I don’t talk about dates anymore. I was a biology major. The next decade, after serving in Vietnam and with a public health department in Prince William County, I got a master’s degree in environmental science and engineering from Virginia Tech. All Virginia, all the time.

Richard Clayton

(Represented by Diane Weeks)

Richard Clayton

I am standing in for friend and neighbor Richard Clayton. His son is playing his last home baseball game for Louisiana Tech and it’s senior parents weekend and he and his wife Holly have to be there.

Rick is an environmentalist. He chairs Virginia Delegate Kaye Kory’s Environmental Task Force. He volunteered for the nonprofit Wild Earth Allies, where he researched and explored methods to reduce environmental threats to sea turtles and to expand their population.

He’s a member of a Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy. On a personal level, he and his wife Holly are early adapters of electric cars and they just joined the recently opened Northern Fairfax Solar Panel Co-op and are converting their house to solar.

Rick is an energy advocate. He’s a member of a group called Zero Carbon Virginia, a grassroots group fighting to reduce Virginia’s reliance on fossil fuels. This group develops legislation and lobbies in Richmond. He’s an economist who worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 40 years, producing and developing new measures for employment, wages and job openings. He knows how to work with people, listen, analyze and lead as well as promote taxpayer value.

He believes that any  board of directors needs a variety of perspectives and professional training. He will bring an economist’s eye to the planning and execution of goals of the Soil and Water Conservation District.

His key priorities are reducing storm water flow as it pushes fertilizer runoff into our waters, reducing the flow of trash, especially plastics from our waters, addressing climate change by planting more trees to absorb carbon as they grow and helping to sustain insect pollinators and bird populations by planting more native species.

__ Compiled by The Blue View Deputy Editor Karen Kirk

Photos of Soil and Water Conservation District candidates Gerald (Jerry) Peters (left) Chris Koerner and Monica Billger by Karen Kirk.