Thousands of fish will suffocate and die if the Stafford County pond they live in is drained this week, says a Stillwater Estates homeowner fighting to halt a developer’s plan.
Jason and Olya Salley moved from Prince William County to the small Stafford subdivision in July, but Sona Homes, which built their house, is ready to do away with the pond. Salley said there seems to be no plan to spare the fish.
“My stomach just turned,” Salley said, when workers onsite preparing to drain 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 hugger, but … this is an atrocity,” he said.
Salley said that lots of wildlife live near and in the pond. Beavers build dams there, and thousands of fish live in it. Foxes, deer and turkeys live nearby.
In addition, the neighborhood is on well water, and Salley is concerned that a drained pond will be a safety issue for residents should there be a fire. Currently, the fire department would pull water from the pond, he said, noting that his homeowners’ insurance would surely go up. “You’re going to put the community at risk to save a couple of bucks? A trickle is not sufficient for putting out fire.”
Stillwater Estates is a small subdivision established in 2017, with 16 houses planned. Currently, only four homes are occupied in the subdivision and one just outside, with the rest being lots for sale. The Salleys live on just over three acres on Stillwater Lane, and the pond is on the unoccupied lot next door.
The pond is not a stormwater retention pond, but a farmland pond. Salley said that according to county land photos, the pond is at least 25 years old and could be closer to 40 years old.
“It really just needs to be maintained and everything will be fine,” said Salley, who served as the vice president of his former homeowner’s association in Prince William.
Stafford County Supervisor Gary Snellings, R-Hartwood, who represents the area, said the county can’t do anything because the pond is privately owned and is breached and has caused damage.
“The owner of the pond was told that he had to fix the pond or drain it as he could be held liable for any future damage,” Snellings added. “He chose to drain it.”
Snellings said that Stafford’s fire and rescue department does not have a dry hydrant agreement with the owner.
Sona Homes is a small, family-owned developer that has built homes in the county since 1989.
Sona’s owner, Amit Parbadia, and his son, Adarsh Parbadia, said everything was permitted properly, approved by the county and done by the book. The plan to drain the pond was approved in early 2021.
The father-son team said the pond has “been there awhile but not maintained” and is neither part of an HOA nor required for stormwater management.
“We thought we already discussed it and put it behind us,” said Amit Parbadia, explaining that keeping the pond only benefits one or two people.
If the pond stayed, the Parbadias said, it would need to be maintained and paid for through an HOA.
“Do you keep the pond and do a maintenance agreement and put it on an HOA?” Adarsh Parbadia asked. “We tried to do our best. It’s a tough situation.”
Ultimately, Sona was not comfortable with the cost of fixing the situation beyond draining the pond, citing cost and potential liability.
When questioned about the fate of the fish and other wildlife, the Parbadias recalled working on another pond draining in Culpeper. In that case, they said, equipment filtered water through pipes and the fish were rerouted downstream.
However, Salley said in the Stafford case there isn’t even enough water to create a stream — just a bit of extra water when it rains.
“There’s nothing to drain it downstream,” he said.
Extra water is what set the issue off in the first place, Salley said, noting that a neighbor outside the development complained to the county about a pipe issue flooding his driveway. The neighbor’s problem was addressed and corrected, Salley said, without cost to the neighbor; however, the current issue, which will affect the neighborhood, has not been treated the same.
Salley said Sona’s homes are “impeccable” but he doesn’t understand the need to drain the pond. Stafford’s fire department, Salley added, has even used the pond for training.
Sona was unaware of that use until recently and said no one should be on the property. However, that’s difficult to enforce — the Parbadias realize a few residents have also fished there. Salley said the pond should be reclassified as a retaining pond, as there’s increased fire liability in removing it — but the fire marshal’s office is unable to intervene.
Salley said that instead of requiring Sona to either fix or drain the pond, the county should require the developer to fix it.
Meanwhile, Salley has reached out to numerous people for help — including John Saunders, environmental programs manager for Stafford County. Saunders did not immediately respond to InsideNoVa, but Snellings said county staff has been asked to further respond to Salley.
Salley is seeking a delay to have resident concerns fully heard. “It may have been a farm pond then, but it’s a retaining pond now,” he said.
And, he wondered: Why should thousands of fish have to unnecessarily die? He said the county is doing what’s easy — not what is right.
“I don’t think the county is thinking this through,” he said. “Just because the county says it’s OK, doesn’t make it right.”