Home Anatomy of failed government: Another look at the DuPont settlement debacle

Anatomy of failed government: Another look at the DuPont settlement debacle


waynesboroSo much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Waynesboro over being shut out of even getting a penny from the $50 million settlement with DuPont for dumping mercury into the South River, and for what?

Because the big, bad, mean people in Richmond and D.C. are screwing us?

Well, yeah. We’re getting screwed, royally.

I mean, Front Royal is getting millions to go toward the renovation of a freakin’ hatchery, 100 miles upstream.

Which makes sense. The contamination dates back to the 1930s and 1940s, we can’t eat the fish we catch out of the South River today, 70 to 80 years later, but sure, by all means, shut us out, and fix up some hatchery two hours away.

Side note to this: we have a nice greenway along the South River across the bank from that former DuPont plant. I’ve run that greenway training for marathons for the past three years, but last fall, during training for the New York City Marathon, I began to have issues with breathing that became a big concern to me.

I’ve moved my training inside, running on treadmills, and the breathing issue went away. Aside from the two times that I went back to running my greenway route, and I had to use an inhaler afterward to get my breath back.

Probably unrelated, but when you’re downwind some days and are overcome by the smell of rotten eggs, and you see the signs about not eating the fish, well, you add two and two together, and you get four.

Which is to say, when you live in Waynesboro in proximity of the river, you worry.

To our credit, we’ve tried to make a positive out of a negative with that South River. In addition to the issues with contamination, which date back decades, the memories of three so-called hundred-year floods in a seven-year period between 1996 and 2003 aren’t that far back in the rear view.

The presence of fishermen in the river basically any day of the week, from my runs along the greenway, is a testament to the hard work of a group of people who have tried to flip the script as far as our view of the river is concerned.

We launched a fly fishing festival several years ago with the idea that we could lure people to town for the chance to fish a river at the foot of a mountain range with an accessible downtown business district, and it worked.

People came to the festival from a wide area – up and down the East Coast, out to the Midwest – and then they started coming back throughout the year.

And they still come back, in the face of the lack of foresight of the city government, which let the festival get away, practically pushed it away, depending on who you talk to about what happened.

So with millions going to Front Royal to renovate their hatchery, what about some money for Waynesboro, ground zero of the contamination, to help us continue to build on the positive momentum that we’ve got going for ourselves?

I fear that we may get back to the lack of foresight of our city government here for at least a partial answer to that story.

So now we’re all up in arms after the fact, after we find out that we’re getting screwed out of even a single penny from this $50 million settlement.

Where was the outrage when it could have done something to effect any change?

The list of projects being funded by the settlement money is long.

And ours aren’t on the list because …

We can pose that question to any number of people in Washington, Richmond and city hall.

Bottom line: somebody dropped the ball.

Actually, a whole line of somebodies dropped the ball.

The ones furthest away from here, in Washington, we can understand. The average bureaucrat in D.C. can barely type Waynesboro into a Google search.

Hard to get too mad at people who are simply incompetent.

The people in Richmond: how about we invite them all to kiss our asses?

“In bringing this settlement to a close, we are finally righting a wrong that has impacted the South River and the South Fork Shenandoah River for so many decades,” our tone-deaf Gov. Terry McAuliffe said of the settlement.

“We have a responsibility to protect those assets for our children, our grandchildren and future generations. And this historic settlement shows our commitment to take that responsibility very seriously,” Attorney General Mark Herring chimed in.

Seriously, both of you can go to hell. You’re not righting the source of the wrongs, and you have no commitment to taking any responsibilities to any degree seriously.

When Waynesboro goes 80 percent-plus Republican in the November state elections, don’t spend too much time trying to figure out why.

You’ve done us wrong here. We can’t wait for you to pack up your offices and move on.

Back to our local leaders. You guys dropped the ball here, too.

It doesn’t do any of us any good to read the self-righteous quotes in the local papers about how terrible it is that we’ve been left with a stack of unpaid bills while everybody else divvies up $50 million.

Y’all should have been raising holy hell the second it became obvious that this was the direction that this settlement nonsense was going.

Sanctimony after the fact does nobody any good at this stage.

I’ve been saying this for a long while, but it bears repeating in light of this latest debacle: we need to clean house in our city hall.

Column by Chris Graham



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.