NEWPORT NEWS—Frequent visitors to Riverview Farm Park may start to see some changes beginning in July. Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) has entered into an agreement with the City of Newport News to purchase nearly ten acres of Riverview Farm Park to build a Sustainable Water Initiative For Tomorrow (SWIFT) plant near their current James River Treatment Plant, to help put fresh water back into the Potomac Aquifer.
The project has been in the works for years, but the transfer of property just recently took place, so construction can begin this summer. The groundbreaking/dedication ceremony date is currently a moving target but will likely happen in June.
As part of the agreement for the land transfer, HRSD paid the city $10 million, and has agreed to a number of other concessions that will benefit Riverview Farm Park and its visitors in the near future. One consideration is that HRSD will build a trail system that will connect with the current trails at the park, adding on two miles of walkways along the riverfront at no cost to Newport News. HRSD also provided a lump sum payment of $450,000 for maintenance and improvements of park amenities, including moving and enlarging the existing dog park (Fido Field).
Nearly half of the property transfer will remain an open space easement along the James River, but HRSD will be responsible for maintaining and managing it now, as opposed to the City of Newport News. HRSD will also be constructing a series of six buildings around the park to use as pumping stations for recharging the aquifer. At least two of those buildings will have public restrooms, which the city had plans to build in the park area, but now will get them without cost.
In addition to new amenities for park visitors, the SWIFT program will potentially benefit all citizens of Newport News and surrounding communities on the Peninsula. Injecting drinkable water into the Potomac Aquifer will help reduce declining groundwater levels, reduce salt water intrusion into freshwater supplies, slow or reduce land subsidence, and significantly reduce the amount of nutrients—such as nitrogen and phosphorus—from entering the Chesapeake Bay. The proposed SWIFT facility at the James River Treatment Plant is expected to add 16 million gallons of highly treated water into the aquifer per day.
“Right now, as they treat the wastewater that comes into that plant, they dispose of it in the river and have for years,” said Michael Poplawski, Director of Newport News Parks, Recreation and Tourism. “The SWIFT facility will treat the water to an even higher level than it is being treated right now, even though the treated water that is being dumped currently is virtually drinkable already.”
Poplawski wants to make sure that people coming to the park in the coming months, and over the course of probably the next six years, understand there is going to be some inconvenience caused by the construction of a new HRSD administrative building, the SWIFT facility, the aquifer pumping stations, and the new trails.
“The one downside, if there is one, is that over the next few years, there will be some noise and disruption to various park areas at various times because of the construction,” said Poplawski. “But they will only be building a couple of wells at a time. It’ll be phased in so the whole park won’t be under construction at the same time. Some of the tranquility of the park at times will be less tranquil. But overall, this is going to be hugely beneficial to everyone who uses the park.”
Riverview Farm Park is the second most active, busiest, and most visited park in Newport News, after Newport News Park. The partnership with HRSD will help to move the park’s master plan forward again.
“Back in the 90s, there was a task force—an advisory group—that was working with City Council to create a master plan for the park,” said Poplawski. “Construction dropped off around 2005/2006 because of a lack of funding. Fast forwarding to 2022, we’re getting ready to energize another advisory group to update the old plan. Back in the 90s, dog parks, disc golf courses, and community gardens weren’t in existence or at least not well-known. So, we’ll be putting the citizens’ taskforce together in a few months to update the master plan, take out things we don’t need, and potentially add some new things like a disc golf course and pickleball courts.”