Everyone thought it was a bad idea.
The EPA. The US Department of the Interior. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Ducks Unlimited. Your neighbor. Your friend with the canoe. Your sweet grandmother.
The only people who fought for the oft-derided Auburn Dam were — you guessed it — developers and development-minded politicians. It made sense: a brand-new 183-acre reservoir would have been quite the boon for commercial and residential developers looking to fill Fauquier well past capacity.
CFFC was on the front lines of the battle against Auburn Dam.
“It was a ferocious fight from the beginning,” board member Sue Scheer recalls. Little did she know it was a fight that would consume ten years of her life.
The idea for a dam on Cedar Run, four miles east of Warrenton, first materialized in the mid 1970’s, when the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, proposed seven watershed projects designed, ostensibly, to improve flood mitigation around Virginia.
Eventually, the other six were completed, and the only project left was the Auburn Dam.
As the years went on, proponents of the dam engaged in a juggling act of motivations and justifications, in an attempt to confuse the public. Sometimes the dam was needed for drinking water, sometimes for recreational purposes. The height and material of the dam changed multiple times without so much as one public hearing, and the cost to taxpayers was as murky as a flooded farm field.
After years of shifting arguments, the only things that seemed clear were the devastating impacts of the Auburn Dam, should it be built. Acres of wetlands would be destroyed, along with the fish, otters, and beavers that called them home. Historic villages and civil war battlefields would be submerged. Adjacent landowners would face unknown, soggy surprises. And, of course, developers would descend on Fauquier County with renewed fervor.
By the early 90’s, however, the state provided Fauquier County with a permit and construction seemed imminent.
Along the way, Scheer and CFFC had to consistently switch their tactics to keep pace with the ever-evolving argument of dam proponents. A lawyer was brought on board. At one point, Scheer needed an administrative helper just to deal with the mountains of letters, legal briefs, and water sample reports.
During this time, and partly as an anti-dam measure, CFFC began work on acquiring federal historic des-ignation for the Auburn Crossroads — one of the oldest in the country — and the Civil War battlefield that would surely be flooded if the project went thorough.
“We had convinced the Army Corp of Engineers that the dam was a bad idea,” Scheer said. “There was only one water district in the county that was still fighting for it.”
In 2002, the construction permit for the Auburn Dam officially expired.