Local Leaders Tell Kaine Offshore Drilling is Too Risky

By Linda Cicoira — With offshore drilling comes the possibility of an oil spill. And no one on the Eastern Shore wants threats to aquaculture, commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, NASA rocket launches, wildlife, beaches, marshes and the way of life here. 

That’s what local officials and residents told Senator Tim Kaine when he visited Wachapreague on Monday.

“We take the standpoint there is a risk,” said Robert Crockett, a native of Tangier Island and chairman of the Accomack Board of Supervisors. “What would be the rewards?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t see locally an economic benefit at all. I don’t believe it would create jobs for the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They (the workers) wouldn’t leave from here. You can see the potential damage to our local economy. Assateague Beach would probably be the first one to be hit.”

Chincoteague represents 25 percent of the county’s taxable real estate, said Crockett. “If you look at tourism up and down the Eastern Shore … a huge part of it is Chincoteague … damage to aquaculture … the risk would be huge,” he added. “I have to look at what’s best for Accomack County and the Eastern Shore of Virginia … the rewards would just not be there.”

“There’s a natural and understandable skepticism to it,” said Spencer Murray, chairman of the Northampton Board of Supervisors. “People really want to know, if we did this, would it work? Can we really trust those people who are supposed to be watching the store?” he asked. 

“My constituents are telling me that they don’t see a benefit. New technology will not work,” said Murray. “I can say there is not a lot of openness” towards drilling. “The Chesapeake Bay would be the victim. A spill of that sort would not be a thing they could get over … it would be decades.”

Kaine explained the process that included a public hearing and comment period between each phase for five years. He let it be known that his former thoughts of openness on the subject are gone. He went on record in 2016 as being opposed to drilling off the Virginia coast.

So far, public comment from 190 localities along the Atlantic are in opposition to oil drilling off the coast, said Kaine. Add to that 1,200 elected officials, 500,000 in the fishing industry and aquaculture and tens of thousands of businesses.

Heather Lusk is vice president of H.M. Terry Company of Willis Wharf, a fourth-generation aquaculture business. She is a former securities lawyer and a member of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Virginia Aquaculture Advisory Board and the Shellfish Growers of Virginia. And she is against offshore drilling.

“We are very concerned about any kind of risk to that water quality,” she told Kaine. She said aquaculture is a $56.6 million business. The Shore is on top in hard clam production in the United States and first in oyster production on the East Coast. “That’s coming from Northampton County … . Our hatcheries are on the seaside.” But she said there are also significant ones on the bayside. 

“They are touted as being the best of 

the best,” Kaine agreed.

The Eastern Shore is “one of the most special ecologically sensitive areas on the planet,” said Curt Smith, manager of the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (ANPDC). He said there are also other federal investments on the Shore including money spent on eel grass replenishment aimed at bringing back the bay scallop fishery.

Lusk said there are also plans for other new products. “We are a sustainable industry. We put back more than we take out.”

“If things are put in the wrong spot, they (oil riggers) could potentially close us down,” said William Wrobel, director of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. 

NASA is the fifth largest employer in Accomack, said Crockett. “When they are concerned, we are concerned,” he added. Crockett said it all has a rippling effect. “The person who goes out there and retrieves those rockets is a local fisherman.”

“Cape Charles in Northampton is the Chincoteague of Accomack,” said Elizabeth Dodd Russell, executive director of the Northampton County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re busy 12 months out of the year now. That would be taken away in two seconds,” she said.

“We are the last 70 miles on the whole East Coast that is not developed,” said Carol Evans of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission. “We don’t have to invent any reason for people to visit us like a Disney World. We are authentic.” She boasted the Shore is the smallest and fastest growing tourism attraction in Virginia for the past four years. “We’ve seen 60 new businesses in the past five years,” Evans said. “We’re holding on to the ethics and the vitality that is here.”

“I remember an oil spill here on the Eastern Shore when I was a child,” said Cara Burton, director of the Eastern Shore Public Library. “I can’t remember details … it was on the bayside … we are stewards of this beautiful coastline.”

Others agreed the spill must have been from a transport vehicle. “We already bear the risk of transport,” said Burton.

“This is a major flyway as well,” said Greg Sutter, an Alaska resident visiting Wachapreague, where he used to live. “We leave plenty of room for the ducks and the geese. This is one of the last places where birds can actually rest … If you look at the coastline in New Jersey, there’s no place for those birds.”

Paul Berge, who retired a decade ago as director of A-NPDC, said he camps on the barrier islands every year and from Texas to Florida. “Whether they spill or don’t spill, they also generate a lot of trash,” Berge said of the drillers. He once picked up a hard hat while camping. “The amount of trash can be pretty devastating to the shoreline.”

Robie Marsh, executive director of the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce, said all 420 members of his group took a stand against oil drilling off the coast.

“Just protecting Virginia is not enough,” said Richard Snyder of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. He contended that oil drilling off nearby states could be devastating here too.

Rod Hennessey, a local conservation worker and teacher, said two decisions that were made locally have kept the area from ruin. One was not allowing in Brown & Root, a Texas industrial services contractor, and the other was keeping the barrier islands from being connected by a series of bridges. “We wouldn’t have migratory birds, aquaculture … we’d have Ocean City … don’t want to make a decision like that now.”

“It’s rare to get a number of people like this together — a group of people in this number to agree on one thing,” said Crockett.

“That was striking me as we’ve gone around the table,” said Kaine. “I sort of thought I might have different points of view. But when you’ve got the governing board, tourism, chambers … that sends a pretty clear message to me. I’m not going to leave confused.”

“If there were royalties would you change your minds?” Kaine asked. 

“It’s a bell that you can’t unring … you could give us all the royalties … what would we have to spend it on?” asked Murray.  “We’d have no quality of life here … Money could not replace what we’ve been given here on the Shore.”

Wachapreague Flood Insurance Premiums To Drop Average of $94

By Linda Cicoira — Wachapreague real estate owners will receive a 10 percent reduction in their flood insurance premiums through an increase of various floodplain management measures encouraged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to an announcement made this week.
The rating system change for Wachapreague shows the town’s commitment to protecting itself from the dangers of flooding, said MaryAnn Tierney, FEMA’s Region III administrator. “We would like to thank Wachapreague for taking actions to protect lives and property.”
Under the rating system, local officials are asked to reduce flood losses, facilitate accurate insurance rating and promote awareness of flood insurance. Communities can earn a Community Rating System rating by submitting an application explaining the projects they have in place or are developing.
Wachapreague is among 25 communities in Virginia that have received this recognition, the announcement stated. “With the steps taken by Wachapreague to protect its citizens and increase its resiliency, it has entered the CRS program as a Class 8 participant.” Communities can earn up to 45 percent off their premiums.
Wachapreague policyholders saved an average of $94 in annual premiums.
For information about flood insurance, property owners may visit www.FEMA.gov/national-flood-insurance-program or call 800-427-4661.