By Linda Cicoira – Chincoteague officials say plans for a new public beach and parking at Assateague could compromise the economy of the town, make access cumbersome, and cause erosion that would eventually adversely affect Chincoteague.
At Tuesday’s town council meeting they urged residents and other concerned citizens to submit their thoughts by the Sept. 13 deadline. Comments may be submitted via email to NorthChincoteagueBeach@ dot.gov or by regular mail to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Attention: North Chincoteague Beach, P. O. Box 62, Chincoteague, VA 23336.
The beach is slated to move 1.5 miles north and was identified in the Final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (CCP/ EIS) for Chincoteague and Wallops Island national wildlife refuges and approved in November 2015.
“People have grown weary of public comment it has taken so long,” islander Donna Leonard told the council. It was once reported the refuge’s Beach Road would be removed when the new beach is established, she said. “I don’t see any … plans to demolish that road.” But to ensure it, she asked people to write in.
“I’ve already sent in my comment,” said Councilwoman Denise Bowden. “I don’t think what they have come up with is beneficial to our visitors … or residents. On a high tide, you might have a little beach. This is not going to give us the beach access we have enjoyed for 50 years,” she continued. “I get it that we go through storms. The amount of money that they are talking about (to build the new facilities) for 18 to 20 years would get us what we need right now. There’s got to be a better way than what they have pushed on us right here.”
“You already have to jump in your car and drive over,” said Councilman Matthew Reed. It makes it “even more difficult with kids to have to walk that far,” he said of the distance from the proposed parking to the beach. “If they want to spend the money, (the federal government) should put jetties in.” The current beach, “That’s our lifesaver for the southern end of Chincoteague,” he continued. “They are going to let it run its course. We’ve got to fight them tooth and nail. I would say write them a letter,” Reed said.
Mayor Arthur Leonard reminded the others that the initial proposal was aimed at eliminating parking and using a shuttle bus. “Luckily, the public was heard and the shuttle idea was done away with,” he said. “I’ve been to all the meetings. No shuttle service is proposed.” He agreed that the southern area must be protected from wash over.
Historically, walking a distance was the way to enjoy the beach, the mayor continued. “When they used the beach in the 20s and 30s, they would walk from the Coast Guard station to the ocean. Unfortunately, we’ve been spoiled. I daresay we have the easiest public access to the beach on the East Coast. How far do you walk on the hot sand in Ocean City?” He rhetorically asked. “We’re kind of spoiled. You also pay the piper when Mother Nature rages. It’s hard to make plans to maintain something when you’re that close to the water. It may be convenient but when it’s gone. It’s gone,” he said describing North Carolina.
“You get nothing done when you fight,” the mayor continued. “It’s not good … instead of fighting with the federal government, we need to work with the federal government. In the end, it’s theirs.” Still, he urged people to make comments. “They hear them all. If you don’t plan for something, you’re planning for disaster.”
“With all due respect, I have to disagree with you,” Bowden said. “You have to fight … I never felt the Town of Chincoteague (residents) were a group of people that just roll over … I think even though we may not win the war, I think there are some battles that need to be fought.”
In other business, council voted unanimously to allow installation of digital signs at both Chincoteague schools. The school division requested the change so cancellations and other school and town announcements could be easily made. The signs have already been erected at Accomack County’s other nine schools.
Planning Commission Chairman Ray Rosenberger noted the change could be considered spot zoning.
“As long as it is announcing a town or school function,” the mayor said, it should be allowable.
“We’re part of the county,” said Bowden. “Our schools are part of the county. I think it would be unwise if we didn’t allow this for our schools. … I don’t see how we can be wrong with that.”
In July, the owner of a derelict house on Cleveland Street was given another 60 days to take action to fix the structure. He did not take action so the council unanimously voted to demolish it.