By Stefanie Jackson
Cape Charles has the chance to receive up to $5 million in grant funds to build a multi-use trail that would improve safety for area pedestrians and bicyclists at minimal cost to the town.
Curtis Smith, director of planning for the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC), presented the opportunity to the town council at its Sept. 20 meeting.
The money would come from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Open Container Fund, built up with fines collected from drivers caught with open containers of alcohol in their vehicles.
Funds are used to construct standalone trails “with the intent to get people out of harm’s way,” particularly from drunk drivers, Smith said.
All phases of construction would be covered by the grant, including design, engineering, environmental considerations, and construction. There is no grant-matching requirement. The town would only have to cover costs for A-NPDC to prepare and submit the application.
The contract for the job would be fulfilled within a maximum period of three to four years.
The news of the grant opportunity arrived following completion of a feasibility study for what Smith said is now called “Phase 4” of the Southern Tip Bike and Hike Trail. The trail, originally planned in three phases, is being designed and constructed in accordance with the Eastern Shore Bicycle Plan.
The trail will eventually complete a 25-mile loop connecting the towns of Cape Charles and Cheriton to restaurants, resorts, and parks, including the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, Kiptopeke State Park, and Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve.
Considerable debate has centered on how the trail can safely and affordably cross Route 13.
The recently completed Phase 4 feasibility study only included extension of the trail from Parsons Circle to Stone Road and Cape Charles Harbor, but because there are ample funds available, Smith suggested applying for a grant to cover a wider range of safety improvements including the Route 13 crossing and a trail leading to the Food Lion shopping center.
“It sounds so good, we can’t pass it up, but … how much money do you want from us?” Councilman Chris Bannon asked.
Smith said Cape Charles would need to send a letter to A-NPDC requesting it prepare and submit the grant application, and the town would have to pay about $1,000 to $2,000, which A-NPDC would process as a reimbursement.
The matter was added to the council’s agenda for the evening. Councilwoman Tammy Holloway made the motion to authorize Town Manager Larry DiRe to send the letter of approval to the A-NPDC, seconded by Councilman Steve Bennett and passed unanimously.
Citizens Demand Coastal Resilience During the public comment session, Hank Mayer asked the council to authorize an ad hoc committee of concerned citizens like himself to continue development of the Cape Charles coastal resilience plan.
Karen Jolly Davis wrote a letter to the council stating that recent threats of storms like Hurricane Florence “show us what the future holds for coastal communities … events that endanger our homes, our businesses, and our lives.”
She asked the council to address Cape Charles’ ongoing drainage issues. “Dumping more water into an inadequate system will eventually result in disaster.” Furthermore, potential investors would be driven away, “real estate values would plummet, and the future of the town would grow dark.”
Upgrading the drainage system and developing a coastal resilience plan “will cost money,” but, “hesitation, controversy, or indifference are luxuries we cannot afford,” Davis continued.
But there are some coastal resilience measures that can be incororated into the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance, requiring only the leadership of the council, she added.
“I urge the council to fully support efforts to protect Cape Charles from disastrous flooding, because the rain is coming.”