Campground Closure Leaves Residents High and Dry

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By Linda Cicoira — Inlet View Campground, at the far south end of Main Street on Chincoteague, looks like the island’s newest cemetery. It’s a place where rusty trailers, dilapidated structures, peeling billboards, and worn-out bicycles have been left — a final resting place.

What some say is the prettiest spot on the island is also now also the quietest. There are no children’s cries of delight or the voices of adult friends conversing. The pot-holed dirt streets are vacant. 

“Keep Out” signs have been erected. Those who have been seen there in recent days appear to be workers or owners. They refused to comment or identify themselves. Surveyors with instruments screwed onto a tripod were seen measuring boundary lines.

Campground residents and frequent visitors were the first to be asked to leave. A developer had a plan one can only speculate about. 

The campers received word in April that they had to go, said Crystal Ciafardo, who took all the time with her family she could there for 20 years. The closure was rumored in April, she said. “Got a letter in June. Looked like it was written by a 10-year-old. Honestly, we were all treated wrong. A lot of us never got notice but we kept each other informed.” 

Then the services stopped. “A person from the town came in to cut the grass.” She said he volunteered. “People who paid to be there were cleaning the bathroom.”

A lot of us never had a problem with Eddie Tull (the current owner) selling,” said Ciafardo. “It was a problem with how we were treated. Bluewater (the new developer) treated us like we were absolutely nothing. They wouldn’t return phone calls. We were monitored on our trash. They wouldn’t do anything. The roads were roller coasters, at least Eddie would bring in fill dirt or whatever. They never cut the grass.

“I’ve always called it the ghetto. It was a little run down and stuff like that. The ones that took pride. We did blood sweat and tears in there. We spend our money. We were on the bayside on the waterfront. 

“Now the ghetto looks like a war zone,” she continued. Ciafardo said she paid $2,000 annually in rent for a lot. Her five adult children had lots too. Ciafardo said she paid in advance and is owed a total of $10,000.

“The sunsets, the boats, the dolphins, the rockets going up,” Ciafardo said. “It was totally amazing. Now, because of all this, we won’t get to see them as much,” she added of her sons and grandchild.

The developer wanted to run a septic line along Main Street. The town was asked for its support. The request was a topic at a Chincoteague Town Council work session in September. But after the talking was done, Mayor Arthur Leonard and the council tabled the matter for a week or so. More discussions were expected Monday, but the request for support was withdrawn and the developer’s lawyer “asked to be removed from the agenda,” Town Manager Jim West reported.

A reason for the change, whether it be a strategy or a sign of defeat, was not given.

Meanwhile, the view through the chain-link fence from the harbor was grim. Pads were empty, a gas grill yearned for a hamburger, and the doors to cozy campers were left open to the elements. A bulldozer is imagined for the future. The metal to be scrapped at some point.

At the October monthly council session Monday, Leonard started the meeting by saying Inlet View would not be discussed. The first person to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting didn’t listen.

Jeanne Knight wanted to “express profound disappointment” in town leaders for not taking action. “For not coming up with the questions in an adequate amount of time so that a great opportunity” wouldn’t have gotten away. “I hope in the future when something is explained … by civil engineers” that it will be “trusted and taken into consideration instead of doubts that have blown this opportunity. In the process of the negotiations, the people who were living in Inlet View were insulted,” she complained. Knight said she met those who lived and visited there when her cat went missing in July. “People told me to go to Inlet View to look around. Everyone had yards that were mowed. Everyone was articulate and kind to me. Now we don’t have a project in its place,” Knight said.

Councilman Matthew Reed, the newest member of the panel, said the September meeting left him with a bad feeling. “Disappointed, to say the least. I don’t know that they have a ‘Plan C’ down there. Because of us tabling this, we missed an opportunity … that’s pretty ridiculous … DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) and the health department still had to sign off. They just needed us to say they could run the pipe down the road … I hope they are still doing this.”

There was a suggestion that hazardous materials were at the site. “We are not aware of any specific hazards,” West said. “The potential developer stated that there was hazardous material that they promised to clean up. They presented pictures of what appears to be abandoned go-carts and old rusted LP gas containers.”

Septic violations were also alleged. West said, “The town is not aware of any current violations. We have been notified in the past, but the then-owner, or maybe still current owner, corrected them at the direction of the health department.”

“They collected money from 240 people for lot rent,” said Ciafardo. “That was this summer.” Her lease was with Tull. She’s hoping to get her money back. The others who stayed at the campground, “Most of them went to Bunker Hill,” which is also owned by Tull. “No water views there. Right across the street from the marsh. That’s the water view. When you have high tides then you have your water view.”

“It would be too astronomically high for some of the people to come back,” she said. The Ciafardos had “a lighted palm tree in the yard as our Christmas tree” the first year they were there for the holiday. “We made a lot of memories there. People who were strangers became friends and now they became family. Everybody looked at us like we’re at Inlet View. It was a taboo. … that eyesore brought a lot of people together. Some worked in town. I know we spent a massive amount of money there. We gave back to that community.  It’s been hard. I had to say goodbye to friends I’ll probably never see again.” 

The Ciafardos were lucky. They were able to buy a lot on the island so they will continue to enjoy Chincoteague for years to come. Her friends, the Swiders, weren’t so fortunate. They went back to New Jersey after spending 44 years of vacations on Chincoteague.

Dianna Kinsey was not as agreeable when it came to Tull. She posted on Facebook, “I pray when all is said and done at Inlet View that the town and council do something about the conditions” of property “Eddie Tull and family own. Because he violates rules and regulations on a daily basis. Not to mention the EPA needs to shut him down for good. That is just my opinion. if the raw sewage is going into the bay from Inlet View, what do you think is happening over in Bunker Hill since Eddie Tull owns it also? I gave up caring. Like I said come Sunday, I’m done and will be heading to Trails End.”

Rita Cohen said her family took their camper out of Inlet View in August. “There were not many that could actually be moved. Saltwater does terrible things to metal. Many of the moveable ones were already taken out by the owners. We … even took our deck with us and sold our shed. Was not about to leave anything for them.”

Colie Bennett said he moved around the first of June. “I had to leave mine behind. I did get lucky to find a place in my price range still on the island.”

Attorney John Custis told the council in September that his client and Tull were in a contract for the campground. “His client ran into some major issues in the campground which is septic,” minutes from the meeting quoted him as saying. “There are hazardous materials on the property along with debris and the property was not closed as anticipated, which would have been February-March. The contractor felt it was too many issues to litigate. The contractor enlisted partners who are members of the Bluewater Development Team” with Jack and Todd Burbage.

“They want to make the property much nicer increasing the quality, create a lot of green space, promote the recreational and tourist aspect of the island,” according to the minutes. Custis showed “pictures advising there are approximately 230 campsites. This is a proposal to bring density down by about 40 trailers to under 200 campers.” He also showed “plans that include docks for fishing and crabbing along with walk space around the perimeter. He feels Inlet View is one of the prettiest properties on the island. They have a contract purchaser who is ready to move forward with cleaning up the property, removing the hazardous materials and redevelopment of the site.”

An engineer said a solution for sewer was needed “because an application was submitted for an outfall at Inlet View and was denied by DEQ. One solution was to do onsite but would take up too much room giving no viable land nearby to include the 15 site improvements. Another solution would be to approve two existing outfalls for sewer discharge.” That was where the line down Main Street came in. “They are looking at a force main to be installed under Main Street that would run from the campground,” the engineer said. “The campground would have an onsite wastewater package treatment plant and a forced main that would discharge to the Sunset Bay site. This would only be from May through September.”