By Carol Vaughn —
Public input is being sought about planning for four dredging projects on the Eastern Shore.
Planning is underway for waterway maintenance on four creeks, two on the seaside and two on the bayside — Folly Creek, Hungars Creek, Nassawadox Creek, and Red Bank Creek.
The first of three public meetings about the projects was held virtually Thursday, July 15. The meeting was recorded and may be viewed at https://publicinput.com/W187
“Safe navigation on the Shore is extremely vital. These state waterways are a huge economic driver for the Shore and they need to be addressed,” said Grayson Williams of the A-NPDC, during the meeting.
“Inadequate water depths are extremely dangerous, especially for watermen coming in and out of these creeks…or even the recreational boaters coming out and they need to know the hazardous areas,” he said, adding that dredging will be the way to improve navigability of the creeks.
Another meeting is planned for September and a third for November. Dates and other details will be announced.
A survey about the projects is open until Aug. 14 and may be taken at https://publicinput.com/O0663#
Additionally, interactive maps at the website allow site-specific comments to be added for each of the four creeks, including items such as locations that present navigation concerns; popular recreation spots, areas with shoaling, and areas, such as eroding shorelines or disappearing marsh habitat, that could be improved by using dredged material.
Survey questions include which of the creeks the survey taker uses most frequently, how often and for what purposes the person uses the creek, questions about type and size of vessel used to travel the creeks, primary concerns about navigating the creeks, what navigational improvements the person would like to see made, and whether there are nearby sites that could benefit from beneficial use of the dredge spoils.
There is also a place to add comments.
People can sign up on the website to receive project updates by email.
Email the project team with questions at ESVAWaterways@PublicInput.com
The project website also may be viewed in Spanish, at https://publicinput.com/ESVAWaterwaysSpanish, or in Haitian Creole, at https://publicinput.com/ESVAWaterwaysHaitianCreole
“We are looking for input,” said Ira Brotman of Moffatt and Nichol, who gave an overview of each of the four creek projects at the July 15 meeting.
“We’ve gotten really very few comments in regards to disposal sites in any of the waterways other than Nassawadox with Silver Beach,” said John Joeckel, chairman of the Eastern Shore Regional Waterways Committee, during a comment period at the July 15 meeting.
The private ownership of Silver Beach could preclude use of dredge spoils there, he said.
“So we need to look at potential other alternative disposal sites that would meet the Virginia criteria. One of those sites could be Horse Island, which is just south of the northern channel in Nassawadox,” he said, adding, “…The point I’m trying to make is, dredging is meaningless without a disposal location and that’s our biggest issue that we seem to have difficulty solving,” Joeckel said.
Williams said because the projects involve dredging of state waterways using state funds, “the heirarchy of disposal or depositing areas (for dredged material) would be a public beach, just like what we did in Kings Creek.”
If public areas can not be used, easements to use private property would have to be obtained, according to Williams.
Accomack and Northampton counties in July 2020 were awarded $426,5000 from the Virginia Port Authority through the Virginia Waterway Maintenance Fund to complete planning projects for dredging the four creeks.
The Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission is managing the projects.
The planning projects involve channel condition surveys and base mapping, sediment sampling and testing, and development of a dredge material management plan.
The projects resulted after the A-NPDC in 2016 partnered with the Eastern Shore of Virginia Regional Waterways Committee and local stakeholders to develop a regional dredging needs assessment.
The assessment looked at conditions of 52 channels and identified waterways that need dredging.
It found 22 were in need of immediate maintenance and more than one third of channels in the waterways had sections with no more than three feet of depth at mean low water.
The assessment was based on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data and survey maps, previous reports, personal communication with committee members and waterway users and aid to navigation charts.
The regional waterways committee was established in 2015 in response to several factors, including an ongoing decline in funding to maintain federal waterways on the Shore, removal of most U.S. Coast Guard aids to navigation on the Virginia Inside Passage on the seaside due to the lack of maintenance of the waterways, and coastal erosion of the barrier islands, which protect salt marshes, shellfish grounds, and the mainland from the sea.
“The threat of a reduction in safely navigable waterways, both federal and state, particularly as the tourism and aquaculture industries are growing, is a concern for communities and economies in the region,” the 2016 report concluded.
A total of 32 federal project areas and 27 non-federal waterways were evaluated for the report, which the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission released after eight months of work.
An update to the assessment is expected before the end of 2021, according to the ESVA Waterways website, https://publicinput.com/W187
In April 2021, hydrographic surveys were completed along each of the four creek channels in the current planning project.
Sediment sampling was done in May and June.
From July to October, development of a dredged material management plan will begin, including looking at volumes for channel dredging; a summary of the character of dredge material, dredging method alternatives; alternative placement areas for dredged material and opportunities for its beneficial use; and cost analyses.
Two other waterway maintenance projects, one on Kings Creek and the second on a section of waterway adjacent to a recently dredged federal channel in Quinby Creek, were awarded a total of $385,000 in state funds in 2019 to pay for preliminary work required before actual dredging can begin.
In 2020, a project on Wachapreague channel was undertaken after Accomack County was awarded $206,500 through the Virginia Waterway Maintenance Fund. The funds were designated to complete a channel condition survey and base mapping, do sediment sampling, develop a beneficial use strategy for dredged material, prepare and submit permits, and design construction documents and bid documents for dredging the channel. A contract between Accomack County and Waterway Engineering and Surveys to do the work was endorsed in March 2021.
The Waterways Maintenance Fund resulted from legislation developed by the Navigable Waterways Committee, the A-NPDC, Sen. Lynwood Lewis, and Del. Rob Bloxom.
The Boards of Supervisors of both counties in 2017 passed resolutions asking Virginia legislators to set up a long-term, sustainable funding source for waterway maintenance, including dredging of non-federal waterways.
The legislation was approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in 2018.