Special to the Cape Charles Mirror, response to the USCG on proposed Anchorage Grounds, Lower Chesapeake Bay, Cape Charles by District 1 Supervisor Granville Hogg.
On behalf of my constituents in the Town of Cape Charles and surrounding area in Northampton County, I hereby submit my comments regarding concerns relating to the proposed establishment of a permanent vessel anchorage just off the shoreline of Cape Charles, Virginia, in the Chesapeake Bay.
Cape Charles has approximately 1,000 residents but those numbers swell considerably during the summer months with summer renters and out of state visitors. Cape Charles is heavily dependent on commercial and recreational fishing, boating off our shores, and tourists that come to enjoy the town and its pristine beaches and clean Chesapeake Bay waters.
Just to the North of Cape Charles is Cherrystone Campground and Cherrystone Aqua Farm. During the summer months Cherrystone Campground has an average daily population in excess of 2500 persons and Cherrystone Aqua Farm is one of the largest aquaculture hatcheries on the eastern seaboard. To the south of the proposed anchorage is Kiptopeke State Park and Sunset Inn Campground. Between the three campgrounds and Cape Charles the population of my district increases in excess of two and half fold. The recent fish kill of July 1 on the beaches at Sunset and Kiptopeke are imbedded in the minds of County residents.
An abundance of natural resources exist in and around the Town of Cape Charles. Critical flyways and wildlife habitats, such as wetlands and natural areas, are present within the Town’s boundaries and along the bay shore. In addition to serving an important ecological function, the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are important to the local economy and lifestyle.
The planned anchorage will conflict with local watermen and recreational users over a large area of the Chesapeake Bay just off the shores of Cape Charles. Potential maritime traffic safety issues between large vessels and the significant numbers of fishing and recreational boats will arise.
Even with modern sewage treatment systems and oil water separators for pumping bilges, vessels have been known to illegally bypass systems which has led to pollution/contaminants entering US waterways. Since 2005, there have been 6,238 mystery oil spills (averaging 567/year) totaling 292,396 gallons (averaging 26,582 gallons/year). Mystery spills are spills from unknown or unidentified sources. U.S. Coast Guard investigators are unable to identify the vessel or facility that spilled the oil into U.S. navigable waters.
The Congress passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) in 2002 which has been implemented by the USCG since 2003. MTSA has primary focus on foreign flag SOLAS vessel security on US waterways and at maritime facilities, particularly emphasizing the potential terrorist activities that may arise from vessel crewmembers.
Ships at anchor can drag their anchors, even during normal weather, but especially during storms. We all remember the incident back in May 2014, shipped dragged its anchor in high winds and ended up off the beach in VA Beach while at Lynnhaven Anchorage. “Crew on several ships called for help after realizing they too were dragging anchor, Little said. The Ornak was the closest to shore, so it was the first and only one to run aground.”
At the Cape Charles public meeting, Captain Kevin Carroll, Deputy Sector Commander for Sector Hampton Roads, explained to the attendees that any ship that anchors in the lower
Bay must maintain, by law, a crew onboard that can get the vessel underway should it break anchor. However, that didn’t prevent the Ornak from dragging anchor and ending up on the Lynnhaven beach.
At that same meeting Captain Carroll stated that ships must also carry anti-pollution equipment as well as conduct training for the crew that would enable such equipment to be deployed in the event of an emergency. However, ships only carry equipment to clean up deck spills, not spills into the waterway.
When asked if the Coast Guard would stage additional anti-pollution resources in Cape Charles as a precaution, Carroll explained that commercial companies based in Hampton Roads provide that protection for the Fifth Coast Guard District. However, oil spill response resources from Norfolk would take hours to arrive on site to an oil spill incident at Cape Charles.
Therefore, due to the aforementioned issues it is my position that USCG should not make permanent the anchorage off of Cape Charles until:
• USCG can provide enhanced anchored vessel oversight with patrols from Cape Charles in the anchorage to observe vessels complying with the laws of the US as to properly working oil water separators and on board sewage treatment systems.
• Enhancement of the watch standing procedures in the anchored vessels wheelhouses to ensure continuous monitoring of anchored position. Enhancement of requirements for engine rooms to be immediately capable of getting underway in the event anchor dragging occurs. Procedures for anchorage monitoring and engine room readiness should be different for weather events.
• Development of restrictions on anchorage use based upon weather e.g., winds, sea states. Anchorage should not be available to vessels for hurricanes where vessels could be forced onto Cape Charles beaches.
• Development of specific security arrangements/requirements pursuant to the MTSA for crewmembers being allowed off vessels and into the town of Cape Charles.
• Providing Cape Charles USCG small boat station with additional oil spill response resources and sufficient resources for enhanced monitoring of the anchorage area with waterborne patrols.
• Completion of a thorough impact review of the current proposed anchorage location and the anchorages impact on commercial and recreational fishing and boating interests and maritime traffic safety.
USCG should provide the above information and procedures and the results of their evaluation of the above issues to the public before designating the anchorage as permanent.