At the May Town Council Regular Meeting, the council instructed the Wetlands and Dune Board to construct a ‘Beach Management Plan’. Council did not provide the board with any requirements or criteria as what constitutes such a plan. The Wetlands Board met Wednesday for a work session to attempt to determine how to accomplish the assigned task.
In 2016, the Wetlands and Dune Board provided council with a thorough set of recommendations for the beach and dunes. Those that have been adopted, such as grass plantings and the use of sand fencing have been marginally successful. Most of those recommendations came from a meeting with the Lee Perkins, the beach management expert from the City of Norfolk.
Coinciding with the work of the board, the town has also been engaged with the RAFT team (University of Virginia Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN), the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) at William & Mary Law School, and Old Dominion University/ Virginia Sea Grant (ODU), building out the RAFT (Resilience Adaptation Feasibility Tool) for Cape Charles.
As of May 2018, while some items on the Town of Cape Charles’ Resilience Action Checklist are still in a formative stage, the following items have moved forward:
- In February 2018, the RAFT team provided a special work session for the Town Council to provide detailed educational information on sea level rise, flood risk and resilience.
- As part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program, the Cape Charles Museum and Welcome Center included an exhibit on The RAFT in the “Water Ways” exhibit.
- Public information articles provided updates on the RAFT in several editions of the Gazette.
- A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) handout was developed for the Town to educate residents about sea level rise and resilience.
- Research concerning the regulatory control of the Town’s dunes along the beach road is underway and will be completed soon.
- The RAFT team connected Cape Charles with the Green Infrastructure Center which will be developing a tree canopy map and maps of natural and cultural resources. Further work with the Green Infrastructure Center is expected in fall 2018.
- A study is underway and will be completed soon on the legal and policy barriers or implications of the Town’s ability to obtain authority from VDOT to maintain its roads.
- A study is underway on possible policy incentives to encourage private landowners and private land management to implement conservation approaches on their properties, to help the community become more resilient and prepared for sea level rise and flooding.
Town Planner Larry DiRe also requested that the RAFT team explore just what authority the town, as well as the Wetlands and Dune Board, have in terms of dune and beach management, mainly in regards to the Coastal Primary Sand Dune Protection Act (The Dune Act) of 1980.
It was determined by the RAFT team that “the locality owns or leases the dunes, any government activity on the dunes would be an authorized use. In cases such as this, the wetlands and dunes board would play only an advisory role in relation to actions taken by a locality. While it may be beneficial for a locality to create some type of sand management plan, it would be the responsibility of the locality itself, as opposed to the local board, to create and implement such a plan. If the locality does pursue the creation of a dunes management plan, there is no per se requirement that its local board is involved.”
The memo also noted that the City of Norfolk has already done a great deal of work, the town should leverage it as much as possible.
During the work session discussion, it became clear that design, engineering, environmental and policy expertise was severely lacking, and that using this board to develop a plan may not be the best way to proceed. The City of Norfolk has invested millions of dollars developing an SMP, and while the beaches are slightly different, it seems using that document as a boilerplate would suffice, and that limiting input from the Cape Charles Wetlands and Dune board might be advantageous. In reality, it is the Town Council’s plan, which will be implemented by the Town Manager and Public works.
Discussion took an unexpected turn when members of the ad-hoc local “RAFT” committee injected themselves into the conversation. Member Karen Jolly Davis noted that money earmarked for the Cape Charles Community Trail could be leveraged using a ‘landscaping’ clause—the money could be diverted to beach management. Davis also noted that former interim Town Manager Bob Panek is part of the RAFT committee, and is also the lead for the trail project and that in terms of diverting the funds, he would be the person to see.
This would not be the first time the town has taken money earmarked for one project and used it for something else—the reason the Keck wells (back up water supply) have not come online is that the funds for that project were used to purchase the library building on Mason Avenue.
Fortunately, unlike the RAFT committee, which is ad-hoc and basically meets in secret, the Wetlands and Dune board will have to make the use of this money made public.
Conflict: Those who do, and those who can’t
A conflict between the Wetlands Board and Public Works was evident during the work session. John Lockwood, Public Works foreman for the town and board member Russ Dunton engaged in a heated exchange that highlighted the schism. While Mr. Lockwood and his crew do a very professional job cleaning and maintaining the beach, his perspective is that the beach is the town’s top asset, and he wants to do all he can to put out the best product for the customer (the folks, both in town and tourists that use the beach).
Dunton and others feel the beach and dunes are mainly there to protect town property by serving as a barrier to storm surge.
Both sides have valid points, however, when Public Works attempts to be creative and think out of the box in terms of managing the beach, dunes and sand, the town, usually through members of the Wetlands Board, tamp those efforts down.
A case in point is beach replenishment. Anyone who has been to the beach lately will realize how shallow it has become. Much of this is due to movement of sand that was pumped onto the beach by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2016. During the winter months, Lockwood would like to leverage the technique the Army and use bulldozers to move sand from the shallows back onto the beach. This would replenish sand while adding a little more depth to the water.
This idea gets beaten down using VMRC regulations every time it is brought up. At this time, no formal opinion on whether Mr. Longwood’s technique is allowed has been obtained or requested by the town.
The schism between Public Works and the town highlights a particular problem for Cape Charles. We basically have a bunch of people with no experience or expertise offering recommendations on subjects they know little or nothing about.
The people that can do the work are constantly harangued by those who not only can’t but have little or no knowledge of how.
The work session closed with the usual, “We need more information before we can do anything” statement.
From Town Council’s standpoint, a legitimate course of action would be to obtain Norfolk’s SMP, and then sit down with Mr. Lockwood and discuss practical engineering options that will maintain the dunes as well as keep the ever popular beach clean and usable.