, 2015

Citizens group opposes
boat ramp location

by Audrey Thomasson

WHITE STONE—Nearly 100 community members have joined a newly organized group opposed to Lancaster County’s plans for a public boat ramp on the headwaters of Dymer Creek, according to Carl Smith, spokesman for the group.

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Smith said Dymer Creek Environmental Preservation Association (DCEPA) members are circulating petitions against a county boat ramp that would destroy a natural wildlife habitat on Simmons Cove of Dymer Creek that has been undisturbed for 100 years.

Smith accused county officials of planning the project in secret for the past year. “They didn’t notify adjoining property owners until the day before supervisors voted on it at their February 27 meeting,” he said.

The organization requested a number of documents under the Freedom of Information Act that show the county spent $17,000 for an engineering study and procured a $100,000 grant from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF)—all before making the announcement at the February meeting, he said.

County planner and land use director Don Gill said the money spent on an engineering study came from the approved 2013-14 budget for securing land for public access.

Gill explained that the engineering study did not have to go out for bid because Bay Design was already under contract to the county. He said supervisors asked him in a closed session to look into possible grant funding that could help pay for development of the launch site.

In a “fact sheet” prepared by DCEPA, members claim developer Bob Sowder, who gifted the land to the county, stands to gain from the construction of a boat ramp.

When asked how Sowder would gain financially, Smith said having a public boat ramp just three miles from Sowder’s development of Grace Hill would be an enticing selling point.

“Simmons Cove is probably the worst site on Dymer Creek for a large boat launch,” said Smith. “It’s extremely shallow and narrow and it’s the farthest point from the bay. Because there is no boat traffic, except maybe kayaks and canoes, it is the most undisturbed wildlife habitat on the Northern Neck. The grant is for a large power boat facility. The habitat will be destroyed...with 70 boats a day” using the facility, he said.

Smith said at the end of the day it would be unsafe to have so many boaters backed up on the narrow creek waiting to get out of the water.

According to Gill, the county did not specify a facility for 70 boats a day or 35 parking spaces. Those numbers came from the DGIF grant and the engineering study, said Gill. The grant calls for boats under 25 feet in length, he added.

DCEPA members also note the creek near the ramp site is less than a foot deep in the center at low tide. “The county proposes to dredge a channel more than 500 feet long and 45 feet wide,” they wrote, claiming it would destroy the habitat.

District 3 supervisor Jason Bellows said he shares some of the DCEPA concerns, but said the process should uncover the problems and whether this is a viable place for a launch site. “We still hope to open a launch site at Windmill Point Marina,” he said, referring to a proffer made to the county several years ago by the marina’s former owner.

Smith expressed concern that after dredging, silt may eventually fill back in the creek as it has on Greenvale Creek, the site of the county’s other public boat launch.

However, based on a scientific shoreline evolution study indicating the shoreline hasn’t changed in 100 years, both Bellows and Gill said it should not fill in with silt.

Smith’s group estimates the proposed facility will cost taxpayers more than $300,000 to construct, plus additional funding each year to maintain and police the facility—money that would be better spent on schools, health services and libraries, they wrote.

DCEPA member Cundiff Simmons, a former supervisor who lives across the creek from the proposed launch site, suggested the boat ramp would be better suited on an 11.1-acre parcel directly off Route 222 on Taylor’s Creek, which he said the county acquired in 2007 from New Tides LLC.

“The width of the creek at that point is approximately 250 feet compared with roughly half that width on Simmons Cove,” said Simmons. “It appears to have deep water, limited wetlands and easy access to both the Corrotoman and Rappahannock rivers.”

According to Gill, that site is undeveloped and also on shallow water that requires dredging. “It would cost a great deal more to develop,” said Gill. “Also, it doesn’t meet the comprehensive plan’s call for a site in the eastern part of the county with direct access to the Chesapeake Bay.”

Gill noted the county plans to eventually develop the Taylor’s Creek site and others. Currently, the Northern Neck Planning District is researching five public road endings in Lancaster for potential public access.

“The county is in the initial stages of determining the feasibility of the Dymer Creek project,” said Gill. “We haven’t even filed a joint permit application with Virginia Marine Resources Commission which involves the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Environmental Quality and the local wetlands board,” he added.

Members of DCEPA plan to present their case at the next board of supervisors meeting, March 27 at 7 p.m.

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