, 2014


Trailers tossed, trees
snapped in Wicomico Church

by Audrey Thomasson

LANCASTER—In a face-off with county officials, about 75 Dymer Creek residents opposed to a public boat ramp in their neighborhood filled the board of supervisors’ agenda Thursday with over two hours of criticism and finger pointing.

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The meeting began with a public comments section during which more than two dozen participants spoke concerning the boat ramp. Two scheduled public hearings were delayed for so long, many of the citizens interested in them went home before the hearings took place.

Speakers from the Dymer Creek Environmental Preservation Association (DCEPA) focused on what they called the county’s secrecy in obtaining the property, which the county denied, saying the law allows them to meet in closed session to consider acquisition of land.

Others spoke out in favor of the public ramp, saying there will always be a vocal neighborhood against public access in their “back yard” and the county needs to support the silent majority who have no access.

Secret negotiations

One of the DCEPA organizers who lives near the proposed ramp site, Carl Smith, said county officials have kept a “veil of secrecy” around the project since 2012, which resulted in the public’s “erosion of confidence and trust” in them.

Another creek resident, George Simmons, compared the “secrecy” of the deal to federal government cover-ups like Watergate, Iran-Contra and Monica Lewinsky.

“There’s no place for that and no place for acquiring free land...secret contracts for spending tax dollars without the public knowing and hidden in budgets,” he claimed.

“You don’t expect us to believe a land developer gave you five acres for nothing in return,” said Delores Thomas. She said the ramp would be in “our backyards...Shame on you. People don’t like the way it was done.”

Several creek residents focused on reasons the creek is not suitable for a public boat ramp.

Bad location

Bill Sullivan said the county’s plan to dredge the creek wouldn’t work because they wouldn’t be able to get the “three-to-one slope” needed to prevent it from silting back in again. “The headwaters of a creek will silt up a lot quicker than other locations,” he said.

Len Engstrum noted the shoals and curves of the creek make it ripe for accidents, an argument several other speakers made. “The opening of Dymer Creek to the bay is where tubing and water skiing is done,” he said.

Dr. Don Davidson testified the water width needed for a ramp is 250 to 400 yards while the proposed ramp would be where the width is only 50 yards.

Disturbing the natural habitat of nesting birds, fish, crabs and other wildlife was the focus of Beth Kendrick’s remarks. She said dredging will smother fish eggs and boaters will destroy the natural shoreline of the creek.

“Listen to mother nature—not run her over with a jet ski,” she said.

Mickey Kendrick talked about the initial and on-going costs of the ramp and storm water run-off.

Margaret Socey said there are better ways for the county to spend taxpayer dollars, and made several suggestions including improving school facilities, pay raises for teachers, building affordable housing, or contributions to the library, fire and rescue services or a public fishing pier.

Donna Weiler talked about police service at the site as well as oil and gas spills by boaters.

Several speakers suggested a system of county coupons for use at privately owned boat launches.

John Cardwell, who said the county was looking for a boat ramp when he was a supervisor 30 years ago, questioned whether a boat ramp was a permitted use in a residential district.

“County sanctioned is by-right,” replied county planning and land use director Don Gill.

Supporters

Citizens who favored the ramp held their comments until most of the opposition had spoken.

Dana Gilmore noted he is sympathetic to the group’s concerns, but said they are the same complaints he’s heard over the past 20 years from other neighborhoods when a public ramp was proposed. “Not in my back yard,” he called them. He suggested the group “get serious about public-owned public access” and put their efforts behind finding another suitable location. “Get it started,” he said.

Bill Warren said the location is “better than other sites considered over the years...and will satisfy the objectives of the comprehensive plan” to have public access to the bay from the east side of the county.

“It’s been a sore point for years with many county citizens,” he said. “The failure has frustrated citizens...and it’s only been made worse...since we are the only county in the Northern Neck not to offer citizens public access...and hundreds of citizens who can’t afford access.”

He called the project cost effective and said at low tide the proposed site “is within 500 feet of a good depth of water.”

“I commend you for taking steps to public access,” said Lloyd Hill. “I’m not saying it’s the ideal location...You will never have a perfect location. The time is right to do the right thing.”

George Bott read from the Declaration of Independence that to secure rights for all citizens, governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Without public access, many residents are forced to swim off private land at places like the ferry landing, he said. “The public has had ample opportunity to comment during public hearings on the comprehensive plan” which calls for maximum access to the water, he said.

“These people need to pony up and pay for it so other people can have access,” said Charlie Costello.

Joe Curry said he’s lived here for 80 years and served on the planning commission. “All the way back then, we’ve been trying to find ways to get to the water. It’s going to be in someone’s backyard. There’s always a large vocal group against. But there’s a silent majority. You represent all the citizens in the county. Do what’s best...because you’ll never satisfy that group of people who don’t want it.”

Investment thus far

Gill stated the county has spent less than $15,000 to date on the proposed site, including closing costs of some $1,400. The county accepted the gift of land January 23 after a $100,000 grant was approved by the state that same month. Net cost estimates for the project are $189,900 for construction and dredging and $17,000 for engineering plans, he said.

“The perception is that this is a done deal. Actually, the reality is we are still in the beginning stages of this project,” said Gill.

Chairman Wally Beauchamp thanked citizens for their comments. The issue was not on the evening’s agenda and supervisors took no action.

A resolution in support of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries grant agreement was tabled until the April 24 meeting.


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