Back Bay supporters oppose marina proposal

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — After years of hiatus, a developer is moving forward with a proposed marina project near Back Bay National Wildlife Refugel. The controversial plan went back before residents Thursday night.

The Army Corps of Engineers held a public meeting on the project at Red Mill Elementary School, where biologists and supporters of the refuge spoke out in opposition. They say the marina will only be detrimental to the wildlife and vegetation that flourish in the area, after several years of decline.

Photos: Public meeting on marina proposal

“For something like this to come along at this time when things are just getting back to normal, it’s almost like a slap in the face to a conservation agency, which has been dedicated to trying to promote the wise use of those wildlife resources,” said John Gallegos, the senior wildlife biologist at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Local developer Doug Wilkins applied for the permit for the marina and boat ramp, which would be located right off Sandpiper Road in Sandbridge. The marina would potentially go along with a condominium project — that has not yet been developed — on the same property as the restaurant Baja.

The project nor the controversy are new.

The group opposing the project, Friends of Bay Back, said Wilkins was originally issued the permit by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2008. With the help of the Southern Environmental Law Center, the group fought it, and an appellate court ruled there needed to be more environmental study before the project could go forward.

Wilkins is still moving forward with the marina, despite the court case.

The Army Corps of Engineers said they are now working on a study called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Related Link: Army Corps’ website about marina EIS

Tom Walker, the chief of the regulatory branch for the Army Corps, said they are gathering public opinion as they put the EIS together, which needs to happen before the permit for the marina can be approved.

“We review these without passion or prejudice,” Walker said. “So, we will analyze those comments and concerns. We will coordinate with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns the refuge, and get their opinion on those concerns.”

Gallegos said there are several concerns, including both short-term and long-term impacts.

“The short-term impacts, which consists of demolition, construction and dredging, that’s phase one,” Gallegos said. “Phase two would be the effects created by boat traffic going in and out.”

Residents brought up many concerns at the public meeting. The group broke up into four rooms at Red Mill Elementary, while Army Corps employees wrote concerns down on large pieces of paper.

One list of concerns read:

  • Effects to Wildlife
  • Effects of vessels
  • Economic effect on fish industry
  • Pollution, noise
  • Enforcement (waterway, marina, fisherman)
  • Secondary, tertiary effects

“We all really hold this area close to our hearts,” said Todd Barnes, who is on the Board of Directors for the Back Bay Restoration Foundation. “It’s been a long time coming, and [Back Bay has] been in bad shape for a long time, and we’re glad it’s trying to recover. And it has recovered. But, we don’t want to go backwards.”

Wilkins was not at Thursday’s meeting. However, WAVY.com did speak with him in person. The developer did not want to comment on the process. He referred people to the application and public notice by the Army Corps and asked people to review it before they pass judgment.

A decision on the marina will not happen in the immediate future.

The Army Corps of Engineers said there will be another public comment meeting, which will be after the EIS is drafted. The draft won’t be ready until the end of 2015, according to a project manager. A decision on the marina could come a year and a half from now.

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