Special Report: Dispute on Davis Creek

Captain Wayne Hudgins. (WAVY Photo).

MATHEWS COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — We all know the water is the way of life for a lot of people in our area, so when things are disrupted on the water, it leads to a lot of other problems.

That’s what some working watermen are saying is happening on Davis Creek and other waterways around Mathews County. Watermen there say the government isn’t keeping up its end of the deal when it comes to keeping the creek from being a navigational nightmare.

We went out on the Miss Violet with Captain Wayne Hudgins and other members from the working watermen community. They called 10 On Your Side complaining the government is destroying their way of life. Waterman Wayne Hudgins told us, “It is killing our creek.”

We were provided video of private contractors hired by the U.S. Coast Guard to cut down 14 channel markers around Mathews County.  Coast Guard Capt. Richard Wester is Commander Sector Hampton Roads.

A channel marker on Davis Creek in Mathews County. (WAVY Photo).

“We have to access the channel markers to maintain them,” Wester said. “The water is just too shallow to get in there, and the (navigational) aides would be marking a channel that is too shallow, and you don’t want to encourage boaters into an unsafe channel.”

The Coast Guard has been hard at work.  We found a channel marker strapped to a dock, and at night you can see the flashing beacon light under water.

As we rode with Hudgins he pointed out the markers that will soon be gone, “That one will be gone. This one will be gone, and the one they are sawing now will be gone.”

Scenes of cutting down channel markers will continue until all the markers are gone, and the Coast Guard claims it is shoaling — the act of sand filling in the channel — that has made the passage to Davis Creek and other waterways non-navigable. We found that is true that even at high tide in the channel, the boat comes close to touching bottom.

Waterman Carlton Haywood says that makes it even more important to leave up the Channel Markers. “It is a hazard to our navigation, our livelihood, coming and going, it is very dangerous without them,” Haywood says.

Hudgins says it’s a matter of safety. “It is more than nit-picking,” he says. “You have lives at stake when you deal with this.”

We asked Capt. Wester about that comment, “They say you’re nit-picking. That is what they say.”  He responded, “No aids to navigation can be safer than misleading aids to navigation…right now that water way is not safe. And we want to remove the instant navigation to avoid encouraging people into that waterway.”

The watermen argue cutting down the channel markers hurt businesses economically like marinas, county and commercial docks, and recreational boating.

What can increase creek depth is dredging. “Are you expecting them to come in and dredge?” we asked

Mike Walls, who is running for Mathews County Supervisor on the dredging issue.

“Yes we are expecting them to dredge,” Walls answered.

(WAVY Photo)

Walls knows federal dollars for shallow draft, low traffic projects like Davis Creek always lose out to 14-foot or greater dredging  projects.  “My response to that is the federal government has money. They spend the money in the wrong spots,” Walls told us.

Maybe so, but the fact is Davis Creek hasn’t been dredged since 1971.

We went to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers whose mission is dredging, and the folks there know this is a big issue.

Chief of Public Affairs Mark Haviland, said, “It could absolutely be dredged in the future…we are actively working with Mathews County and Congressman (Rob) Whitman to talk about the projects in Mathews County…Davis Creek too, yes sir,” Haviland added.

We asked Capt. Wester about what the Coast Guard would do if, after taking down all the channel markers, and the creek is then  dredged.

“At that point, we may or may not put aides to navigation back in.”

We contacted Rep. Whitman (R), who is holding a hearing on dredging solutions Oct. 27 at the Mathews County Historic Courthouse. It’s scheduled from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“We need to look at where state dollars are available,” Whitman said. “Whether it is with the Virginia Port Authority, or through the Virginia Salt Water License Fishing Fund, as well as working with Mathews County and what Mathews County can do as part of that.”

You can also reach out to Whitman on this issue by going to this link.

For now, as you look down the channel you see a PVC pipe put up by the owner of a local marina as navigational aids in and out of Davis Creek. They believe something’s better than nothing.

“It is a disgrace to any boater…now people are going to come here and say we can’t get in here because there are no markers other than what we put up,” Hudgins said.