Captain Planet isn’t coming; we have to do this ourselves.
Growing up in Colonial Beach has always given me a strong appreciation for the environment. It probably helped that my mom was an avid outdoor hiker during my childhood and we literally lived above Dockside Restaurant surrounded on three sides by the most beautiful views the Northern Neck has to offer. This experience also gave me a healthy respect for the destruction and dangers of fire, wind, and water first hand. I am an environmental conservative because of it and see preservation of our natural landscape as a responsibility my generation has to take head on.
When it comes to Colonial Beach and our local governance I see two serious threats we face as a community: shoreline erosion and storm water flooding. As we escape the dangers of Hurricane Florence this seems like as good a time as any to discuss these two important topics.
We must prioritize and fund a comprehensive storm water management plan this year, this issue cannot wait 5-10 years down the road. Our existing curbs and gutters need to be coordinated not just with the house next door but with the entire block and sectors of town based on the FEMA ridge lines. Our current building regulations are having new homes install curbs, gutters, and culvert pipes without any coordination to the street drainage because in many instances there aren’t gutters or existing drainage built in on either side of the new construction. It simply doesn’t make sense to do it this way and the need for a storm water management plan along with the need of protecting our existing/abandoned wellheads from storm water contaminates have been on our Capital Improvement Plan for over a decade.
The shoreline erosion issue involves the protection to our coastline, beaches, views of the Potomac, the safety of our residents and our tourism economy. We need to get creative with funding for replenishing our beaches and repairing bulkhead. Small towns cannot make these types of major infrastructure improvements without working with other governmental agencies, actively pursuing grants and matching the funds necessary to complete the physical work needed to protect our shores. There are many agencies that work with communities including the DEQ, NOAA Sea Grants, Potomac River Fisheries Commission, Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, VA Tourism Agency, and the EPA. We already have an engineered plan from DEQ for making the Robin Grove cliffs into a living shoreline we just have to pursue the intergovernmental funding necessary and make it a priority.
I also believe this issue ties directly in with a win-win resolution to the pier lease program. Most know by now that the pier lease program from residents building on public property across from their homes is a defunct disaster and there has been no solution implemented thus far. The lease program is unenforceable without specific pier locations on surveyed property with singular public hearings for each and every pier that exists and every new pier to be built down the road. It is a bureaucratic nightmare and costly implementation with a million unanswered questions about whatifs. I would propose an alternative solution to this that can be used to protect our shorelines and fix the mess of the “lease” issues. A special tax district can be made that encompasses all lots adjacent to town-owned shoreline and within this district a tax on the marine improvements (i.e. piers) would replace the lease fees. This special district tax creates a fund used for shoreline maintenance and can help match funds from grant programs, this way the money collect by the piers is directly associated with maintenance to this public property that allows for their existence. There will still need to be a shoreline maintenance agreement and liability waiver signed by each pier owner and executed by the Zoning Department for the “improvement” to be done; however, the lease fee collection, costly surveying, and individual public hearing chaos is avoided. This solution can help to preserve our best public land in town while providing better service to our residents.
I wish to protect our best attributes by looking ahead at our storm water and shoreline issues. We can’t afford to take a back seat position on these issues, we know what to expect and we need to be implementing solutions for drainage, protecting against erosion, and maintaining good water quality in both our faucets and our river.