It is time for the county to build bridges, the Essex board of supervisors decided during their Jan. 8 meeting.
The board was not just referring to a $9.5 million bridge-building project that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will be undertaking in the Town of Tappahannock.
They also meant building better communications between VDOT and private business owners affected by the project.
Greater Tappahannock Supervisor and Chairman E. Stanley Langford hopes a sitting down of VDOT staff, county officials and the owners of June Parker Marina in the same room will do just that.
VDOT representatives addressed the board of supervisors on an official agreement in relation to the project, which the marina owners have yet to sign.
The agreement concerns a shared entryway for the June Parker Marina and the county administration building south of the project site.
VDOT has advertised Sept. 10 as the day on which the department hopes to begin reconstructing a section of Route 17 near the marina into an elevated structure.
According to project manager Jason Williams, the new bridge will “alleviate flooding near June Parker and ensure that [17 is] a liable evacuation route.”
Williams said the shared entrance would move the entryway further from the creek and provide better access to the marina.
“[The owners said] their current access configuration is the two driveways at a lower elevation that’s technically getting flooded during storms,” Williams said in an interview. “The way the bridge is being brought up, the one access point closest to the creek can no longer have access because it’s in the vicinity of the bridge.”
Williams’ initial design would open up an individual access point to the Parkers’ business, but the proposed shared entryway for both the marina and county would provide better flood stability.
However, VODT’s plan to move utilities from the construction site in mid-February has spurred Williams and Trepani for pushing for an agreement between the county and the marina.
Therefore, the department of transportation could revert back to using the initial design should the marina owners not sign a formal agreement in time.
“That’s our backup plan if things fall through,” the project manager told the board.” So we’re proceeding with the initial design in case the Parkers backed out which they could have.”
Williams did say that on Dec. 11 of last year, he received a written letter from the Parkers expressing their agreement in concept with the shared commercial access.
But he added that he did not know if the owners held off on signing an agreement because VDOT had yet to approach them with a monetary offer.
“We couldn’t come to them with a monetary offer until things were ready to go with the right-of-way negotiations,” Trepani added. “We’re on a tight schedule with this.”
Central District Supervisor Edwin “Bud Smith” suggested that miscommunication on VDOT’s behalf prevented them from having successful negotiations with the Parkers.
“Nobody was talking to them and telling them what was going on,” Smith told the representatives.
Nathan Parker IV of June Parker’s Marina agreed.
“I have no idea what the heck is going on,” he said. “There have been no answers from VDOT and we never got anything back from the county.”
“It seems like you all right now aren’t jiving on your discussions is what I’m hearing from [the Parkers],” said Langford before he suggested a meeting between VDOT representatives, members of the board and the business owners to solidify the agreement.
Williams, who as project manager is not directly involved in the project, acknowledged that communication issues needed to be aired out between the two parties.
“I’m not sure if there’s confusion on [the Parkers’] side in terms of plans and names and who they’re talking to,” he said before proposing a solution that could finalize the agreement.
“I think getting the project manager and residency administrator more involved in right-of-way negotiations with Mr. Parker, although nontraditional, would help as this project moves toward advertisement.”