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Final ruling on controversial Rappahannock River pier

Posted on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 10:55 am

The old Fones Cliffs pier, above on the Rappahannock River viewed towards Essex, is now going to be the site of a soon to be constructed place for boats to launch and dock after a recent VMRC ruling.

The old Fones Cliffs pier, above on the Rappahannock River viewed towards Essex, is now going to be the site of a soon to be constructed place for boats to launch and dock after a recent VMRC ruling.

While county ordinances are still being debated regarding the regulation of pier lengths in Richmond County, the state has come to a final decision on the hotbed issue that has been the root of the situation.
Last week, the Virginia Department of Marine Resources (VMRC) unanimously decreed that while Terrell Bowers, owner and developer of Fones Cliffs, has the right to build a pier that extends to state regulations of at least three feet deep, he was precluded from adding the horizontal extension that would have allowed for numerous boat slips at what he hoped would be a community pier with public access.
It is a decision that has both sides of the heated and long-standing fight over property rights and conservancy claiming victory.
According to the VMRC, after receiving and considering extensive testimony in support of and in opposition to the proposed project, the commission voted to deny Bowers’ requested 45-slip community pier and instead granted authorization for a 6-foot wide by 255-foot long open-pile community pier with no slips.
The modified approval was contingent on a prohibition of overnight mooring, on the applicant receiving variance approval from Richmond County for the pier’s length and the assessment of a one-time encroachment royalty calculated at $1.50 per square foot.
The permit was additionally conditioned on an in stream work restriction of February 15 to June 30 to protect anadromous fish and a requirement that the applicant provide documentation that he has coordinated with, and received, the necessary approvals from the U. S. Department of Fish and Wildlife service pursuant to the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
According to Hill B. Wellford Jr, of Essex, who has been one the of main proponents against the construction of the pier, the VMRC decision is not only in the best interests of the region, but also important to local wildlife preservation.
“The Fones Cliffs stretch of the Rappahannock where Bowers proposed to locate his pier is a truly unique and remarkable wildlife habitat area which provides habitat for one of the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles on the East Coast, and is critically important to many species of migratory birds and waterfowl,” Wellford said.  “It is also an important spawning area for fish, such as striped bass, herring, and shad.
“The natural resource importance of Fones Cliffs has been recognized by Audubon, the Nature Conservancy, the Chesapeake Conservancy, Scenic Virginia, Friends of the Rappahannock, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Rappahannock Refuge Friends, the Center for Conservation
Biology, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Northern Neck Land Conservancy and other conservation organizations.,” Wellford added.
Wellford said that the file of the VMRC contains comments from each of these organizations expressing concern about the potential impact of a mooring pier in this  section of the river.
“Fones Cliffs has also been recognized as a site of cultural and historic significance because it is the location of three Native American Indian villages and the place where John Smith was attacked by the Rappahannock tribe when he sailed up the Rappahannock in August, 1608,” Wellford said. “Because of its historic significance and natural resource value, it has been described by the Chesapeake Conservancy as a key feature of the Captain John Smith National Historic Water Trail, the nation’s first national water trail. It is also cited by National Geographic in its “Treasured Landscapes” of the Chesapeake Bay.”
Warsaw resident Tayloe Emery agreed, adding that the decision to not allow the added section of the pier was crucial to preservation and was in the best interest of all people who enjoy the Rappahannock River,
“After asking the VMRC three times to postpone their decision, the clock finally struck midnight for Bowers and his proposed 46 slip pier at Fones Cliffs after more than four hours of public input,” Emery said. “I find it sad that it took eight people in Newport News to do the job of our own county, which is tasked at preserving its natural, historic and environmental resources for all of us. In the end though, the system worked.”
Wellford said that over 800 people had signed petitions or letters in protest against the issuance of a permit for a mooring pier. Included were letters from William Howell, Speaker of the House of Delegates, Tayloe Murphy, former Secretary of Natural Resources, Ann Richardson, Chief of the Rappahannock Tribe, local watermen who have traditionally licensed pound nets and crab pots in this area, and many private citizens from Richmond County, Essex County, and other counties on the Northern Neck and the Middle Peninsula. Also included were letters from tourists and visitors to the area.
– See the full story in this week’s Northern Neck News!