(Delmarvanow.com) -- Accomack County officials Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution asking Virginia legislators to set up a long-term, sustainable funding source for waterway maintenance, including dredging of non-federal waterways.
Northampton County's Board of Supervisors previously approved a similar resolution.
"Over the decades these state waterways are shoaling, where many of them are (now) three feet or less mean low water draft," said John Joeckel, chairmain of the Eastern Shore Regional Navigable Waterways Committee.
Joeckel and the committee recommended the two Shore counties urge the state legislature and the governor to include waterways maintenance funding in the state budget — not only to pay for dredging, but also to pay to use dredging spoils to mitigate coastal erosion and flooding in areas that need it, such as Chincoteague.
"There's no funding mechanism for any waterway maintenance ... Right now, there's no mechanism. Every time we want to do something that requires a state participation in the project, we have to go, hat in hand, to the governor for un-budgeted appropriations," Joeckel told the Accomack board.
The Board of Supervisors later in the meeting also unanimously approved sending a letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe supporting Chincoteague's request to include in the state budget he will submit to the General Assembly $1.5 million for the 50 percent, non-federal share of the cost of a three-year study to be conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Congress as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act authorized the study to evaluate the need for hurricane and storm damage reduction, navigation improvements and ecosystem restoration in the Chincoteague area, where the inlet has become much larger in recent decades as the southern end of nearby Assateague Island has changed dramatically.
The growth of the inlet exposes the town of Chincoteague to greater risks from the Atlantic Ocean, according to a letter to McAuliffe from Chincoteague Mayor J. Arthur Leonard.
Virginia is ranked eighth of all states in total shoreline miles — many of which are on the Eastern Shore — yet the state does not have a state funding mechanism to maintain the navigable depth of state waterways, according to a letter Joeckel sent to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors and the Northampton County Board of Supervisors along with the proposed resolution.
The bi-county committee last year produced a report that found about 69 percent of the region's federal waterways do not currently meet authorized depths — and 10 have sections with less than two feet of water at mean low water, the report found.
Additionally, almost half — five out of 12 — of non-federal waterways on the coast of Virginia connecting waters have sections with no more than three feet of water at mean low water, as well as a third of non-federal waterways that are not connecting waters to the waterway on the coast of Virginia, it concluded.
The committee's establishment and the resulting report, "Eastern Shore of Virginia Regional Dredging Need Assessment," came in response to several factors, Joeckel said at the time — including an ongoing decline in funding to maintain federal waterways on the Eastern Shore of Virginia — in particular the Virginia Inside Passage on the seaside; the removal of most of the U.S. Coast Guard aids to navigation on the Virginia Inside Passage due to the lack of maintenance; and coastal erosion of Virginia's seaside barrier islands that provide protection from the ocean to the salt marsh, shellfish grounds and the mainland.
A total of 32 federal project areas and 27 non-federal waterways were evaluated for the report, which the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission released after eight months of work.