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Worrisome News from Northumberland
This week, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) granted a 150-acre oyster lease to Bluff Point Holdings LLC, a development company headed by Charlottesville developer Tom Dingledine.

As Virginia law stipulates, such leases are intended exclusively for planting and growing oysters. In this case, Bluff Point Holdings says it intends to raise oysters in Barnes Creek, a Chesapeake Bay tributary in rural Northumberland County, Va.

The company actually sought a much larger lease from the state -- 250 acres, or virtually the entire bottom of Barnes Creek and beyond into the Bay -- but agreed to scale back its request after commissioners questioned the company about its complete lack of oystering experience,  the size of its requested lease, and potential navigation hazards. One commissioner even called the company’s original request “preposterous.”    

Still at the end of the day, Dingledine and Bluff Point Holdings got their 150-acre lease, which now includes much of the mouth and middle channel of Barnes Creek.

Development mapOne big problem: Barnes Creek adjoins a 900-acre track in Northumberland on which Dingledine and Bluff Point Holdings plan to build a 900-acre residential and retail development. As his previous public representations make clear, his plans for Barnes Creek prominently feature dredging at least 91,000 cubic yards of earth to deepen the creek’s channel. That’s necessary to enable boats to travel to and from a large inland marina that Dingledine wants to excavate as part of his massive Bluff Point development project.

How can one raise oysters in a creek that will be dredged and maintained to accommodate intense boat traffic? What’s the developer up to here? Might Bluff Point Holdings have successfully locked up the oyster grounds in the creek to keep other oyster growers out so they cannot interfere with future dredging plans?

That certainly is a concern of many community residents opposed to the Bluff Point development and of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).

“The intent of this lease seems less about growing oysters than about pre-empting potential objections to the developer’s dredging plans,” Peggy Sanner, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Virginia senior attorney, noted after VMRC granted the oyster lease.

“But Bluff Point Holdings cannot have it both ways,” she says. “Now that it has received a state permit to grow oysters in Barnes Creek, CBF expects the state to hold the company accountable to its DSC_0079stated intentions. CBF will vigorously oppose any subsequent request by the development company to excavate and dredge these same waters.”

As CBF and many others have noted, the Barnes Creek area of Northumberland County contains important natural resources – clean water, marshes, beaches, and forests -- that have shaped the cultural heritage of the county and that are critical to its long-term ecological and economic future. This proposed development project will harm these sensitive resources and introduce more pollution to the Chesapeake Bay precisely at a time when Virginia and the region are implementing a Bay clean water blueprint intended to reduce pollution.

“CBF and the community will continue to monitor this project to ensure it does not negatively impact water quality and wildlife,” Sanner says. “That would set back the very real progress being made by localities, the state, and the region to reduce pollution and restore clean water to local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.”

Chuck Epes
Chesapeake Bay Foundation


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Interesting story. Does Va. have a law, as Md. does, requiring leaseholders to work a lease or they lose it? Also, do they have limits on how many acres someone can hold? Were there public hearings? This sounds like a really large lease to me. Most are 5 acres that I know of, at least to start!

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