Exactly one month ago I wrote a blog entitled “Why Ashville Park?” The blog began with, “Why not Heritage Park, or even Lago Mar? For that matter, why not the early farmers who cut, ditched and drained the mostly forested wetlands that historically comprised a good portion of the Back Bay watershed? And don’t forget the Civilian Conservation Corps, who “stabilized” dunes up and down the mid Atlantic coast, preventing barrier island migration, wash overs, and all kinds of natural, dynamic processes… why not blame them for the current state of Back Bay?”
This past Thursday, the Back Bay Restoration Foundation (BBRF) filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, to force the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to rescind their permit allowing the City of Virginia Beach and a California developer to destroy wetlands in the Back Bay watershed for a parking lot. The permit the Corps issued was for Ashville Park.
Back in February, during the public comment period, BBRF and other concerned citizens submitted detailed comments to the Corps including reference sources about potential impacts from the permit, and requested a public hearing and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). We followed up our comment letter with both phone and emails to the Corps, always requesting public participation/consideration and for a complete EIS to be conducted prior to permit issuance.
On May 28th, BBRF held a well-attended public meeting/listening session where we proposed several environmentally sound alternatives (see the solutions section of our web site) to the full buildout the City, developer and Corps were proposing in their permit notice. We spent most of that meeting listening to others who value the Back Bay watershed, vetting various ideas. We were doing our homework so that when the Corps/City/Developer asked, we would be ready to present solutions and alternatives for consideration. Solutions that are endorsed by citizens who care.
Unfortunately, that opportunity never happened and, on May 23rd, the Corps issued the same form letter to every person and organization who had taken the time and effort to put pen to paper. That form letter summarily dismissed our requests for public participation and an EIS without explanation.
It is important to know that our request for an injunction has nothing to do with existing homes in the Ashville Park housing project, and everything to do with the future conservation of the Back Bay watershed. The law suit has everything to do
with how our governments make decisions and involve the public to find innovative solutions. It has everything to do with ending business as usual, where decisions are made behind closed doors to the benefit of individuals at the expense of the very watershed that lines their pockets. The old expression “don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” comes to mind.
With the Corps issuance of a permit to destroy wetlands for a parking lot, with no justification other than a one page form letter, the BBRF Board felt they had no option other than to file for an injunction. We are hopeful that if successful, the Corps, City and Developer will choose to finally engage in transparent discussions about environmentally sensitive land uses and policies in the Back Bay watershed specifically, and Virginia Beach generally.
With the challenges Back Bay faces (increasing impervious surfaces, increased wind tides, land subsidence and sea level rise), we believe the opportunity exists for new approaches to land use policies and practices. Certainly, business as usual will only serve to delay our ability to address future challenges. We believe that Ashville Park presents the perfect opportunity for Virginia Beach to implement some of the natural solutions they tout publicly.
While BBRF absolutely does not oppose development, and respects private property rights, we absolutely DO oppose using Back Bay as a convenient BMP, or as justification for ignoring predevelopment hydrology. Back Bay is a precious resource at its tipping point, not a toilet bowl to be flushed by unplanned impervious surfaces as far as the eye can see.
BBRF is fortunate to have one of the most dedicated, knowledgeable, conservation Boards in Virginia. We have always operated a modest organization with every donated penny directly supporting the conservation of Virginia Beach’s two southern watersheds.
Taking legal action against the government is a very expensive endeavor and something that a nonprofit such as ours seldom attempts. In challenging the “business as usual” attitude, the BBRF Board has shown their commitment to changing how we treat the land that has provided generations the bounties of nature.
The Board also showed their confidence that those who cannot afford to take on the business as usual attitudes on their own, but will step up and contribute to our legal defense fund. Your donation, large or small, will be greatly appreciated.