Supervisors Missing Chance to Lower Flood Premiums

Cape Charles Wave

March 2, 2015

As the wonderful photography of Gertraud Fendler has documented, this winter has changed much of the Bay into a frozen pond. Despite the clean, white appearance, the actual condition of the water tells a different story. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s latest State of the Bay report (2014), the Bay is showing minor improvement, with Water quality indicator scores going up slightly. The problem with even this minor improvement is that the baseline has shifted so far towards the negative that incremental improvements such as this will hardly ever make a dent in the “real” health and quality of the Bay. The report also notes that Blue crabs and striped bass are showing signs of severe stress (due to pollution, diseases, overharvesting); again, these “metrics indicate a system still dangerously out of balance.” According to data from ChesapeakeBay.net, the abundance of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay decreased to 68.5 million in 2014, compared with 147 million in 2013.

Even as data continues to indicate an unhealthy Bay, and much of it pointing to the effects of human activity, it appears the Northampton County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are once again looking at removal of the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act from Seaside, using the rationale that it does not apply to the Seaside. This notion seems inconsistent with the original intent of the CBPA, which was envisioned to cover the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries, and “other state waters.” According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Bay Act program is designed to “improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and other waters of the State by requiring the use of effective land management and land use planning.” At the heart of the Bay Act is the concept that land can be used and developed to “minimize negative impacts on water quality.”
The first sentence of the Bay Act serves as a theme for the entire statute: “Healthy state and local economies and a healthy Chesapeake Bay are integrally related; balanced economic development and water quality protection are not mutually exclusive.”

The eloquent nature of the Bay Act is that it perceives that land should be used and developed to not just generate wealth for a few, but to minimize negative impacts on all water quality, which would benefit the majority of citizens (and even incubate economic development in the form of aquaculture and clean water tourism). In Virginia, the state designed the Bay Act to enhance water quality while at the same time allowing “reasonable development.” I guess this is the semantic argument, where a balancing act between state and local economic interests and water quality improvement is required. In Virginia the Bay Act puts the onus on local governments (who have the primary responsibility for land use decisions) to manage water quality, and “establishing a more specific relationship between water quality protection and local land use decision-making.” This quiet notion seems to be glaringly absent in the current proposed zoning.


Whether or not the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors will eventually craft a better set of regulations than the Blue-Ribbon Governor’s Panel that developed the CBPA is yet to been seen. However, it would seem prudent before moving forward that there should be formal meetings with local scientists, economists, or other experts in order to glean as much data as possible, and use this as a baseline for the proposed zoning changes currently on the table.

Notes and data from The Mariners’ Museum show that explorer Giovanni da Verrazano sent a landing party into the wilderness of the Eastern Shore after entering what was most likely Chincoteague Bay in 1524. This party hardly made it 10 miles before they were stopped by an “impenetrable barrier of shallow water, trees, muck, and mud.” The remnants of this vast swamp have mostly been changed and depleted. Most forested wetlands and swamps have been cut, drained, or burned, and in Northampton, swamp landscapes have been converted to agriculture.

Despite the loss of these “forested buffers,” they are still considered one of the best measures for protecting shoreline deterioration, especially on the Eastern Shore. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the federal Chesapeake Executive Order Strategy (EO13508) emphasizes that forested buffers should be used whenever possible for water quality protections. In June 2014, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay convened a “Forest Buffer Summit.” One outcome was the establishment of state task forces, led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to develop recommendations for how to overcome current obstacles to greater implementation.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in 2014 the new Chesapeake Watershed Agreement set a goal of restoring 85,000 acres of wetlands by 2025. Also in 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft regulation that attempts to clarify what types of water bodies are protected under the Clean Water Act. The rule responded to two Supreme Court decisions that had caused great confusion among regulators, the regulated community, and other stakeholders. (In the 2006 case Rapanos v. United States, a plurality of the Supreme Court held that the term “waters of the United States . . . includes only those relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water ‘forming geographic features’ that are described in ordinary parlance as ‘streams[,] . . . oceans, rivers, [and] lakes’.” This rule, clarifying wetland definitions and boundaries, hopes to “ensure vital wetland habitat remains protected.”

While regulations at the state and federal level have been crafted, enhanced, and clarified, land development has still continued to increase. Failure to effectively plan, account for, and offset growth, and manage runoff from new development with strong storm water programs, will continue to set Bay water quality back. Given this amount of data and current legislation, it would seem the Planning Commission and Supervisors, in regard to the proposed zoning, would be placing the major restoration and construction of forested buffers and wetlands as a major priority, rather than expanding development (increased density) and arbitrary uses such as toxic waste incinerators.

During the previous Supervisors meeting, the Board voted to approve changes to the current flood ordinance, in order to remain in compliance with the latest FEMA flood plain maps. However, at a recent workshop on the Community Rating System sponsored by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission as part of the Hazard Mitigation Plan update, it was learned that Northampton County has yet to apply for this program, despite the fact that minimal paperwork would result in a 5% reduction in flood insurance premiums across the county. (Cape Charles Planning Commission has been working diligently over the past year to maintain its Community Rating System qualifications). Accomack County, due to its participation in the program, has earned a 10% discount for its residents.

Once again, it would seem that Northampton County priorities are inconsistent with real needs of the ordinary people of Northampton. It would seem that working towards achieving these discounts would be priority for the Board of Supervisors, given that they would mainly benefit lower income folks, especially those that would like to purchase homes in places like Oyster or Willis Wharf, but due to the high cost of flood insurance, cannot.
There still seems to be plenty of time for the Board of Supervisors and the people of Northampton to find middle ground in regard to the proposed zoning. The Information sessions, if the weather will ever allow them to occur, may be able to flush some of this out. Whether or not the health of the Bay, our seaside, and all the lands between these two waters will emerge as top priority of the Supervisors is to be determined.



6 Responses to “WAYNE CREED
Supervisors Missing Chance to Lower Flood Premiums”

  1. Steve Downs on March 2nd, 2015 10:47 am

    Get it done, Supervisors. Every person in the county paying flood insurance premiums is looking forward to a break in the cost. Don’t forget you were elected by these people and you can be un-elected as well. It’s a no brainer. Don’t let the people you are supposed to be representing down.

  2. Daniel Burke on March 2nd, 2015 11:42 am

    If I understand the proposed new zoning by the Northampton County Supervisors (and I hope I’m wrong), you could, by right, buy a seaside lot and plop a trailer on it and live it up. I believe trailers are going to be allowed, by right, anywhere in Northampton County. How short sighted and desperate. Who elected these people? Again, I hope I’m wrong on this. Maybe someone could advise?

  3. Wayne Creed on March 2nd, 2015 1:22 pm

    Dan, Ken Dufty can speak to this better than I can, but I believe the current draft allows, by right, single wide mobile homes in conservation, agriculture, R-5, hamlet and village districts. Single Wides are, I believe permitted with a special use permit in R, R-1, and R-3 districts, but larger “Mobile Home Parks” are not listed as an allowable district in the proposed zoning ordinance, and instead have to apply to be rezoned as a Planned Unit Development.

    There is going to be (weather permitting), an information session at Kiptopeke Elementary School on Thursday night at 7, which hopefully will answer many of these questions.

  4. Ken Dufty on March 3rd, 2015 9:53 am

    Wayne Creed…you are one of the Eastern Shores greatest treasures in the form of a three dimensional human being! Outstanding job capturing the facts surrounding the more-than-embarrassing antics of the majority of the Board of Supervisors. As you reported, the mind-blowing display of arrogance as County Administrator Nunez pulled the strings firmly threaded to the corners of Supervisor Trala’s mouth, having him “call the question” and stopping Hogg from discussing a very important issue in direct violation of Robert’s Rules, is proof positive that we need a change in all levels of county government, starting with the administration.
    Incandescently clear that the county government, including the majority of the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission, the “economic” development director, and planning staff are dancing to the tune of private interests at the expense of the majority of the citizenry. It also appears to this commenter that the proposed destruction of everything that we know and love about the Eastern Shore is being choreographed by the County Administrator, and I think it is high time we seriously consider circulating a petition that registers a “VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE” against this administrator, and we do it post haste.
    All of us, be it “from heres”, “come heres” or “wanna be heres” have invested in this county because of what it is and what we thought it should and could be. We must not let a few private interests ruin our investment and our hopes and dreams for our collective future, and I present that it is time to take off the gloves, roll up our sleeves, and begin to restore an air of respectability to what should be OUR county government.

  5. Deborah Bender on March 4th, 2015 9:57 am

    If you decide to circulate a petition to rid the county of our administrator bring those petitions to me.

    I don’t know what everyone else’s opinion is on the mobile home issue; however, I will voice mine: How can you expect no mobile homes in one of the poorest counties in this state? A lot of people that live in this county cannot afford huge mortgage payments and mobile homes are the answer for them. There are mobile home parks all over Ocean City, Virginia Beach, all over Florida. I do not see what the issue is with mobile homes.

    Keep up the good work Wayne!

  6. Janet Sturgis on March 4th, 2015 10:59 am

    Deborah, exactly!