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Virginia CZM Program and Coastal Public Access Authorities

Boardwalk on Dragon RunPublic Access Authorities are a tremendous asset in land conservation.  These local authorities can often close on land deals far more quickly than state and federal agencies, and they can own and manage the land in perpetuity.  They also create a meaningful avenue for local priorities to be addressed by local communities.

There are currently two public access authorities in Virginia's coastal zone:

  • Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority
  • Northern Neck Public Access Authority

Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority

In 2003, the Virginia General Assembly approved House Bill 619 and the creation of the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority (MPCBPAA), which establishes an institutional framework for local governments in the region to address public access along more than 1,000 square miles in Virginia's coastal zone. (Chapter 66 (§ 15.2-6600 et seq.) of Title 15.2 of the Code of Virginia)

The MPCBPAA is composed of elected officials and local government administrators from five counties (Essex, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William, and Mathews) and three towns (Tappahannock, Urbanna, and West Point).  It promotes land acquisition and public access enhancements in the Middle Peninsula region, often partnering with federal and state agencies, including the Virginia CZM Program, non-governmental organizations, and private citizens. 

Shortly after the creation of the MPCBPAA, the Virginia CZM Program gave a $10,000 grant to the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (MPPDC) to:

  • Adopt By-Laws and an Operating Agreement for the MPCBPAA
  • List possible acquisition sites proposed by member counties and towns
  • Draft a summary of public access guides and maps produced in the Middle Peninsula

Then in 2003, the Virginia CZM Program awarded the MPCBPAA a $392,000 grant to acquire the 274-acre Browne Tract.  The parcel straddles Essex and King & Queen Counties in the Dragon Run watershed.  Go to the Virginia CZM Program Land Acquisition web page for more details.

In February 2013, the PAA was gifted 96.81 acres of waterfront property on the Severn River in Gloucester County valued at $1.6 million. The property consists of twenty-one parcels, three of which have dwellings. Much of the property is pristine coastal ecosystem, including densely forested mixed hardwood and pine trees, and tidal wetlands.  Thousands of feet of the property have shoreline for water access and a long pier juts hundreds of feet into the Severn River and has a dock with a boat lift.  The property is potentially a hub on a Middle Peninsula network of bluewater trails.  Once a management plan for the property is in place the property will be open to public access.  A Virginia CZM Program grant to the MMPDC will support development of this plan, which will be designed to meet the goals of the Public Access Authority while maximizing water access, outdoor recreational and community needs.

Since 2003, the MPCBPAA has leveraged almost $3 million in federal and state funding for public access acquisitions and improvements. 

Due to the generous funding and support provided by the MPCBPAA's large network of partners, it has acquired almost 1,000 acres in the Middle Peninsula.  In addition to public access land acquisitions, the MPCBPAA continues to utilize a number of innovative measures to keep the provision of public access a priority in the Middle Peninsula.  These measures include:

  • use of local inmates for construction and renovation of public access projects;
  • leveraging of local disability services boards to improve disabled features in MPCBPAA-managed areas;
  • development of stakeholder-driven land management plans for each acquisition that support sustainable, passive public access, resource conservation and protection, and traditional uses;
  • coordination with other local entities to maximize conservation efforts in sensitive areas;
  • using itself to create public wetlands mitigation banks.

Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority website

Use of Road Endings in the Middle Peninsula for Public Access

During the 2007 session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 2781 sponsored by Delegate Harvey Morgan which, “allows the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), upon the request of a public access authority, to transfer to the authority any and all rights and interests of the Board in highways, highway rights-of-way, and landings without first abandoning or discontinuing them.” This removed a huge obstacle to conserving road endings to enhance public access to the water.

With funding from the Virginia CZM Program, the MPCBPAA has identified 300 roadways with public access capabilities running to or near waterways in the Middle Peninsula.

Northern Neck Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority

The Middle Peninsula PDC had such great success in establishing a public access authority that an authority was soon created in the Northern Neck. The Virginia CZM Program gave a grant to the Northern Neck PDC to help establish the Northern Neck Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority (NNCBPAA).

In 2005, the General Assembly approved the NNCBPAA through House Bill 2692 (Chapter 66.1 (§ 15.2-6626 et seq.) of Title 15.2 of the Code of Virginia)  The new NNCBPAA and the three counties in the Northern Neck - Lancaster, Northumberland, and Westmoreland - signed the NNCBPAA agreement in September 2006.

The PDC has completed an inventory of existing and potential public water access sites. They are well on their way toward acquiring lands that will serve both conservation and public access purposes.

For more information about the NNPAA, contact Stuart McKenzie at (804) 333-1900 or

NOAA logo 

For comments or questions concerning this program's web pages, contact the Virginia Witmer.

This website is provided by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program through a federal Coastal Zone Management Act grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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