Virginia CZM Program 2010 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:

96.02 

Grantee:

The Nature Conservancy 

Project Title:

Seaside Special Area Management Plan: Habitat Suitability and Evaluation Project Team Administration and Public Outreach Coordination 

Project Description as Proposed:

The Nature Conservancy (TNC), collaborating with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC), the Virginia Institute for Marine Science (VIMS), the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), the Eastern Shorekeeper, aquaculture interests, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management (VCZM) and other SAMP Project Team members  has worked for two years to: (1)  map, analyze, and interpret the current status and trends in the uses, economic values, and beneficial ecosystem functions associated with state-owned and other habitats in the seaside bays of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, (2) re-evaluate these uses in light of current and projected conditions, (3) to recommend guidelines for managing these resources in a manner that optimizes the environmental and socio-economic benefits derived and (4) assist, as appropriate, the Study Panel established by Senate Joint Resolution NO. 330.  Using existing GIS data, combined with stakeholder/user information, management agency input and additional field-collected data, the effectiveness of use allocation patterns such as state oyster grounds will be examined in the context of current stakeholder uses and needs, and current ecological conditions.  A consensus building process will result in a plan which recommends regulatory and other guidelines to:

·         increase economic productivity

·         enhance ecosystem health

·         resolve potential conflicts

 

The unique biological diversity, ecological health, and economic importance to local communities are all well documented for Virginia’s seaside bays. Virginia CZM’s long-term commitment to and investment in enhancing the wise use of coastal resources in this region has played a significant role in management of the seaside bays.  This SAMP builds on previous efforts, particularly on the 6 year (FY 2002 – 2007) Seaside Heritage Program and seaside SAMP projects for FY08 and FY09.

The SAMP FY10 project is the third step in evaluating the spatial allocation of resources, uses and stakeholder needs on the seaside and developing guidelines and recommendations regarding the utilization of those resources in an equitable and transparent manner. TNC, under the leadership of VCZM, will coordinate and provide administrative support for the efforts of A-NPDC, VIMS and the Project Team. Meetings will be scheduled to inform audiences such as the general public, stakeholders/users and decision makers, about the productivity of Baylor grounds, and the distribution of economically and ecologically important oyster reefs, clam aquaculture sites, avian nesting, foraging and roosting sites, eelgrass meadows and other seaside resources. These meetings will also serve to gain input and feedback from audiences about the importance of various uses and resources on the seaside and hear concerns regarding current and potential spatial allocations.

The Project will also, through the work of Marcia Berman of VIMS and the SAMP Project Team, will undertake a geo-spatial assessment of activities taking place on privately-leased state owned bottom on the seaside,

TNC will work with A-NPDC and VIMS to prepare informational items, such as power point and printed materials for presentation during public and stakeholder meetings.  They will be reviewed by the Project Team members who will also participate in the meetings.  The information gained by the Project Team’s work and from these outreach and educational gatherings will be summarized in a report by A-NPDC and used to inform the Study Panel in its work under Senate Joint Resolution NO. 330, as well as synthesized by Project Team meetings into recommendations and guidelines in the final SAMP FY10 report prepared by TNC.

Federal Funding:

$21,000 

Project Contact:

Stephen N. Parker, 757.442.3049; sparker@tnc.org

Project Status:

10/1/2010 - 9/30/2011; Project Completed 

Final Product Received:

Final Report: Seaside SAMP Project Team Administration and Habitat Distribution and Suitability Analysis (pdf)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The purpose of this project was to evaluate natural habitats and resources on the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore and create a consensus building process that would result in public education and recommendations for regulatory and other guidelines to: 1) increase the economic productivity of the system; 2) enhance the health of the overall system; 3) anticipate and help resolve existing and future use conflicts. The project team included representatives from state agencies (Virginia CZM Program, VIMS, VMRC), the Accomac-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC), The Nature Conservancy,  Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, and the clam aquaculture industry (HM Terry Company and JC Walker Brothers). Aerial surveys, compilation of diverse, existing data sources, GIS and other spatial planning tools were employed. Information and recommendations were provided to regulatory and legislative decision makers, public presentations were created and meetings were convened. (See FY 2010 Task 96.01 for final PowerPoint presentation.)

Analysis of current clam, oyster, eelgrass and water bird nesting and foraging habitats, along with a cursory evaluation of recreational uses on the seaside revealed no major conflicts between these resources and human utilization, or between user groups, and concluded that current uses are compatible.

The Project Team also evaluated the current “Baylor Grounds” based system of allocating state owned bottom for oyster and clam aquaculture to public and private (lease-hold) users. This evaluation was done in conjunction with an analysis of changes caused by barrier island and marsh migration, erosion and other dynamic alterations in the configuration of the seaside bays since the Baylor Survey was completed in the 1890’s.These alterations have been substantial and are significant system-wide resulting in nearly 40% of Baylor grounds allocated for oyster production in the 1890’s no longer being suitable for that use in 2012. The Project Team also concluded that, while the process of allocating leases followed by the state is fair, transparent and effective, the Baylor survey boundaries used to make these allocations are no longer as relevant to their original purpose as they should be given shifts in the location of oysters, islands and marshes.

Seeking to update and make allocations of state bottom more efficient and protection of valuable natural resources more effective for aquaculture, wild harvest and long term ecological productivity, several legislative initiatives were proposed in the 2010-2012 time frame. During the 2012 session of the General Assembly, Senator Northam introduced Senate Bill 550 to implement recommendations made by a VMRC study panel on this issue. The Project Team provided information to the Study Panel and also, under A-NPDC leadership, held two public meetings to present the findings of the Project Team. The bill authorized VMRC to adjust boundaries of public oyster grounds on an as-needed basis and as agency resources allowed. Any changes would require an open public process that would provide input into the decision-making process. Also, VMRC would be required to use the best current information available regarding the location and extent of natural shellfish beds and potential oyster habitats on the seaside, and rely on the Baylor survey as the default boundary in the interim.

Senate bill 550 passed the Senate of Virginia unanimously. No concerns of citizens or legislators were raised during the process. In the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources several citizens from the Eastern Shore expressed concerns and requested more time to understand the bill’s implications. Some expressed a preference for the current fixed boundaries, and wondered if the aquaculture industry would be favored in the process. Most were willing to continue to discuss the bill over the next year. The Committee decided to “carry over” the bill. Given past practices, however, it is more likely a new bill will be introduced in the next session. 

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email: Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to Virginia.Witmer@deq.virginia.gov

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


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