By Stefanie Jackson — The U.S. Coast Guard has a new proposal to formally establish an anchorage three miles from Cape Charles and to locate another anchorage near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, six miles from Fisherman Island, but will it appease Eastern Shore citizens after a similar proposal two years ago failed to gain public support?
The Coast Guard held two public meetings on July 10 at the Cape Charles Civic Center, headed by Capt. Kevin Carroll, the new commander of Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, whose area of responsibility includes the Port of Virginia.
Carroll explained to a full house of Cape Charles area residents and leaders why their view of the Chesapeake Bay had become so cluttered with ships over the past year or two and why it is necessary to specify the location and boundary of the Cape Charles anchorage, which is currently unregulated.
Coast Guard anchorages A and B, belonging to the Navy and located near Thimble Shoals Channel, once welcomed commercial vessels. That practice ended and drove ship traffic toward Cape Charles, where residents now often see more than two dozen vessels lined up in the bay at once.
Though some are container vessels, most are ships that transport coal – a high-quality coal used to make steel – after it arrives by the railroad from West Virginia.
That’s another reason why there are more ships in the lower Chesapeake – there has been more demand for West Virginia coal since a mine in Queensland, Australia, was flooded, bringing long-term devastation to the coal industry Down Under.
Carroll said the Cape Charles anchorage must be regulated to create order and prevent accidents. He likened the current anchorage to an unmarked parking lot. Regulating the anchorage will be “safer for everybody,” Carroll said.
Anchorage Q, which serves vessels that are quarantined, will be moved near Fisherman Island. The new Cape Charles anchorage will become Anchorage R.
The current anchorage is 2.5 miles from the town. The new anchorage will be three nautical miles away.
Carroll admitted to the audience, “It’s probably not as far as you want it,” but any farther, and the anchorage would be in the York Spit Channel. To avoid collisions, ships do not anchor in navigable channels.
The anchorage must be located in naturally deep waters, due to the Virginia Marine Resource Commission’s limited funds for dredging, Carroll said.
The proposed anchorage location boasts 50-foot depths. The waters near Kiptopeke are too shallow to locate an anchorage, he added.
One benefit of the new anchorage location is that it would allow local boaters access in and out of Cherrystone Inlet.
But locals were more concerned with the environmental consequences.
David Kabler, a real estate agent, said because of the amount of coal washing up on the beach, the Eastern Shore would have to change its motto from, “You’ll Love Our Nature,” to, “You’ll Love Our Coal Ships.”
Northampton Supervisor John Coker said he was “scared to death” because the town of Cape Charles and Northampton County were assuming “all the risk” and gaining “no benefit” from the anchorage. No ships will be docking at Cape Charles harbor to do business in town because of the proposal.
Ken Dufty pointed out that the Coast Guard had proceeded with its proposal without preparing an Environmental Impact Statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Northampton Planning Commissioner Janet Sturgis frowned and stared down Carroll as she contended that ships were discharging effluent, or treated sewage, into the Chesapeake Bay.
Chlorine, often used to treat sewage, can kill shellfish like oysters and clams that play a huge role in the Shore’s aquaculture industry.
Carroll stated that by law, when ships are three miles off the Chesapeake Bay boundary line, the valves that would release untreated sewage must stay locked.
It was not until late in the meeting, nearly an hour past its scheduled end time, that Carroll openly admitted the Chesapeake Bay is not a no-discharge zone and ships are permitted to discharge treated sewage.
Jay Ford said his organization, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, requested the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality petition the Environmental Protection Agency to make the Bay a no-discharge zone.
Already aware of the issue, Coker had drafted a resolution he presented to his fellow Northampton supervisors later that evening, requesting, among other considerations, that “a ‘No-Discharge Zone’ be designated at any proposed anchorage site in the Chesapeake Bay and that the USCG be notified by the Commonwealth to enforce the no-discharge zone.”
Supervisors planned to send the resolution to Gov. Ralph Northam and other state politicians. It passed unanimously.