By Linda Cicoira — In a 7-2 vote Wednesday night, Accomack County supervisors passed a resolution that would clear the way for them to use eminent domain to buy private property at Hacksneck for public use. The Fifth Amendment allows the government to exercise this power if they provide just compensation to the property owners.
The majority of the board members want to pay the appraised value of $31,000 for .57 acres of waterfront property for parking and a turnaround at the end of Killmon’s Lane where the county owns a 30-foot right-of-way to the boat ramp at Hacksneck Landing.
Tucker Terry and Guy Pruitt, of Nandua Select LLC, own 8.5 acres and a building there for which they paid $235,000. They want $100,000 for the parcel the county has its eye on.
Neither side appears to be budging, but county officials said they would rather continue to negotiate than ask a judge to decide. They want the company to provide proof the property is worth more.
Voting in favor of the action was Chairman Donald Hart and Supervisors Grayson Chesser, Harris Phillips, Ron Wolff, Billy Joe Tarr, Reneta Major, and Robert Crockett. Those opposed were Supervisors Laura Belle Gordy and Paul Muhly.
Terry signed papers that were filed with Accomack Circuit Court last year in which he agreed to sell property for the county upgrades. Land behind the crab house was offered. County officials say that parcel won’t work because it is a further walk and more property would still be needed at the ramp so boaters could legally turn around at the end of the dead-end road.
“Seems to me everyone is using the facility and doing just fine,” Pruitt said after listening to other residents speak at a public hearing. “Doesn’t seem right that you take waterfront land … when we offered other property.”
A debate between the landowners and the county arose in 2017 when the public was kept from getting to the ramp by a wire held up by two hunks of concrete and telephone poles. Police were called to the scene and the road block was taken down.
County Attorney Cela Burge said Hacksneck Landing has been in public use for about a century.
Crockett said the rights were decided in the county’s favor by the court. “We’re not here to determine if we will be acquiring property,” he said. “It’s a matter of how much, how many parking spaces and the value of property.”
The county’s proposal includes eight parking spots. Accomack was required by the agreement with Terry to provide a plan for parking, which Burge said they did.
“I watched a waterman, last week, pull his truck down there, back up to the landing, and never go off the half moon area and park,” said Muhly. “It’s just a short walk really on the other side of clam house.”
Muhly went to the area at Gordy’s request. “The verbal descriptions really don’t tell you the true picture,” he said. “It is an absolutely beautiful spot.” Muhly wanted the county to continue to negoiate and suggested boaters go to nearby Harborton to launch their vessels.
Gordy suggested the owners might want to build their homes on the waterfront. “Would you want that parking lot in your front yard?” she asked. “This is one of the most beautiful properties on the Eastern Shore… why mess up somebody’s property to that extent?” She was opposed to the costs that would be involved. “They talk like it’s going to be a Harborton. That cost the county … $404,883. Why would anybody pass Harborton to go to Hacks Neck? I think it’s just a waste of county dollars. And nobody is going to be happy until you start building and improving.”
“The reason we are here because this property was blocked with cement,” said Hart. “It was blocked with cables. I do believe if the county board does not take action, it will happen again. … You can not turn around without encroaching. You’re going to have people on other people’s property.”
Hart said “someone” came to the county office said “over his dead body the county would ever get that piece of property. We’re doing it because people were not allowed to use it.”
Eight other speakers, some who live nearby, favored the county taking the property.
Brooks Howell, of Hacksneck, who lives in a house with an “unobstructed view of the ramp,” says he watches fishermen, picnickers, hunters, birdwatchers and kayakers use the area. “The ramp is in no condition to launch anything more than 20 feet,” said Howell. “Not just neighbors but everyone who needs to leave their car there should have an opportunity.”
Ken Schultz, of Accomac, spoke on behalf of the 240-member strong Eastern Shore Angler’s Club. “It’s an excellent site for sometimes calm waters for boating and fishing … there is a public need for this.”
Another man complained of the litter in the area. He warned officials about putting out trash cans because the refuse blows out. He also wanted them to consider the dangerous intersection at the entrance to Harborton and to use porous material for the parking lot so water could drain. “It’s a great area. Waterman take care … to keep it clean.”
Clinton Pitts has lived in the area for 20 years. He said the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission “have all used this facility for their necessary water-based activities. It is also the only place past the old Harborton store where a tractor and trailer, delivering and/or picking up, can turn around.”
“In 1990 the previous owner … attempted to block the ramp by dumping a load of soil,” said Pitts. “A deputy sheriff showed up and ordered the owner to remove the dirt and to keep the ramp open.” He said former County Attorney Mark Taylor and former County Administrator Steve Miner both wrote letters reminding the current owners of the right-of-way.”
The ramp is also “strategically located on the bay to ensure the safety of the public using these waters,” Pitts said. “Should an emergency occur on the water … its the only public ramp with direct access to Nandua Creek and the bay between Harborton and Occohannock Creek, more than 10 miles apart … the public has the right to enjoy the many bounties and beauty that our surrounding waters have to offer.” He said the resolution would reconfirm the public use status and “put an end to all these years of questions and conflict.”
Wolff, an avid recreational fisherman, noted that the county has not discussed putting in a new ramp or spending a fortune on facility. “We’ve always thought it was adequate for small boats …There’s nothing to say because you put a trash can, it’s going to be trashy.”
“I feel sorry for Mr. Pruitt and Mr. Terry,” said Chesser. “Evidently, they are not happy … Mr. Terry signed it, if he was happy with that, he shouldn’t have signed it. As far as spending a lot of money down there. No. We should just keep it at a bare minimum.”