Canonie to Supervisors: Study Finds ‘Overwhelming’ Support for Rail Trail

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Railroad tracks on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Eastern Shore Post file photo.

By Carol Vaughn —

Rail to Trail Update
Spencer Murray, director and senior vice president of Canonie Atlantic Corporation, which manages the railroad on the Eastern Shore, summarized findings of a highway department study about a proposed rail to trail project at the Accomack County Board of Supervisors Jan. 20 meeting.
The study outlined four potential segments of the trail, which would run along 49 miles of abandoned railroad tracks from Cape Charles to near Hallwood.
“The purpose of the rail to trail is two-fold. First, it’s to build a really exciting trail for us throughout this 49 miles,” Murray said, noting results of a survey showed “overwhelming” support for the trail.
“We just see tremendous potential for the economic development that benefits the towns as it goes by them; but, actually, a secondary and an extremely important reason for the trail is that, under the National Trails Act, by converting to this trail we will protect all of the right of ways.”
The right of way currently is used for broadband and other utility infrastructure, and could be used for sewer and natural gas lines in the future.
The trail also would maintain the right of way in case there is ever a need to return to using it for a railroad.
“It is a tremendous expense to do it, but it is a phased approach. It will probably take years to do the project itself, no matter which phases we do,” Murray said of the project.
He noted three SMART SCALE projects related to the trail are in the process of being scored by the state.
“Transportation projects are scored based on an objective, outcome-based process that is transparent to the public and allows decision-makers to be held accountable to taxpayers.
Once projects are scored and prioritized, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) has the best information possible to select the right projects for funding,” according to the Virginia SMART SCALE website, vasmartscale.org
Segment 1, from Cape Charles to Nassawadox, would include 18 miles of trail — running through multiple destinations including Cheriton, Eastville, and Machipongo — and four trailheads, with an estimated cost of $12.1 million, according to the study.
Segment 2, from Nassawadox to Eastern Shore Community College, is 12.5 miles — running through Exmore, Painter, and Keller — with one trailhead, with an estimated cost of $6.6 million.
Segment 3, from the community college to Onley, is 4.7 miles — running through Melfa and including numerous destinations such as Nandua High School, the YMCA, and multiple restaurants and retail stores in Onley. The segment would include one trailhead and would cost $2.5 million.
Segment 4, from Onley to Taylor Street, south of Hallwood, is 13.5 miles and includes two trailheads, with a cost of $7.4 million. It includes the towns of Parksley and Bloxom.
Bringing the trail into Hallwood would require constructing around 0.6 miles along a still-active rail line, which would fall under a separate set of requirements. Such projects are known as “rails with trails.”
Murray said railroad officials are in the process of negotiating with a potential sponsor to build and maintain the trail.
The deadline set by the federal Surface Transportation Board to conclude an agreement with a sponsor is July 6, but a year’s extension can be granted.
“So July of 2022 we need to have a sponsor to move forward; but we’re looking good in that regard,” Murray said, adding that Sen. Lynwood Lewis and Del. Rob Bloxom are “totally in tune with where we are” and Gov. Ralph Northam has put in his proposed fiscal year 2022 budget $5 million for development of trails over 35 miles long.
Murray said he wants the Virginia Capitol Trail to be the model for the Eastern Shore trail.
That trail runs between Richmond and Williamsburg and is managed by VDOT.
“That would be my hope,” he said, noting almost 31 miles of the proposed trail would parallel Route 13.
“So VDOT already has an interest in what happens here,” he said.
Information about the Eastern Shore Rail to Trail Study is at www.virginiadot.org/projects/hamptonroads/eastern_shore_rail_to_trail_study.asp
Saxis property to be acquired, demolished
The board approved acquiring and demolishing an unoccupied structure at 20153 Saxis Road rather than elevating it as part of a federally funded hazard mitigation grant program.
Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason said the county received a memorandum from Saxis supporting the acquisition and demolition of the property and saying the town would accept the property later if the county wants to give it to the town.
The property is adjacent to a large parcel of town-owned property.
Five other homes in Saxis are set to be elevated after the owners submitted a required $2,500 match deposit, with others pending.
No county funds are used for the program.
Forestry Update
Robbie Lewis of the Department of Forestry said the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 limited the department’s usual work done in partnership with other agencies.
In the past year, the department was involved in three commercial thinings; writing four cost-share plans; 25 harvested areas found that have regenerated with natural seedlings; 89 partner group contacts; and six educational presentations.
Additionally, the department was involved in establishing two riparian buffers in a Saxis Island project; making 237 stand plans with recommendations for landowners; 12 in-depth stewardship plans, including a tree farm inspection; four tree plantings of open or cut-over fields; and five urban tree plantings; eight tree harvest assistances; and fighting eight forest fires.
Grant Application for Greenbackville, Quinby Harbors
The board authorized staff to apply to the Virginia Port Authority for a $325,500 grant for Greenbackville Harbor renovations and to request a carryover of unused grant funds previously awarded for Quinby Harbor projects.
A local match of $108,625 for the Greenbackville Harbor project would be required if the grant is awarded. The Greenbackville Harbor Committee has around $24,000 in committee-managed funds to go towards the match, according to Stewart Hall, deputy county administrator for public works and facilities.
No Wake Zone Ordinance a No Go
The board did not act on a proposed ordinance that would have required anyone wanting to place a “No Wake” marker or buoy to apply to the board of supervisors.
The board then would have had to forward the application to the Department of Wildlife Resources for action, under the proposal.
Additionally, the Accomack County sheriff would be responsible for enforcement — a provision that several supervisors were against.
James Altadonna, who owns property near Folly Creek public landing, had submitted an application to the county for a no wake zone.
He was the only speaker at a public hearing.
“The traffic on the creek has exponentially exploded” since improvements were made to the public landing, he said.
In a letter to the board, Altadonna said the wake of boats coming into the ramp at high speeds has more than once knocked him over as he attempted to dock his boat and also has caused “considerable erosion along the shore line.”
Supervisors Robert Crockett, Reneta Major, Billy Joe Tarr, and Harris Phillips spoke against the ordinance, noting the sheriff lacks adequate manpower and equipment to enforce no wake zones.
Tarr said there are laws in place already allowing an applicant to request a no wake zone from the state.
Supervisor Paul Muhly asked whether the ordinance could be written to stipulate that enforcement be done by the state rather than the sheriff.
The county attorney said that could be done, but Crockett, a former sheriff, said the “pushback” for enforcement would still come back to the county because it would be the county’s ordinance.
“Doing this would just create another level of bureaucracy,” he said.
Chairman Ron Wolff said boaters are already required not to make a wake in those circumstances. “It’s already there. It’s a matter of enforcement” by state agencies, he said.
The board voted unanimously to take no action on the ordinance.
Ordinance Allows Communications Towers in Ag District
The board after a public hearing with no speakers voted to amend the zoning ordinance to allow antennas and towers over 100 feet tall in the agricultural district by special use permit.
The amendment was initiated by county staff.
Until the change, applicants had to seek a rezoning and then a special use permit to install communications towers in the agricultural district, which includes most of the county.
The board also voted to add to the agricultural zoning ordinance a provision for “any use of land not specifically listed as a use permitted by right or special exception-special use…which is clearly similar and compatible” with uses listed as allowable in the district.
The change makes it possible for owners to apply for a land use to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which then will undertake a special use permit review process, including a public hearing, before making a decision.

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