According to the City’s July Stakeholder presentation, the vision for the site is:
Vision for Pleasure House Point Natural Area:
A unique landmark on the Lynnhaven River that balances preservation and restoration of the existing natural features with low-impact public access opportunities that incorporate environmental education and stewardship in tune with the natural features of the property and adjoining waters.
The current Draft Master Plan does not reflect a commitment to the restoration of any tidal wetlands and does not appear to be consistent with the stated vision.
Contrary to being low-impact, the existing dredge spoil containment berms are proposed to be retained and will act as a barrier to the landward migration of wetlands and will accelerate wetland loss (drowning) with sea level rise. Is this in keeping with the vision for environmental stewardship?
The City’s PHP website states that acquisition of PHP “preserves wetlands and maritime forest”. I disagree. The simple act of purchase rarely preserves anything. When you buy a house, purchase doesn’t preserve it. Monitoring, maintenance, and restoration are what preserve things. The PHP site has been heavily impacted. The dynamics of sand overwash have been halted (creating a stable environment for shrub and tree growth), the federal government estimated that approximately 40 acres of tidal wetlands were filled, dredge spoil containment berms prevent the natural landward migration of wetlands with sea level rise, and invasive phragmites has colonized the property and will continue to spread if unattended. Land managers know well that desired natural features, functions, and values will not be preserved if not actively managed. The PHP Draft Master Plan could be improved if it included:
- a narrative explaining the long term vision for the property (as opposed to just propping up and solidifying existing uses),
- explained planning elements for sustainability (especially in the light of sea level rise)
- described adaptive management approaches
- described site improvement costs and options.
Pleasure House Point User Survey Results
During the May Stakeholder committee breakout exercise, the majority of participants were in favor of removal of the dredged spoil containment berms.
This is not reflected in the current Draft Master Plan. Why?
The PHP user survey results passed out at the July Stakeholder’s Committee meeting lists Wetland and Habitat Restoration as one of the top four programs/activities of importance to households.
By not committing to any wetland restoration, the Draft Master Plan is inconsistent with the desire of survey respondents and the will of many of the stakeholders who have repeatedly called for wetland restoration on the site.
PHP is perhaps the largest publically-owned parcel available for environmental restoration within the Lynnhaven River watershed. Due to its pre-existing wetland hydrology, the PHP site is ideally suited for wetland restoration which in turn could provide:
- Nutrient and sediment reductions leading to water quality improvements,
- Increases in aquatic habitat acreage and function,
- The generation of cost saving TMDL credits for taxpayers, and
- A buffer to wetland losses due to sea level rise
I cannot support the current Draft Master Plan without a joint commitment by the City and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for significant wetland restoration on the site.
At the July Stakeholders Committee Meeting in which the current Draft Master Plan was unveiled, Will Baker, the President of CBF, talked about CBF and the City’s commitment to sustainability. I believe the Draft Master plan falls short of that commitment in the following areas:
1. CBF sand trail: The sand trail running parallel to the shore and directly landward of the wetland boundary is unsustainable. As relative sea level rise continues to increase, the trail will be located within the wetland area impacting wetland acreage, function, and habitat value. CBF should look at the long term projections of sea level rise and site the CBF sand trail in a location that will not impact wetlands and will be sustainable over time.
(See the 2009 Virginia Institute of Marine Science report: The Effects of Sea Level Rise on Wetlands in the Lynnhaven River Watershed,
The Draft Master Plan should also embody the principles of adaptive management so that use and management of the site can respond to environmental stressors, storm impacts, etc
2. The proposed bridge locations over “potential [berm] breach locations” are not sustainable. Storms and sea level rise will undermine the foundations of these structures and that also raises questions regarding their economic sustainability (costs associated with construction, general maintenance, and maintenance in a vulnerable location).
Page 6 of the City’s July Stakeholder Committee Presentation states: “Any physical improvements to the site should be made utilizing the very latest in sustainable (environmental, financial, and social) design and operating practices.”
Relocation and modification of the trail system to take advantage of areas less likely to flood and/or erode over time could reduce the need for costly bridges and bridge maintenance while allowing dredge spoil containment berm breaches, or better yet, berm removal for wetland restoration and aquatic habitat enhancement.
3. Access to the proposed CBF kayak launch site (on City land) uses dredge spoil containment berms that will accelerate the loss of wetlands with sea level rise. Using the existing sandy beach area for kayak launching (which CBF used for a recent teacher workshop) would be a more sustainable option and allow for wetland restoration on the City parcel.
4. Recreation Area: Even though Lockhaven Park is directly adjacent to the site and proposed parking improvements, a sizeable portion of the PHP property, perhaps 5 ac., is dedicated for unspecified recreational use. Why isn’t this area dedicated and proposed to be managed for wetland migration to mitigate the effects of sea level rise?
Projected Sea Level Rise
While the effects of sea level rise on the site and its wetland resources have been discussed at Stakeholder meetings and separate on-site meetings with City staff, CBF, and their consultants, the Draft Master Plan does not appear to reflect consideration of sea level rise affects in the Draft Master Plan. The unknown rate of sea level rise acceleration is another reason why the Master Plan should be forward thinking, flexible and adaptable. A long range vision of the site should be understood (relative to sea level rise impacts) and articulated in an accompanying Master Plan narrative.
We are lucky that the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) studied the effects of sea level rise on wetlands in the Lynnhaven River watershed in 2009. The results of their study are presented in the paper: The Effects of Sea Level Rise on Wetlands in the Lynnhaven River Watershed, http://ccrm.vims.edu/gis_data_maps/static_maps/lynnhaven_project/Lynnhaven%20Final%20Report.pdf)
Median estimates for the lower portion of the Chesapeake Bay approach 4.1 mm/year (Boon, 2006). Even at this rate (0.67 ft in 50 years), we can no longer casually dismiss the impacts in our own lifetimes and certainly not in the coming generations. Future predictions suggest this rate will accelerate and may exceed twice this value.
Based on the conservative rate of 4.1 mm/year of sea level rise, the VIMS report shows that within the next 20 years, (by 2032) 100% of the wetlands prevented from migrating landward by the dredge spoil containment berms in the NW quadrant of the property will be lost and perhaps as much as 75% of all fringing wetlands channelward of the berms along PHP’s shoreline will be lost.
Within 45 years (by 2057), close to 100% of the wetlands prevented from migrating landward by the dredge spoil containment berms will be lost. That represents approximately 10 acres of wetland loss and the Draft Master Plan does not address how these wetland losses (functions and values) will be mitigated or compensated.
By the year 2100, even at the conservative rate of sea level rise of 4.1mm/yr., not only are all PHP wetlands projected to be lost, but so are all the large wetland island complexes in the Lynnhaven River. This represents a catastrophic loss of wetland function and value, and without strategic planning and active management for the removal of obstructions and the landward migration of wetlands on public open space, water quality, marine resources, aquatic habitat, aesthetics, and property values will suffer.
If the predictions about accelerated sea level rise come to pass, loss of wetland acreage, function, and value will be even more rapid. Failure to compensate or mitigate for these inevitable wetland losses makes the current Draft Master Plan unsustainable with regard to critical natural resources.
Virginia Beach Parcel Natural Area Designation (NAD)
At the last Stakeholder’s Committee Meeting, in a presentation given by the City, it was mentioned that the City parcel would be given a “natural area designation” and that natural resource management was the primary guiding principle; recreation was a secondary purpose. The City’s presentation defined the designation this way:
Definition: A municipal preservation area whose primary purpose is to preserve the indigenous vegetation and wildlife in order to serve as green infrastructure and as a scenic environment for Virginia Beach residents to enjoy. Natural Resource Areas include areas for protection and management of the natural/cultural environment with recreation use as a secondary objective.
The current Draft Master Plan seems inconsistent with the NAD:
- Dredge spoil containment berms are unnecessarily being retained for recreational public access, but act as a barrier to the landward migration of wetlands and will accelerate wetland drowning (loss of acreage and function) with sea level rise,
- There is no commitment to any tidal wetland restoration and current wetland resources will be lost to sea level rise. Area identified in the NAD for recreational use and/or portions of the “successional maritime forest” could be used for wetland restoration and water quality and aquatic habitat improvements now and future mitigation of wetland acreage and function loss with sea level rise.
$120,000 Study to Evaluate Site Wetland Mitigation Potential
Wasn’t this analysis already done by Kimley-Horn prior to purchase? What new questions will be addressed that the original study did not answer? When will the study be available for public review and comment?
It is important for the public to understand that wetland mitigation is the replacement of wetlands that are permitted to be destroyed elsewhere. Accordingly, wetland mitigation at PHP will not increase the wetland acreage (at the standard 1:1 replacement ratio for tidal wetlands) or function within the Lynnhaven River watershed and will not lead to any water quality or aquatic habitat enhancement.
Mitigation is an acceptable use of a portion of the property, but profits from the sale of mitigation credits should be used to fund wetland restoration activities that increase wetland acreage and function on the site.