Board votes to participate in study

Published 9:11 am Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Members of the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of participating in a study of the James River following a presentation by the James River Association and the Town of Scottsville.

The vote took place during the supervisors’ meeting July 8.

Justin Doyle with the James River Association and Town of Scottsville Administrator Matt Lawless presented the request.

The request was for Buckingham County to participate in a study to determine whether the James River could be designated as a State Scenic River through the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program.

The project is a partnership with Fluvanna, Albemarle and the Town of Scottsville.

“The intent of the Scenic Rivers Program designation is to identify, recognize and provide a level of protection to river with significant scenic, historical and recreational and natural values,” Doyle cited during the presentation. More than 700 miles of river in Virginia have received this designation, Doyle said.

Before a river can be called a State Scenic River, Doyle said the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) have to conduct a study to determine whether the river qualifies for the designation.

Qualifications include that the river is at least 5 miles long, that it is publicly accessible and have identifiable beginning and end points.

During the study, a volunteer team with state supervision would survey the river and count trees, birds and fishes, and determine whether the river meets the qualifications.

The DCR would partner with area organizations, an outfitter or representatives of area colleges and universities to evaluate a particular stretch of river.

There wouldn’t be a financial impact to the county for the process, Doyle said.

If the river qualifies for the designation, the designation must be given support by area localities by approving a resolution.

The General Assembly would then pass a bill granting the designation.

Lawless said he envisions the river as a way to build the region’s economy through tourism, bringing people to the river and by extension, to its surrounding counties and towns.

“We absolutely see the James River as a shared environmental and economic asset,” Lawless said. “We see all of the fishermen, bird watchers on the river during the high season. Town Council has made a high priority of this initiative to share and celebrate the James River of our community.”

Lawless said the study or designation would not have a land use impact on nearby farmers and would not impose additional state regulations. He said the designation would not have any relevance to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

“The initiative is to promote the river and tourism,” Lawless said.

“As I’ve learned the area and the river, I’ve enjoyed seeing the huge sycamore trees, seeing the eagles and the otters there, and I think we should share that with our residents and tourists alike,” Lawless said.

Lawless said he had met with Buckingham County Administrator Rebecca Carter a year ago to discuss the designation.

Lawless requested a vote by the board to approve a study of the river by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

District Four Supervisor Morgan Dunnavant asked if the designation could affect whether the county pulls water from the river. Lawless said it wouldn’t affect that action.

Dunnavant asked if it could affect the infrastructure opportunities in the county, such as bridge replacements. Lawless said it wouldn’t affect infrastructure except in the cases of new dams, which would have to be evaluated.

The county could potentially see results of the study, funded by the DCR, by the fall.

Dunnavant expressed reservation about the county participating, particularly in reference to the potential for future development.

“I believe this will come back to haunt us at some point in time,” Dunnavant said. “If nothing else, when we do upgrade the bridge across the river. Instead of just upgrading the bridge simply for the traffic on top, we will have to have the bridge upgraded to be scenically sympathetic to the river as well.”

“We have enough designations from the government now,” District One Supervisor Robert “Bob” Jones said earlier in the meeting. “We don’t know what’s going to happen down the road.”

“I think we need look at this thing some point, instead of voting on it tonight,” Jones said.

“It’s just a study,” District Six Supervisor Joe Chambers said.

Five supervisors voted to approve the project. Dunnavant voted in opposition. Jones voted to abstain.