Imagine a tourist area that is made up of Colonial Yorktown with its’ battlefields, new Victory Museum, the Yorktown River Walk, the Waterman’s Museum, floating docks that can accommodate cruise ships up to 400’ long and numerous other tourist attractions. Further imagine two Virginia State Parks located on the York River in Gloucester; a National Park on the York River in the Capahosic area of Gloucester; the York River State Park on the York River in the Toano area of James City County and; New Quarter Park located next to Cheatham Annex and close to historic Williamsburg. Imagine tour boats picking up and dropping off tourists at each location as they navigate up and down the York River while tour guides describe locations of various shipwrecks on the floor of the York, the docks at the Navel Weapons Station and Cheatham Annex, watermen harvesting clams, fish, oysters and crabs, historical sites and so on. Imagine new marinas in Gloucester and more boats, jet skis and other watercraft enjoying the York River and it’s tributaries for recreation. Imagine Gloucester’s rich history being brought to the forefront and Gloucester becoming a high density part of Virginia’s tourism industry. Imagine ferry boats or an up river bridge connecting Gloucester to the Williamsburg area, creating a historic tourism circle made up of Gloucester, Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg.
Now let reality set back in and let yourself begin to realize that a tourist area of that magnitude would cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more and would take a very long time to design, plan and complete. Let yourself begin to realize there would be even more negative impacts on commercial Watermen. Let yourself realize it will require more roads, housing, hotels, restaurants, fire and rescue, police, schools and bigger local government. Finally let yourself realize Gloucester County would no longer be the quiet little town it has been throughout history.
It is now time for a serious question. What would you say if you learned that such a tourism plan has been in the works for several years and that several steps have already been taken to move the concept forward without informing the People that such a plan exists? After reading the rest of this article we think you will realize that is exactly what is occurring as none of the steps taken thus far have included public statements from anyone acknowledging or even mentioning the existence of a non-publicly disclosed master plan that we believe has been in existence for over 20 years. Anyway, here are just few steps that have been taken publicly so far without the un-named plan being mentioned.
On February 14, 2014 the daily press reported funding for a new state park on the York River and Aberdeen Creek was being sought by local legislators to begin constructing amenities to include trails, camp sites, cabins and water access. The Daily Press reported that Del. Keith Hodges, R-Middlesex, and Sen. Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment, R-James City were seeking $8 million for work on the first phase of the park which include roads, a beach, swimming area, seven miles of trails, a fishing pier and other basic amenities. A 2011 park master plan estimated the cost of the first phase at $13.3 million. Hodges had also requested $600,000 to pay for staff and equipment to develop the park. The park has 2,260 feet of York River shoreline at an area where the river is two miles wide, it has 3,776 feet of shoreline along Aberdeen Creek, it encompasses 431 acres of land and was purchased in 2005 for $3.9 million from Newport News resident Pela Hundley during former Gov. Mark Warner's administration. (The same Pela Hundley who sold the new Page Middle School property to Gloucester County in 2004.) The property purchase was financed using general obligation bonds from a voter-approved state referendum in 2002. Phase two plans for lodging facilities at the state park include 30 camping sites and a group camp site, 10 cabins to include one three-bedroom, eight two-bedrooms, one lodge, a picnic area and a play area. More amenities are included with a price tag of $13.6 million for phase II. A 2010 park master plan estimated the total cost of the park to be around $28.2 million.
On May 20, 2014 the Daily press reported President Obama’s proposed budget called for spending $6 million on the Werowocomoco site in Gloucester and the John Smith Trail, which traces Smith's exploratory journey throughout the Chesapeake Bay area from 1607 to 1609. (The story behind this park coming to the attention of the President is another complex and somewhat curious story that will be covered in the future.) Governor Terry McAuliffe visited the farm that is owned by Bob and Lynn Ripley which was supposedly home to Chief Powhatan and his daughter Pocahontas when settlers arrived in Virginia in 1607. That during the Governor’s visit he is reported to have said the property could link Gloucester with the Hampton Roads region's famed Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg. The Daily Press further reported that McAuliffe said he had briefed and had the full support of Virginia's congressional delegation about the proposal for the national park. They also reported that he sees Werowocomoco National Park and the John Smith Trail as a way to draw tourists, help diversify the state's economy and bring money to communities such as Gloucester. The Daily Press reported that he said he can see tourists landing from the water.
On August 7, 2012 the Daily Press reported that the Gloucester Board of Supervisors unanimously approved establishing “No Discharge” zones in Gloucester. The establishment of these zones means boaters will be prohibited from dumping human sewage in the Piankatank River, Mobjack Bay and the York River and all of their tributaries. On October 7, 2014 the Board of Supervisors authorized the Gloucester Go Green Advisory Committee to submit an application for the establishment of No Discharge Zones in Sarah Creek and the Perrin River. Currently, the Federal Clean Water Act prohibits dumping untreated sewage from boats anywhere in the U.S., but does permit dumping treated sewage from certain marine sanitation devices in U.S. waters, except in No Discharge Zones. Once No Discharge Zones are establish even those with both device types will not be permitted to dump sewage in the No Discharge Zone waters and will be required to have human waste removed from their boats at marinas with waste pumping stations or through other on-land disposal facilities.
In March 2015 Lewis Lawrence, executive director of the Hampton Roads Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission made a presentation to the Gloucester Board of Supervisors on dredging Aberdeen Creek. During this briefing Lawrence said watermen have been raising concerns in recent years about their ability to get boats in and out of the wharf at the end of the creek. He further said that in 2009 the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority and Planning District Commission were asked to study Aberdeen Creek as a commercial seafood hub, specifically looking at land-use issues and options for dredging. This study was funded through a grant from Virginia's Coastal Zone Program. (A “networked program”. established to manage Virginia's coastal resources, the program relies on a network of state agencies and local governments to administer the enforceable laws and regulations that protect our wetlands, dunes, subaqueous lands, fisheries, and air and water quality within the Virginia “Coastal Zone.) The Daily Press reported that the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is performing an economic impact study and that Lawrence said the dredging could cost $600,000 to $1.5 million, depending on the extent of the project. They further reported him saying the most probable cost should be around $744,000, or $93,000 a year which would be paid for by Gloucester taxpayers over eight years.
On April 16, 2015 the Gloucester Board of Supervisors repealed the Boat Tax, resulting in a $438,000 annual revenue loss.
On July 19, 2015 the Daily Press reported that Governor McAuliffe, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Department of Transportation met under the bridge at Gloucester Point where they signed a memorandum of understanding which asks the three agencies to work together to identify new potential public access projects, especially at bridge crossings and roads. The Daily Press quoted McAuliffe saying, "Where ever we have VDOT next to one of our state parks and [there is a bridge] or an opportunity for us to build at that waterway and allow people to access the water I want that done"
On October 20, 2015 the Gloucester Board of Supervisors received a presentation on what is being referred to as the York River Stewardship Program. The presentation primarily focused on what is being called the York River Maritime Heritage National Marine Sanctuary Initiative. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is legally responsible for the management of maritime heritage resources within designated sanctuaries. According to NOAA, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to, “…designate and manage areas of the marine environment with special national significance due to their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archaeological, educational or esthetic qualities as National Marine Sanctuaries.” In other words, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce will be in complete control of the York River, its tributaries and land that “may” impact the condition of the York River. Bodies of water that are designated sanctuaries under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act appear to be highly regulated, especially in the area of commercial fishing. The president of the Waterman’s Museum Board also shared that York River boat tours leaving from the Waterman’s Museum will likely begin during the summer of 2016.
As we said earlier, those are only some of the steps that have been taken to push along the un-named project. Other steps that have been taken include things like; several million dollars in improvements to Hickory Fork Road; multiple strategically placed mixed use development type plans that have been approved in Gloucester; strategic land purchases by a small number of individuals who obviously know more about the un-named plan than the general public; building Page Middle School on T.C. Walker Road with plans to relocate the school bus garage and sell the property being in the works long before the tornado damaged Page and; the efforts of the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust to re-construct Main Street, through a backdoor tax dollar funding mechanism called library and health department space rent. There are plenty more occurrences that clearly demonstrate a long and continuous effort by a few individuals to bring the un-known plan to reality and profit from it without letting the vast majority of Gloucester residents, businesses and property owners know what is actually taking place. There are people who live among us and elsewhere who have and continue to take advantage of knowing things the majority of Gloucester property owners have no knowledge of. Just like what went on with Page Middle School; the plans for the un-named plan have been created, the People’s money is being spent and when the time comes, the whole thing will be shoved down a huge majority of the People’s throats and the few who were in the “know” will profit.
We are not trying to advocate for or against the un-named plan as our primary goal is to let everyone know what is going on I Gloucester County. We realize there could be many long term benefits for Gloucester’s residents, businesses and property owners, but we also know that when things are done outside of the People’s watchful eye, many get taken advantage of so a few greedy individuals can profit. Our advice to Gloucester property owners is to hang onto what you have because within the next several years the value of your property will increase. Don’t be fooled by offers that appear to be high in comparison to Gloucester’s assessed value as the assessment is not a true reflection of your property’s true worth, even though the Code of Virginia requires all properties to be assessed at true market value. That does not happen in Gloucester. A prime example of this is the Route 17 frontage property that connects to the new Page Middle School property, which Harry Corr, now deceased, purchased one day before the School Board voted to build Page on that property. Mr. Corr paid the Pella Hundley Trust more than six times the properties’ assessed values, or so it would appear in Gloucester’s online land records. (Again the Hundley name comes up) As can be seen from this example, Gloucester’s assessments appear to be far lower than true market value.
Should Gloucester become a tourist destination and retirement community, or should it remain a place to live away from all of that?
Kenny Hogge, Sr.
Gloucester Point, Virginia