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Corps starts shoreline update, stirs fears / January 22, 2014

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced plans this week to update the shoreline management plan for Kerr Lake, a process that could take up to a year as the agency reviews various land practices on the reservoir.

The Corps issued an announcement on Jan. 13 to inform the public of the review process, which will include three public hearings in South Hill, Clarksville and Henderson, N.C. in February. The last update of the shoreline management plan for the reservoir, known on the Virginia side as Buggs Island Lake, took place in 1995.

Along with the public hearings, the Corps announced a moratorium on “new shoreline permits and add-ons to existing permits” for dock and buoy construction, erosion control and clearing of vegetation by the shoreline. The moratorium took effect Jan. 17, mere days after the notice was mailed to property owners, businesses and other lake stakeholders.

On Tuesday, with government offices reopening after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Corps officials sought to clarify the impact of the moratorium — responding, in part, to an uproar among dock builders, real estate agents and others who fear the moratorium will put a serious crimp in land sales and property improvements around the lake.

Michael Womack, Operations Project Manager for the Wilmington District, said the moratorium was not as harsh or restrictive as suggested by the January 13 letter — while it applies to prospective permit applicants in the future, lakefront residents who hold standing permits for dock, buoy or property improvements are grandfathered in under the old rules.

Womack acknowledged that the letter said, “Colonel Steven A. Baker has placed a moratorium on the issuance of new shoreline use permits and the addition of facilities to existing permits. Existing permits can be renewed re-issued and maintained as currently approved.”

Clarifying the USACE’s position, Womack said anyone with an existing permit, buoy or dock can make improvements so long as the improvements are consistent with the 1995 Shoreline Management Plan.

He emphasized that property owners with permitted buoys who want to replace the buoy with a dock during the moratorium period may do so as long as they follow the 1995 guidelines. The same is true for those who want to replace or expand an existing dock or add a gazebo.

Existing permits for improvements to shoreline areas — walkways, clearing, and rip-rap – are also grandfathered.

Even though changes are allowed under existing permits during the moratorium, Womack said anyone who wishes to alter property must submit to a review by the USACE before undertaking the work. As long as the change or upgrade is consistent with the 1995 Shoreline Management Plan, the homeowner or business owner, most likely will be allowed to proceed, he said.

There are some upgrades that will not be allowed during the moratorium, according to Womack. For example, if a dock owner does not currently have an electric line under his dock, it cannot be installed during the moratorium.

Womack expressed hope that most of the questions and confusion about the management plan update process will be cleared up during the three public information sessions USACE has scheduled in Mecklenburg County and in Vance County, N.C. The sessions are scheduled for:

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 at the South Hill Public Library from 4 – 7 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 at the Clarksville Community Center from 4 – 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 at the Vance Granville Civic Center from 4 – 7 p.m.

The meetings will not include a formal presentation. Instead, Womack said the public is encouraged to show up at any time between the referenced hours to ask questions of USACE staff, one-on-one.

For those unable to come to any of the set meetings, Womack said his office is accepting written comments submitted no later than Feb. 28, and his staff is available to answer questions or receive comments, by appointment, at the John H. Kerr Visitor Assistance Center, 1930 Mays Chapel Road, Boydton, Va. 23917, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Written submissions should be mailed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1930 Mays Chapel Road, Boydton, Va. 23917, or emailed to the Corps at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

A second round of public information sessions will take place once the draft plan is completed in the summer of 2014.

USACE staff also expect to discuss the Shoreline Management Plan with affected groups — dock builders and realtors, for instance — during regular briefing sessions with these groups.

Womack conceded the process for changing the Shoreline Management Plan is different from the one the USACE undertook 20 years ago. During that review, the USACE first met with a group of stakeholders. They agreed on a process to update the Shoreline Management Plan, with as little impact as possible on those who live or derive their income from the lake.

This time, USACE wanted to update all stakeholder at the same time, without showing preference to any one group.

The Shoreline Management Plan provides guidance and information to the public on effective management of the shoreline at John H. Kerr Reservoir. The plan also describes the types of private use allowed for boat docks, walkways, vegetative clearings, and erosion control structures. Shoreline allocations, rules, regulations and other information relative to use of the shoreline are addressed in detail.

Those who remember the last time USACE updated its plan in 1995 recall a shift in focus. Prior to 1995, Corps members would clear underbrush and small scrub trees from the land near areas marked for recreation. By doing this, the USACE staff gave neighbors a view of the lake and a place to hold picnics, fish or simply enjoy the water. After 1995, the USACE stopped clearing the land, allowing the brush and trees to fill in. While this provides a more natural and rustic view for those on the lake, nearby landowners no longer enjoy the view or the recreational opportunities.

Womack said all aspects of the shoreline management are once again under review, and as they move through the process, information related to the update will be posted on the official John H. Kerr Reservoir webpage:

He expects to have an updated Shoreline Management Plan in place by spring 2015. Before that, questions relating to this process may be directed to the John H. Kerr Project shoreline management staff at (434) 738-6143.

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