U.S. Rep Opposes Virginia Campground Purchase
U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., says he cannot support spending $7 million of taxpayer money for Maddox Family Campground, which under one proposal would provide offsite parking in case a storm wipes out parking lots at Virginia’s Assateague beach during tourist season, Delmarva Now reported.
“This is another classic example of federal government out of control,” Rigell said during a visit to the beach Monday (June 20) as part of a three-day trip to the Eastern Shore that also included a visit to Tangier and tours of Wallops Research Park, Tyson Foods in Temperanceville and KXM Chemical Corp. in New Church.
It could take three months or more to rebuild beach parking lots after a storm, according to a park official.
“If there’s a hurricane tomorrow, there’s no alternative,” said Assateague Island National Seashore Park Superintendent Trish Kicklighter.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Manager Lou Hinds said providing parking off site is part of a 20-year-old master plan that called for buying property when the beach lots were no longer viable.
“We’re one strong storm from that happening,” he said.
Kicklighter and Hinds took Rigell to a spot on the beach where swimming is prohibited because of an underwater obstruction — a wellhead that formerly supplied bathrooms and other beach amenities, which is now well out in the surf.
The nearby parking lots and the rest of 961 parking spaces at the beach had to be rebuilt last year at a cost of $450,000 after they were destroyed by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
The same area one day last October was completely underwater during a high tide.
“Everything you see, it was all underwater … It was just a high tide … It wasn’t even a storm,” Hinds said.
Rigell said he does not dispute that the shoreline has moved, but thinks taxpayers — including Chincoteague officials and businesspeople who rely on tourism — are willing to risk beach parking being unavailable for months as opposed to supporting an offsite parking option.
“There is some momentum with remote parking as evidenced by the contract on the campground,” he said.
“I don’t dispute that the climate is changing,” Rigell said, but added, “The American people are ready to accept some degree of risk.”
The group then drove to an area two miles north of the current parking lots, where manmade dunes created in the mid-20th century still exist because that part of the island is more stable than the southern end.
Chincoteague leaders recently asked Hinds to consider moving the recreational beach and associated parking there. The area is accessed by a service road, which would have to be improved if beachgoers are to be redirected there.
“When they asked me to look at it, I did,” Hinds said, adding the proposal will be included in alternatives presented at public meetings to be held later this summer as part of the process of developing an updated comprehensive conservation plan and associated Environmental Impact Statement for Chincoteague and Wallops Island wildlife refuges.
Rigell said the northern beach idea has potential.
“Having been up here, this is at least at first review a viable alternative; I’m encouraged,” he said.
Hinds said no funding is in place to purchase the Maddox campground, but the property could provide other benefits for the refuge. The campground is 65 acres, while the current beach parking covers only eight acres. The property if purchased potentially could remain in use as a campground and could serve as a transfer station for those seeking public transportation to the beach.
“There are opportunities for job creation and growth there,” Hinds said.
Kicklighter said purchasing the campground also would protect the refuge’s viewshed from development.
Hinds said the campground owners came to him and said that years ago they were offered more money for the property from a developer, but told him they preferred to see the land preserved and asked if the Maddox name could remain associated with the property. “That was important to them and we said we would strive to do that,” he said.