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Chincoteague fears proposal to move beach would hurt tourism, economy

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The Washington Post

Chincoteague fears proposal to move beach would hurt tourism, economy

By Darryl Fears, Published: November 27


Chincoteague, Va. — Over the years, residents and tourists in this picturesque resort town have been guided by five gentle words: “Relax, you’re on island time.”


But these days, laid-back Chincoteague is on edge.


In a new plan to deal with beach erosion and prepare for sea-level rise, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed changes that the mayor, the chamber of commerce and homeowners say would eventually drive away summer tourism and drive down the economy that depends on it. Some of those changes would involve closing the beach and its parking lot, then opening a beach with parking farther away and shuttling tourists.


Town leaders say vacationers won’t board shuttles with all their beach stuff — umbrellas, chairs and food. They’ll bypass Chincoteague for Ocean City, where hotels sit near the water.


Feelings are running high, as Beth Hanback learned after she helped shuttle tourists to the public beach after Hurricane Irene washed out the parking lot.


Approached in a grocery store by a little old lady who asked whether she helped with that shuttle, Hanback thought she was about to get a sweet, neighborly “attagirl.”


Not quite. “She sort of cleared her throat and spit at me,” Hanback said. “She said, 'You’re going to kill this town with your [darn] shuttle.’ ”


Hanback, executive director of the Chincoteague Natural History Association, was flabbergasted. She was helping tourists, not endorsing the part of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan residents dislike most.


“We had so many happy folks who said this bus saved our vacation,” Hanback said. “I was really happy.”


For a town that relies on tourism, the stakes are high. The beach is the lifeblood of Chincoteague, swelling its 3,500 population about tenfold in summer.


But Chincoteague doesn’t control its beach. It’s part of the Assateague Island National Seashore, run by the federal National Park Service, and sits within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, controlled by the Fish and Wildlife Service.


Charged with protecting endangered animals and managing the refuge on a shrinking budget, the Fish and Wildlife Service ar­gued in a 15-year comprehensive refuge plan that it can’t save the beach and its parking lot from the unrelenting forces of nature.


More than 100 yards of shoreline has been lost to the Atlantic Ocean since the mid-1960s, said Louis Hinds, the refuge manager. A federal visitors center has been moved twice from rising waters. And if cars didn’t occupy the 8.5-acre parking lot, piping plovers, an endangered shorebird the refuge protects, would nest there.


The changes facing Chincoteague are coming to coastal communities across the nation. In Hampton Roads, planning commissions are preparing for the day, 30 to 50 years from now, when sea-level rise reshapes the coast, and a few landowners are resisting.


At the core of the debate in Chincoteague are questions of fairness.


Should the federal government close a beach it established and helped popularize? Over a half-

century, it shored up Chinco­teague’s way of life, spawning dozens of hotels and hundreds of rental houses, restaurants and shops.


“If I’d known this was a possibility . . . we wouldn’t have quit our jobs and opened a store,” said Jonathan Richstein, who bought Sundial Books on Main Street in 2007 with his wife, Jane.


Should the town expect the current beach and parking to last on such a thin spit of land? Each time the lot is washed away by storm surge, as happened in late August, taxpayers pay $200,000 to $700,000 to restore it on land that could be used for wildlife.


“Our purpose here is migrating birds. . . . Piping plovers nest on the beach. Disturbing adults off the nest in the summer could mean that the eggs will fry,” Hinds said.


The agency’s plan offers four alternatives to operate a beach and preserve tourism. One would keep the status quo, which would allow the beach to erode. Another would move the public beach about a mile north, establish remote parking lots and bus people to the new location.


Chincoteague prefers none of the above.


Mayor John Tarr led a group that countered with a fifth proposal: Keep the beach and parking lot’s approximately 1,000 spaces where they are and protect them from storm surge by building low sand dunes. The refuge says that wouldn’t help.


Echoing civic leaders and residents, Tarr said that if some of the changes proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service are adopted at the end of next year, tourists would probably bypass Chinco­teague for Ocean City.


Town residents point to a local survey that found that 82 percent of respondents said they would­ not come to Chincoteague if they had to load their beach stuff onto a shuttle.


In trying to reach an agreement and chart a future, Chinco­teague and Fish and Wildlife have engaged in highly contentious meetings.


Every aspect of the town’s way of life is on the table. In one proposal, the agency would thin the herd of wild ponies the town is permitted to have from 150 to 120. A reduced herd would ensure that horses have enough food to survive lean times in the refuge, Hines said.


But Denise Bowden, spokeswoman for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which manages and sells some of the horses at yearly auctions to supplement its budget, was livid.


“All we want is our 150 horses and our 961 parking spaces at the beach,” Bowden said. “For the life of me, I can’t understand how a government agency can possibly have this effect on a town.”


“Chincoteague relies on that beach,” said Tom Derrickson, general manager and part owner of the recently built Hampton Inn and Suites. “That was the big reason for building this hotel, because of the demand for rooms.”


Fearmongering has skewed the town’s perspective about the plan, Hinds said, adding that refuge employees have squabbled with family members over rumors that aren’t true.


Before the plan is final, so much can happen, Hinds said. Elements of the four alternatives could be pieced together in a way that can benefit everyone. Regardless of what happens, the town must face the fact that sea-level rise is coming to the nation’s coastline and that changes must be made, he said.


The strip of beach north of the current beach, which is near Toms Cove, is a solution because it is naturally protected from sea-level rise, storm surge and erosion, he said. Some parking could eventually be built within walking distance of the new beach so that not all tourists would have to be shuttled, Hinds said.


But the new location, near the swamp and pine of the refuge, has a major drawback that, after coaxing, Hinds acknowledged.


“Mosquitoes would be a big problem here, I have to admit,” he said.


© The Washington Post Company


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Article did not menton the ORV zone?? A large scale map with the Post article I saw made it look to me like the beach is kinda skinny where the public beach is now. I was talking to someone who was down there a few weeks ago (this person does not fish and is not familiar with the ORV thing), and they said they heard from somebody (a Park official?) that while parts of the easterly facing beach are receding the area south of that to around the hook has increased in width. I've never fished down there and I know nothing about the dynamics of the "shifitng sands" in that area.


For those that are familiar with the area, has the ORV/Toms Cove area receded/gotten skinny in recent years, or has it remained relatively stable or widened ??(given storms are always having some effect over time)


Even though I don't fish there, just wondering if anybody has some thoughts on what is going on with the beach in the ORV area.



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A shuttle system has long been favored by the folks that want to end access by private vehicles in both Va and Md..

"Shuttle System" is just another way of saying no access by private vehicles.


what a load of crap...

the spitting incident is an obvious fabrication...

piping plover is not an endangered species..

Agggghhhh.   don't get me startedupck.gif

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I fished Chincoteague  ( or tried to.... in sustained 20-25 SW winds ) Veterans Day weekend.

There seems to be plenty of drivable beach once you get past the narrow strip down near the old Coast Guard Station ...there's a curve where Toms Cove hooks around.

Unlike Hatteras ...Chincoteague had a well managed beach closure program for the nesting birds...bird watching groups can outnumber surf  fishermen at times...they co-existed peacefully.

This stuff about "rising sea levels"' ( conjecture mind you..based on "Global Warming" theory...yes..theory..not proven..but don't get me started ) is a lame excuse for some bureaucrats to make a few "changes".

Too bad the sportfishing crowd doesn't have access to the kind of money the Audubon bird watchers can lay their hands on to influence ( ) Govt. policy.


  .  .   . .   


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The beach is thin and flat where the parking lots are. They also don't have any dune in front of them and wash over more then it should. I don't understand why dune fencing can't be put up in front of the lots to start catching sand, or dump sand there, to start building a protective barrier between the ocean on parking lot? Have designated areas to cross over the dunes and volunteers can plant grasses on the dune to help stabilize them. It works just about everywhere else along the coast. The overwash area of the ORV is thin too and moving west but for every 20 feet you lose to the east it usually adds 20 to the west in the cove, so no real net lose of sand in my opinion. When I moved to VA in '08 the fish factory ruins used to be 25 yards out into the water in the cove and now they are covered in dry sand with another 40 yards to the waters edge. The problem with the overwash is there aren't any dunes left and it is pretty flat leading to lots of wash over and standing water on really high tides. Once you pass the Coast Guard station the beach widens substantially.


Some of the alternatives call for restricting/limiting ORV use. Here are the alternatives:

Hope you sent in comments before it closed. A preferred alternative should be out next October and we need to make sure we comment and make our presence known for that one too!


...Chincoteague had a well managed beach closure program for the nesting birds...bird watching groups can outnumber surf  fishermen at times...they co-existed peacefully.


Birders might outnumber fisherman on the wildlife loop but certainly not the beach. Even if you wanted to go bird watching for plovers you can't because the area they are in is closed off to the public.




Every barrier island along the eastern shore of VA is protected and it sure feels like they are trying to ruin the one they do let the public readily access.

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I really think we are missing a major point here for this proposal is basically going to stop all cars, not just the beach buggies. This will essentially end not only fishing but all family related activities. They aren't going to put a parking lot up once the shuttle begins and they certainly aren't going to let fishermen drive on the beach. Truthfully, fishing is the least of the worries. This proposal will kill the livelihood of the community. The people there rely on tourism and without it, the town is over. The town was forced to pay over $70million for new bridge to accommodate tourist and now they are essentially saying tourist should stay home. This proposal is being pushed by bureaucrats who are interested in getting an environmental feather in their cap so they can move onto the next level, totally disregarding the people they harm. I have a house down there, and honestly I never drive anywhere when I get there, always bike, but my neighbors will be crushed by this. They have been been rooked to pay for all these improvements for tourist and now that it is done, they are having the rug pulled right from under them. This is a despicable proposal.

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Birders might outnumber fisherman on the wildlife loop but certainly not the beach.



And tourist families with kids outnumber both 10 fold in both areas!


My four year girl lectured a Tilley hat wearing birder on the differences between Jimmies, Sallys and Sooks for over 20 minutes when she spooked us while we were crabbing. In fact my little girls could school half those briders on their birds because they have constant access to the area. My little girls will grow up to be true responsible, thoughtful environmentalist because of their chincateaque exposure, not some Johnny come lately $5000 Nikon sporting twit who needs an iPod app to tell the difference between a cattle and snowy egret.

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They were not satisfied to just go after the fisherman. Now they want to drive all the folks off of the barrier islands on the east coast.


Rather than go after folks like Omega Protein that wreck the ecology of the bay and rob the fish, coastal birds, and sea birds of a source of food they go after the folks and their way of life.


I wish these greens and their friends in the current administation would all go to some remote volcanic island where they could eat nuts and fruits, hang out with their birds and bugs, and squat somewhere and use their single-ply/ single-sheet of rapidly biodegrable toilet paper and leave the rest of us alone, rather than destroying our current way of life.


I am tried of this socialist eviromentalist wacko shinola and they should take their guilt and human self hatred somewhere else where than can try out their environmental wacko utopia cr@p and see for themselves that is does not work, or they could ask the folks in Spain who went from a booming economy to a fiscal and economic train wreck in just 7 years with their socialist green policies.


Some of the best and brightest climatologist are now questioning whether carbon dioxide even has a major effect on global warming and the greens and their friends in government are still pushing this global warming / rising oceans stuff to further their agenda.


As I seem to recall that Obama promised to lower the oceans in a few short years so what are they worried about.


Barrier islands are dynamic systems that are constantly changing and this has always been the case and not because of rising seas. They tend to lose sand on the north end and add sand at the south end due to ocean currents, storms, and the amount of sand coming out of the nearby rivers and estuaries. It has been know for many years that these barrier island tend to move south slowly but surely. When the move far enough a new shoal and eventually a island forms just north of them. Strong storms or a number of storms can move them around, create new inlets, and fill older ones unless man intervenes with dredging, sand pumping, breakwaters, and jetties.


Let the local folks deal with it. They just may have a good idea as to what to do since they live there and they certainly know better than some outsiders as to what is in their own best interests.


It is funny how they current crop of do-gooders don't seem to do anybody any good including the wild life.


Oh I forgot, there is big money in being a green lobbyist, lawyer, biologist, scientist, or even a low level lacky so they are helping themselves at the expense of everyone else.


They are the new abulance chasers going from one phony evironmental crisis to the next, taking from everyone, and giving nothing back.


They sort of remind me of fleas, ticks, and chiggers. They take without asking, are bad for your health and well being, and leave you with a creepy feeling when they are gone.


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