Smithfield boat ramp planned

Published 12:38 pm Wednesday, October 14, 2015

By Alyse Stanley

Staff writer

The Smithfield Town Council accepted a deed gifted by Smithfield Foods for a public boat ramp at Clontz Park at its Oct. 7 meeting. Should the state approve the town’s grant application, residents could be launching their boats from the ramp by next year, said Town Manager Peter Stephenson.

Owning the property was a stipulation for being eligible for a grant from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VRMC).

The town and Smithfield Foods had an agreement concerning the property since the early ‘90s, said Stephenson. Smithfield Foods built and owned Clontz Park and the town has maintained it. But the VMRC required a more substantial agreement from the town before it would consider providing grant money. “It didn’t cut the mustard,” said Stephenson. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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Smithfield Foods issued a quitclaim deed — which relieves the grantor’s rights to the property— to the town in September, offering to sell the land for $1. The Town Council accepted this deed in a unanimous vote.

The town applied for a $252,815 grant from the VMRC’s Virginia Saltwater Recreational Fishing Development Fund in June, said Stephenson. This fund provides grants to localities attempting, among other things, to promote additional access to Virginia waterways.

But before the VMRC can even make a decision on the town council’s application, the Recreational Fishing Advisory Board (RFAB), a subset committee, must provide its recommendation.

Representatives from the town of Smithfield and Kimley-Horn, an engineering consultant for the town, presented the application to the RFAB in July, said Stephenson.

Since the initial application, the town refined the scope and reduced the cost to put the project within limits that would be more likely to be funded by the state, said Stephenson.

The RFAB votes on the project in November. If its members approve recommendation, the VMRC would vote for final approval in early December, said Stephenson.

Work would then start immediately, he said. The town’s tentative schedule for the process begins in the first quarter of 2016 with ramp design and permitting, followed by advertising for construction in spring. Construction would begin next summer and the boat ramp would open later in the year, said Stephenson.

The town chose Clontz Park primarily because of topography, said Stephenson. The riverside property naturally slopes at a degree favorable for a boat ramp.

Currently a fixed pier runs parallel to the Pagan River at the proposed location. The town would need to remove a section of the pier to accommodate for the ramp, said Stephenson.

The two closest boat ramps are Tyler’s Beach Boat Ramp in Rushmere and Jones Creek Boat Ramp in Carrollton, but “both of them have their challenges,” said Stephenson. “We’re hoping ours doesn’t have any,” he added.

A mud flat between Rescue Bridge and the Jones Creek Boat Ramp makes traveling at low tide difficult, as boats scrape the muddy bottom beneath the shallow water, said Stephenson. The county does not have the funds to dredge the creek, he said. Tyler’s Beach also required dredging as recently as June and its location in the northern end of the county is inconvenient to many residents, said Stephenson. The Pagan River is deeper and in a central part of town, just off Church Street, so the town should not encounter similar issues.

The ramp would accommodate both non-motorized and motorized boats, Stephenson said. The ramp will be free and open to the public and is not intended to be a commercial boat launch site.

Kimley-Horn already completed concept planning and multiple surveys on the land, said Stephenson. It recently submitted a joint-permit application at the request of the VMRC. This permit is reviewed by both the federal and state governments and addresses concerns such as threats to wetlands, endangered species and availability of cultural resources. The process takes several months, said Stephenson, so VMRC encouraged the town to get started soon. The scope of the work will not exceed $7,450, he said.

The VMRC would require the town to agree to certain parameters before approving the grant application. The boat ramp would need to be used for its intended purpose for 30 years, and the town would be responsible for maintenance and capital improvements, said Stephenson. Should the boat ramp be destroyed by natural disaster, the town would have one year to restore it to full use. {/mprestriction}