TANGIER, Va. – A cadre of Norfolk District leaders and staff, accompanied by Deborah Christie with Congressman Scott Rigell’s office, journeyed by boat 14 miles in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay Monday to reaffirm their commitment to assisting in Tangier Island's subsistence and erosion issues.
In a town hall-style meeting, Col. Paul Olsen, Norfolk District commander, addressed members of Tangier’s town council, including Mayor James Eskridge, about the status of the jetty project and other concerns the residents have.
The Tangier Jetty Project, a $4.2 million project, will protect the island’s harbor from wave attack and erosion during coastal storm events.
The project is currently in the feasibility stage, during which the Army Corps of Engineers determines the size and shape of the structure that will meet the needs of the island.
Corps officials expect the feasibility phase to wrap up by early 2015, which will mark the start of the design phase of the project.
It is a project that Eskridge says the town's people remain interested in.
“The main thing is the project is still on, it’s still going,” Eskridge said. “As the colonel said, it is a slow process and some of the folks were discouraged and wondering if it had been dropped, but now I can reassure them it hasn’t and it is still moving forward.”
The Corps expects construction of the jetty to start in 2017 after all the reviews and design work are completed.
The meeting allowed the Corps to answer questions about their processes in both the current jetty project and on future potential projects the town has identified.
For residents, two main areas of concern a breach in the uninhabited Uppards portion of the island; which once filled will help protect the lower inhabited portion of Tangier; and the status of the federal navigation channel dredging project.
Corps officials discussed a plan to use dredged material to fill the breach and additional plans to place the dredged material on upland sites on the island.
“Every teaspoon of sand we dredge as port of our navigation mission is precious to this island, we get that," Olsen said." "What we need to do is make sure we have the right equipment in place to put the sand where we need it to be."
The next round of dredging will utilize the Corps dredge Currituck to remove shoals missed during previous rounds of dredging.
Because the Currituck is a hopper dredge, it can’t pump material in the Uppards breach, but it will place it close to shore, allowing the natural currents move some of the material in place.
Olsen related the plight of Tangier with that of other communities that have succumbed to sea level rise and those that will be dealing with it in the near future throughout Virginia.
"As Holland Island was, Tangier is, and Hampton Roads will be,” Olsen said to those in attendance.
Holland Island was abandoned in 1922 as it began slipping beneath the waters of the bay. The final standing house collapsed into the bay a few years ago.
According to Olsen, he is not merely concerned with sea level rise and climate change and their effects on Tangier Island. He is also providing key leadership to the region as part of a White House pilot study facilitated by Old Dominion University as well as advising the commonwealth's Joint Subcommittee to Study Recurrent Flooding.
Eskridge said the meeting calmed some nerve in his community – many of whom are worried their homes might meet the same outcome as Holland Island
"It’s very reassuring, the number of folks who came out today,” Eskridge said. “It’s quite an ordeal to come out here, so to see the amount of people here [from the Corps] is very encouraging.”
According to members of the town council, residents want to keep their island and community in place.
“What we really want is total island protection so that we know our island will remain here for another 100 years,” said Cindy Wheatley, a Tangier councilmember.
According to Corps officials, it is a tough goal to achieve in a fiscally challenged environment.
"I can’t promise you anything, ” said Olsen. “Except that I will do my best with the funds I receive to preserve this magnificent place.”