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Case Study
Enabling Legislation in Virginia Establishes The Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority

Location
Virginia counties of Essex, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William, and Mathews and the Towns of Tappahannock, Urbanna, and West Point

Timeframe
1998 - 2003

Summary
Virginia’s Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority, the first entity of its kind in the United States, was enabled under the leadership and auspices of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission. The Authority was created to identify, acquire, and manage passive and low-impact water access opportunities in the Middle Peninsula and throughout the Virginia coastal zone for the public. The Authority recognizes that shorelines are high priority natural areas and its mission is to set aside access sites for all types of recreational activities for the economic and societal benefits of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Authority promotes land acquisition, conservation, and restoration; enhances sustainable public access to regional waterways; encourages public education; and is guided by site-specific, comprehensive stewardship and wildlife/habitat management plans. The Authority’s work draws successfully on collaborations with and generous funding from a number of state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private citizens.

Transferability
Virginia's Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority and Northern Neck Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority are the only known examples of the tool of Public Access Authorities in the United States. However, enabling legislation to create such an entity can be proposed in any state, making these models for replication elsewhere.

Best Practices
Clarify priorities to build a broad base of support.
When promoting the value and benefit of the Authority, District Commission Director Lewis Lawrence clarified the top priorities for local government as education, and public safety and health. By placing public access oversight within the management of the Authority, he made it clear that public access issues would not compete with these critical local needs. This approach helped to unify support among the member jurisdictions. (L. Lawrence, email communication, May 10, 2012)

Use a practical, problem solving approach to makes the issue's relevance clear to stakeholders.
The Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission promoted creation of the Authority by framing public access as a problem in need of a solution. In this way, the Authority was presented as the new tool to deal with this specific problem.

Use innovative approaches for cost savings.
The Authority has operated since 2003 without expending local tax dollars, in part due to budget management approaches that reduced costs and increased income, such as partnering for access to labor and services.

Invest in planning.
The Authority collaboratively develops site-specific, comprehensive management plans for each site under its jurisdiction. The management plans establish mission-centered objectives for the properties, such as creating wildlife corridors, and supporting multiple, traditional uses.

Communicate accomplishments to stakeholders.
The Authority is careful to track outcomes of its initiatives in order to effectively communicate its value to its constituents. Measurable outcomes such as external funding totals, acreage protected, and access points identified, are all critical indicators of success which are readily appreciated by constituents.

Full Case Study Description
Background
In the late 1990's, much of the coastal portion of the Middle Peninsula experienced rapid residential development and a large influx of retirees locating to the Middle Peninsula. Traditional public access sites and culturally accepted practices and uses were being challenged by newcomers who were not familiar with or receptive to local access customs. The nine jurisdictions (the Virginia counties of Essex, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William, and Mathews and the Towns of Tappahannock, Urbanna, and West Point) of the Middle Peninsula were the subject of ongoing litigation focusing on the public's right to access the water via road endings managed by the Virginia Department of Transportation. One case in particular worked through the Virginia court systems and eventually rose to the Virginia State Supreme Court - Frederick J. SHAHEEN, et al., v. COUNTY OF MATHEWS (http://www2.vims.edu/seagrant/coastalaccess/resource/docs/SHAHEEN.pdf). Mathews County expended many thousands of dollars to defend the public’s right for access to the water. Local governments recognized that litigation was not the preferred path for managing public access and saw the need for a regional solution to a cross-jurisdictional problem.

The Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (www.mppdc.com) began addressing these issues in 1998 by directing staff to inventory all road endings within the Middle Peninsula that ended at the water’s edge. Over 300 road endings were identified, with the assumption of a public right for ingress and egress to the water.

Then in 2000, the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission staff next developed a regional strategy for managing and preserving public access and sought enabling legislation to form a special purpose political subdivision with the sole purpose of protecting the public's right to access state waters. The concept of the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority was introduced. Enabling legislation to create the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority was drafted and proposed to Virginia 98th District Representative Delegate Harvey Morgan. Legislation was introduced in 2001 for the 2002 General Assembly session under HB 619 Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority Act. The legislation passed and the Authority came into existence and convened for the first time on June 13, 2003.

Leadership of the Public Access Authority is composed of elected officials and local government administrators from six counties and three towns. The Authority collaborates closely with and receives funding for its activities from a number of state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private citizens, and is also authorized to accept land donations and assess use fees. The operating budget of the Authority is annually dependent on direct grants to the PAA as well as indirect grants which run through the partner agency, the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission. The Authority has no staff. The PAA contracts for professional staff service from the Planning District Commission. The Authority received small state appropriations in 2007 and 2008. It also receives approximately $1,500 annually in hunting registration revenue, which is used for maintenance on PAA lands. The Authority adopts an annual work plan each spring that identifies priority access issues and needs as well as funding sources.

Following creation of the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority, Virginia’s Northern Neck Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority was also formed. Similar authorities have not been identified elsewhere in the United States, making Virginia's two entities unique and innovative models for possible replication.

Goal
The mission of the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority is to set aside coastal access sites for all types of recreational activities for the economic and societal benefits of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Approaches Used
The Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority was created by the Virginia General Assembly on April 7, 2002, and ratified by its member jurisdictions, the counties of Essex, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William, and Mathews, and the Towns of Tappahannock, Urbanna, and West Point participating localities on June 13, 2003. The Authority's mandate is to: 1) identify land, either owned by the Commonwealth or private holdings, for potential use as public access sites; 2) to ascertain ownership of all identified property; and 3) to determine appropriate public use levels of these sites.

The Authority recognizes that shorelines are high priority natural areas and that it is critical to set aside water access sites for all types of recreational activities important to the Virginia economy and its citizens. As a regional leader in addressing public access issues, the Authority understands the importance of public outreach and education as it relates to water access.

The Authority develops appropriate mechanisms for transferring title of Commonwealth or private holdings to the Authority and also determines which holdings should be sold to advance the mission of the Authority. To promote effective land management, the Authority and its partners develop site-specific, comprehensive stewardship and wildlife/habitat management plans for each property it acquires. The management plans are designed to: 1)conserve wildlife and habitat corridor connectivity and quality; 2) maintain passive public access to associated land- and water-based ecosystems; 3) support multiple, traditional uses; and 4) minimize conflicts among competitive uses.

The Authority is an entity serving the public, but it does not expend local tax dollars. In its operations, the Authority has adopted such inventive cost-saving measures as using local inmates for construction and renovation of public access projects; leveraging local disability services boards to improve disabled features in its managed areas; and utilizing itself as a tool to create public wetlands banks.

Challenges
Lewis Lawrence, Executive Director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, explains how creation of the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority was set in motion: "As a Regional Planning District Commission, we are in the problem-solving business and the provision of public access was an important problem and we needed a new tool." Thus, with proactive planning by the District Commission, the political process to establish the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority was not fraught with barriers. The Commission led the effort and built support for creating the Authority among its future member jurisdictions. When promoting the value and benefit of the Authority, Lawrence "made the case that the top priorities for local government are: keeping schools open, keeping criminals in jail and disposing of trash… these three priorities take over 90% of a local budget. The remaining 10% supports all other functions of a local government. Public access solutions would compete with all other critical local needs. By placing public access needs into the Authority, it elevated the priority to top status. The locals like the idea of making an important issue a higher priority without competing for other local resources." (L. Lawrence, email communication, May 10, 2012)

The Commission’s efforts succeeded. None of the jurisdictions objected and the state legislature authorized the Authority, with only one issue being raised: one legislator requested that the Authority not be given the power of eminent domain. The Planning District Commission agreed that the Authority did not need this power and the enabling legislation was revised. Otherwise, the Authority has all other powers of a local government. The final phase of implementation was local authorization as outlined in the legislation: each jurisdiction was mandated to formally declare its need for the Authority and then pass a local resolution creating the entity.

Accomplishments

  • At present, spring 2012, the Authority has obtained over $3 million in state and federal funds, but has not expended local tax dollars. Lawrence explains: "This is why (the localities) love this tool. We solve problems not using local taxes." (L. Lawrence, email communication, May 10, 2012)
  • The Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission has inventoried public roads that ended at the water’s edge and identified over 300 road endings that are within the public's right for use as ingress and egress to the water. The road endings and over 1,000 acres of land are now actively managed for public access.
  • The Authority had developed a web-based Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Working Waterfront Master Plan http://www.virginiacoastalaccess.net/MPPAA_masterplan.html
  • A regional shallow water dredging and navigation study to address long term financing cost and the provision of maritime commerce and transportation within the Middle Peninsula region has been completed.
  • An innovative project to transfer ownership of a publicly owned commercial seafood wharf from the Virginia Department of Transportation to the Authority, thus enabling the facility to be managed and protected as a critical piece of working waterfront infrastructure, has been implemented.
  • And a rural Commercial Seafood Harbor Master Plan to protect the working waterfronts industry along the Perrin River in Gloucester County, Virginia, is under development.

Key Partners
Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority, www.virginiacoastalaccess.net

Contacts
Case study compiled by:
Kristen Grant
Marine Extension Associate
Maine Sea Grant and University of Maine Cooperative Extension
kngrant@maine.edu
Maine Sea Grant (www.seagrant.umaine.edu/)

Lewis L. Lawrence
Executive Director
Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission
Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority Staff
LLawrence@mppdc.com
Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (www.mppdc.com)

Additional Information
"I made the case that the top priorities for local government are: keeping schools open, keeping criminals in jail and disposing of trash… these three priorities take over 90% of a local budget. The remaining 10% supports all other functions of a local government. Public access solutions would compete with all other critical local needs. By placing public access needs into the Authority, it elevated the priority to top status. The locals like the idea of making an important issue a higher priority without competing for other local resources." - Lewis Lawrence, Executive Director, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission (email communication, May 10, 2012)

References
Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority (www.virginiacoastalaccess.net) Addressing Sustainable Public Access in the Virginia Coastal Zone; Jacqueline L. Shapo, NOAA Coastal Services Center, Earth Resources Technology, Inc., Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program http://nsgl.gso.uri.edu/tcs/tcsw08001/data/papers/103.pdf

Last updated 19-Mar-13





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Region
  • Mid-Atlantic
Geographic Scope
  • Town
  • County(s)
  • Special Purpose Political Subdivision (Port Authority, Public Access Authority, etc)
Governance Structure
  • Dillon Rule
Issues
  • Loss of commercial and/or recreational access and associated user conflicts
  • Private ownership and public access conflicts/legal framework of public trust rights and private property rights
  • Overcrowding due to coastal population growth
  • Environmental impacts: resource protection, habitat loss, water quality degradation
  • Loss or preservation of heritage (cultural, maritime, etc.)
Tools Waterfront Uses
  • Public access (docks/wharfs/beach/park)
Digital Coast Snapshots