Supervisor Thomas Shepperd says the board is "lightning rod for hate and discontent"
The York County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider disbanding its wetlands board, a group one politician described as a "lightning rod for hate and discontent."
The controversial move, which could be a first in Virginia, would cede control of waterfront development to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
The seven-member wetlands board, appointed to staggered terms by county supervisors, guides land use along low-lying areas of the Chesapeake Bay. It's the first regulatory stop homeowners make when planning to build a pier, bulkhead, or other structures near the water.
Over the years, the board has drawn the ire of citizens, including real estate agent Greg Garrett and marine contractor Robert "Sid" Holloway, who argue its members don't properly enforce state codes.
"The board is known for its hostile treatment and abuse of waterfront property owners," said Holloway, also a member of the grassroots group, York County Waterways Alliance.
At the center of the dispute is Adam Frisch, who, with nearly 22 years of experience, is the board's most tenured member. Frisch works as the county's head of computer support services, which Garrett views as a conflict of interest.
"He's a county employee evaluating his peers," said Garrett, who previously appeared before the board to install bulkheads on his shoreline.
Frisch did not return phone calls Thursday or Friday. County Attorney James Barnett said there is no conflict of interest because Frisch's job does not intersect with the wetlands board.
Garrett and Holloway said the county would be better served by the commission, which overseas Virginia's waterways. Supervisor Thomas Shepperd disagrees. The state agency has too many duties, including marine police and fisheries management, to focus on York County, he said.
Commission spokesman John M.R. Bull said the agency typically oversees 2,500 cases a year, a load that includes everything from river dredging to planting oyster reefs. The commission meets monthly, during the day, and in downtown Newport News. Bull said he was unaware of any other locality that has dismissed its wetlands board.
The wetlands board, which has a $4,000 budget, is more convenient because it meets in county offices and during the evening, Shepperd said. It also isn't as busy, holding a handful of public hearings last year, he said.
York residents can appear before the commission, but only after the wetlands board denies their request. Appeal are rare, Shepperd said, suggesting most residents are satisfied with the board. Garrett countered that most residents don't have the time or money to hire engineers and, possibly, lawyers to appeal.
Further complicating the matter is an April 1 letter County Administrator James McReynolds sent to the wetlands board. The letter says supervisors intend to "abolish" the board because they do not want it held "responsible for enforcing state regulations and requirements." McReynolds could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.
Shepperd said he hopes Tuesday's vote will alleviate some of the controversy surrounding the board.
"It has been a lightning rod for hate and discontent," he said.
Want to go?
The York County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday whether to disband their wetlands board giving control to the Virginia Marine Resouces Commission. The meeting is in the board room of York Hall at 6 p.m.
Copyright © 2010, Newport News, Va., Daily Press