Board reverses order on Islander permits

Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Sep 12, 2018 - 12:27 PM

The Mathews County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 during a special meeting on Thursday night to reverse an Aug. 28 decision by the board to direct Building Official Jamie Wilks to issue permits for renovations to the Islander Motel and Restaurant.

The action was taken after the board received a letter from Clyde Cristman, director of Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, saying that the board’s previous decision may have put county residents’ flood insurance in jeopardy, and could result in the county’s being put on probation or even being suspended from the National Flood Insurance Program.

If a locality is placed on probation, said Cristman, each property owner must pay an additional $50 a year in flood insurance premiums for as long as probation lasts. Moreover, if a locality is suspended from the NFIP, he said, residents will no longer be able to purchase new NFIP flood insurance policies at all or even renew their old NFIP flood insurance policies.

Thursday’s action included only three board members because Chairman Charles Ingram and Vice Chairman G.C. Morrow walked out of the courtroom moments before the meeting began. In the minutes leading up to the 7 p.m. call for order, Ingram, visibly upset, was in an apparently intense conversation with County Administrator Mindy Conner and could be heard threatening to "walk out." Several times he appeared to be ready to leave, but remained when Conner and Supervisor Amy Dubois, both of their voices inaudible, spoke to him.

Ingram finally made the decision to leave, and, once outside the courtroom, said that he, as chair of the board, had called for a work session on the floodplain ordinance, but instead found when he arrived that board members intended to call for a vote on the action taken during the August meeting.

“This is not what I called the meeting for,” said Ingram. “Now they’re taking action that the chair did not approve.”

As Ingram spoke, Morrow exited the courthouse and, asked about his reason for leaving, refused to comment, saying, “I’ve had enough of fake news.”

Back in the courtroom, Supervisor Pepper Love explained that, during the August meeting, he had seconded the motion that had been approved (to issue permits for the Islander), but had found out “after things went up the line to FEMA and DCR” that the action “was not right and would affect the people of Mathews in an adverse way.”

“There never was an intent to do that,” said Love. He said he felt he had made a mistake, and had asked for Thursday’s meeting. He then made the motion to reverse the previous decision. It was seconded by Dubois, and approved by the three supervisors present (Love, Dubois, and Edwina Casey).

A woman in the audience shouted a question about why the decision had been made, but Casey said that no public comment was being taken. A man in the audience then said, “We have the chair and vice chair outside. This doesn’t seem orderly.”

Casey responded that by law, a majority can take action, and that three people had voted on the motion.

“But it doesn’t seem orderly,” the man said.

“They’re the ones that left,” said Casey. She explained further, saying, “My comment about what they did, that I was not here to vote for, is that I’m not going to go to jail for some illegal action that this board’s gonna take.” (Casey was not present at the August 28 meeting.)

In response, one man said that no one was asking her to go to jail, while another shouted, “Y’all remember those three up there when it comes time to vote.”

However, as the audience dispersed, several people approached the dais and thanked the board members for their action.

Delegate Keith Hodges letter

In an email letter to board members, dated Thursday morning, Delegate Keith Hodges cautioned the board that remaining compliant with National Flood Insurance Program requirements is “paramount to protecting citizen investment in flood prone areas as well as ensuring that commercial and retail development can access the capital needed to grow our rural coastal economy.”

Hodges pointed out that Mathews County has more than 1,400 National Flood Insurance policies, with in-force insurance coverage totaling more than $360 million. He said that the program “enables property owners in participating communities to purchase insurance protection, administered by the government, against losses from flooding, and requires flood insurance for all loans or lines of credit secured by existing buildings, manufactured homes, or buildings under construction, located in a community that participates in the NFIP.”

With that in mind, Hodges said he wanted to ensure that all localities in his district remain in good standing with the NFIP while, at the same time, growing business opportunities.

Hodges lauded the Islander Motel and Restaurant for the decades during which it has “provided important jobs and tax revenue to Mathews County.”

“As your delegate,” said Hodges, “I would like to see the Islander reopen, as Mathews County would benefit from having the business operational, as would its owners.”

Hodges said that the permitting challenges facing the Islander are complex, with permitting possibly needed from a variety of state agencies, and he encouraged the owners of the Islander and county staff to “work collaboratively, as partners, to develop a solution that does not jeopardize Mathews County’s participation in the NFIP program while also allowing the Islander to reopen.” He pointed out that a master plan of the site development is needed to “navigate through the regulatory framework and develop solutions for this much needed project.”

“This will require a transparent process that affords the owner and the county due process,” said Hodges. “Only through open dialog and mutual respect can solutions be discussed and agreement reached to meet the needs of all parties.”