Mathews still awaiting permits before replacing markers

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Jan 02, 2019 - 01:11 PM

Mathews County is still waiting on approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard before aids to navigation that were removed from Hole in the Wall and Davis Creek can be replaced.

The county’s board of supervisors voted last January to take over ownership of eight remaining aids to navigation in the two bodies of water after a number of the federal aids had been removed, leaving boaters without clearly marked channels. The board later decided to also replace some of the markers that had been removed, but permits were required.

Mathews Planning and Zoning Director Thomas Jenkins told the board during the December meeting that he had prepared a request for proposals that can be advertised as soon as the county gets approval. The Coast Guard has to approve alignment of the proposed markers as well as the numbering and lighting, he said, and the bids need to reflect that or they might have to be done again. He said that he had spoken with the Corps of Engineers the second week in December, and that the permit request was slated to be sent to the colonel in charge of the Norfolk District sometime during the third week. The Coast Guard is presumably waiting on the Army Corps of Engineers, he said, adding, “Hopefully these dominoes will start to fall shortly.”

Hudgins resident Mike Walls had raised the issue during the meeting. He said that he had been navigating the channel through Milford Haven and Hole in the Wall in a 40-foot sport fisher and that there was plenty of water.

“You just need to know where it’s at,” Walls said. “If they can mark it, everybody else can do it, too.”

During the board’s discussion of the matter, board chairman Charles Ingram commented that the Coast Guard had “caused all the trouble.”

“There was a lot of confusion down at Hole in the Wall this weekend,” Ingram said. “Some people got lost. It’s a pity they didn’t have some better markings down there for them.”

Walls said that the Coast Guard was the agency that had determined that the Hole in the Wall was a non-navigable channel.

“Am I to understand we’re now going to rely on the Coast Guard to approve them and tell us where the deep water is?” he said. “What is wrong with that picture?”

Walls also questioned whether the Coast Guard would allow the county to put the markers in the same place where temporary PVC markers had been placed.

“That’s what we submitted for,” said Jenkins.

Spoil sites

Walls raised another issue, as well. He said that, although the board agenda stated that there is no spoil site for Hole in the Wall, the county has permission to use property that’s owned by the Mathews Land Conservancy at Sandy Point as a site for dredged materials.

Jenkins explained that the spoil site for Hole in the Wall won’t be like the spoil sites for the five federally-dredged creek channels in Mathews because it will be funded through a different pathway. Instead of having its own accompanying spoil site, he said, a site will be chosen during the application process “that is working its way through the corps now.”

County attorney payments

Walls also pointed out that during the October meeting, Ingram had questioned a payment by the county of over $11,000 in attorney’s fees. He said further that there was an additional $24,000 payment made to the firm Sands Anderson in November, when the firm was still contracted to provide county attorney services.

“That’s of concern for me,” said Walls. “I think we need an explanation for why we’re spending that much money in one month on lawyer’s fees. That’s ridiculous.”

Walls then called out two $4,000 payments made in December to newly-appointed County Attorney Daniel Stuck.

“I hope that’s for a retainer fee,” he said, “and not something else we’re fighting our citizens on. That’d be a little ridiculous.”

Neither the board nor Stuck responded to the comments.

Audit report

CPA Paul H. Lee of Robinson, Farmer, Cox Associates reported to the board that the county’s finances are fine. Because additional post-employment benefits had to be included on the accrual-based financial statements this year, it reduced the county’s beginning position by about $725,000 and the schools by about $2 million, he said. These changes had to do with such things as life insurance and health insurance through the Virginia Retirement System, he said, because the report now has to show the total net liability that will occur over the years, resulting in what appears to be a negative position. But the bulk of it is being collected through payment to employees, he said.

“Really, from a budgetary standpoint, you look at the modified accrual statements,” he said, “and you’re doing very well.”

Lee pointed out an increase in the general fund balance, an overall expenditure compared to balance of 25 percent, and a 99 percent tax collection rate.

In spite of the fact that the audit required a number of additional statements and ended up being 47 pages longer than in the past, he said, the process went very smoothly.

“It really speaks well of the finance staff you have,” Lee said. “I commend them on the job that they’re doing.”