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Perseverance pays off in Perkins Creek dredging

Perkins Creek, also known by locals as Little Creek, is a small creek on the Rappahannock River that delineates the western boundary of the Town of Urbanna on the east bank. The west bank is part of Middlesex County. It has taken 12 years for homeowners there to obtain permits, private funds, and a spoil site to complete a $200,000 dredging project that was paid for by 17 landowners who live on the creek. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry Chowning

The once rough and tumble area in the Town of Urbanna known years ago by locals as “Little Pearl Harbor” is located on Howard and Knapp streets and along the shoreline of Perkins Creek.

Even though the town had code sections against raising hogs and chickens inside town limits the critters roamed those streets into the late 1960s. Local authorities turned their heads to the practice—in fear of being criticized if they were to object.

Years ago, watermen and boatbuilders lived on these streets and worked the water daily, going and coming out of Perkins Creek into the Rappahannock River. Watermen kept the channel of the creek open to navigation.

Urbanna native Joe Cardwell, who lives on Knapp Street, recalls as a boy watching watermen attach a chain to a “short” engine block from a sunken boat and dragging it behind their boat along the bottom of the creek as they left in the morning to go oystering.

“When they came back they would hook the chain to it again and drag it back through,” he said. “They did it enough that it kept the channel open.”

The days of dragging engine blocks along the bottom of the creek and raising hogs and chickens in the Town of Urbanna are long gone from the town’s culture—but the problem of keeping the channel open at the mouth of Perkins Creek and other creeks in Middlesex County is an ongoing concern.

In fact, it got so bad on Perkins Creek that boaters were having to wait until high tides to get in and out of the creek, said Cardwell.

Perkins is currently being dredged and it has taken 12 years for the project to happen. The creek was privately dredged with the Army Corps of Engineers approval for the first time in 1995. That dredge was deemed by the Corps as a “successful dredge.”

“Since we had already had a successful dredge, this helped speed up the permit process,” said Dennis Durrette of the Perkins Creek Association LLC, the homeowners group that is having the creek dredged. The Army Corps of Engineers and Virginia Marine Resources Commission approved a permit in 2006 for a maintenance dredge. “We thought we were on our way to making it happen,” said Durrette, “But it took a little while longer.”

Kristi and John Anzivino had just bought property on Perkins Creek and were living in Richmond when the process started. “We were surprised that not every landowner on the creek wanted to participate,” said Kristi. “We looked at it as just part of maintaining our property.”

Durrette agreed saying, “We tried to convey to homeowners that this was just like having to put a road in to reach their house or maintaining their roof or foundation on your home.”

To encourage participation, the group gathered statistics from local realtors comparing values of waterfront properties that have boating access to those with just a water view. “They said the difference between having a piece of property with water access versus a water view could be between $30,000 and $50,000,” said Durrette.

Out of 27 homeowners on the creek, 17 agreed to financially fund the project. The group was met with some resistance from surrounding landowners who had environmental issues with dredging; but the main holdup in what caused it to become a 12-year process was that the group could not find a landowner close by who would allow for a proper spoil site to be built and located on his property.

Durrette and others approached every available landowner who had an appropriate site without success. When everyone was about to give up and the Corps of Engineers was threatening not to renew their permit that had already been renewed several times, a local realtor called in 2014 with information that the late Walt Hurley had purchased a piece of property that would work for a spoil site.

Urbanna natives Wayne Williams and Joe Cardwell were appointed to go talk to Hurley. The day they picked to go it was snowing. “Snow flakes were as big as 50-cent pieces,” said Cardwell. “We walked into Walt’s office and I asked for Walt? The lady asked us, ‘Who are you and what do you want to discuss?’

“You can tell Walt that Joey Cardwell and Wayne Williams have come to see if Walt can come out and play in the snow with us,” responded Cardwell.

“Walt came out [of his office] laughing and we talked about old times growing up in Urbanna,” said Cardwell. “When we left he verbally gave us permission with a handshake to use the site on Lord Mott Rd. [as a spoil site].”

Tragically, Hurley died before a formal contract was written. “We want to thank the Hurley family and Mike Lowe who helped us get permission from the new owners of Bethpage Camp-Resort to build the spoil site,” said Durrette.

The owners of the campground plan to use the sand from the dredged materials to replenish beaches at Bethpage Camp-Resort near Urbanna and Grey’s Point Camp at Topping.

“Overall, we had a lot of challenges and we about threw in the towel several times,” said Durrette. “But we felt that we as waterfront property owners were supposed to accept the responsibility of maintaining the creek that is part of our property.

“We want people to know that this (having a creek dredged) can be done by homeowners,” said Durrette. “Middlesex County has a lot of small creeks that have to be maintained by those who live on them.

“One thing that would help is when citizens want to dredge their creek with their own money is for Middlesex County (supervisors) to help citizens find a spoil site,” he said. 

“Our supervisors need to look at unused county-owned land throughout Middlesex and see if any land is close to creeks that might work for spoil sites,” he said. “Our greatest challenge was finding a spoil site!”

Perkins Creek is being dredged to 3 1/2’ in the channel by Ray Nornes Inc. of Berlin, Md. “The dredge company we have has worked with us since 2007,” said Durrette. “We can’t say enough about the good job Ray Nornes has done in helping to guide us through this process.”

Bay Design of Urbanna worked with the Corps of Engineers on designing the spoil site and that was approved in 2007. When the group finally found a spoil site, Alistair J. Ramsay of Gloucester surveyed the site and William Wills Contractor of Locust Hill built the spoil site berm. “We used local firms as much as we could,” he said. “Our total cost came to a little under $200,000.”

Others actively involved in forming the LLC and making the dredge project happen were John and Kristi Anzivinos, Tony Toth, Wayne Williams, Pat Durrette and Bob Fitch. “All of our members have been supportive and instrumental in accomplishing our dredge project,” said Durrette.

The project is expected to be completed in a couple weeks. “It has been a long time coming but we are all very excited,” said Durrette.

posted 09.19.2018

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