VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been ordered to remove all artificial reef materials from several sites in the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach after the reefs were found with prohibited items, such as asphalt and metal wire, sticking out of the water.

The foundation was initially told two weeks ago to stop the work on the three artificial reefs after the Virginia Marine Resource Commission said the materials used were in substantial violation of state code. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science said asphalt and concrete released harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons compound, and said asphalt shouldn’t be in the water in general.

And in one spot, the Keeling Drain Reef, the VMRC said some concrete rubble was put on top of their 25-year old oyster broodstock sanctuary reef.

In WAVY’s coverage two weeks ago, CBF Oyster Restoration Manager Jackie Shannon said the foundation “could have had more inspections in place” and said they would “move forward in a way that we can rebuild that community trust.” 

“We take this very seriously, and we have great decades of track record working with communities to build successful, safe working, and thriving oyster reefs.” 

CBF sent a mitigation plan to the VMRC for review, and in a letter on Wednesday, Randal D. Owen, the head of VMRC’s Habitat Management Division, said these actions will need to be taken by CBF:

  1. To ensure public safety and abate adverse water quality impacts resulting from your
    overboard placement of asphalt, concrete with metal wire and concrete rubble within
    and outside of the permitted footprints of the Pleasure House Creek, Brown Cove and
    Keeling Drain reef sites, all reef material must be removed by hand or mechanical
    means in its entirety. A detailed remediation plan addressing the removal must be
    completed and submitted within 30 days of receipt of this letter to VMRC, DEQ and
    the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approval before any material is removed;
  2. All reef material required to be removed by this Notice To Comply shall be loaded
    onto shallow-draft barges and removed to an approved upland disposal area;
  3. Submittal of a post-removal survey (referenced to a mean low water datum) verifying
    removal of all material. This survey must be completed by an outside independent
    party

Owen says any future work proposed at sites on the river will require a new permit.

In response, CBF Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore says they are “surprised and disappointed by the action,” however they are committed to resolving the issues “in a manner that will best protect the river and watershed.”

Read the full statement below:

“CBF is dedicated to restoring oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. For decades, we have been safely and successfully restoring native oysters in Virginia’s tidal waterways, helping to clean these waters, creating more habitat for fish, crabs, and shrimp, and boosting the local economy. A healthy Lynnhaven River depends on thriving oyster reefs.  

“To restore oysters in the Lynnhaven, VMRC approved the use of concrete, a key component in numerous successful oyster reefs across the Bay watershed. We are surprised and disappointed by this enforcement action, as we have been working to address concerns regarding the Lynnhaven reefs since first learning of them. While we are now reviewing the notice to comply, we are committed to resolving the issues in a manner that will best protect the river and watershed.   

“The Lynnhaven has been famous for its delicious oysters for centuries, and oysters continue to support watermen, local restauranteurs and other businesses. Virginia and federal leaders have committed to creating 152 acres of oyster habitat in the Lynnhaven River, which is just a fraction of the oysters this river once supported. We will continue to work with our partners and state agencies to ensure a strong oyster population in the Lynnhaven River.”  

CBF Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office, which responded to the complaints along with state Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), shared this statement on the matter from Press Secretary Macaulay Porter.

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s non-compliance with VMRC permits, including the prohibited use of asphalt, trash, metal wire, and plastic in these three reefs compelled the Administration to require complete removal of all reef material and revoke the VMRC permits. To ensure the safety of Virginians and to minimize water quality impacts, the Administration took appropriate action and will continue to ensure that we are cleaning up our water in Virginia in a thoughtful and effective way. Governor Youngkin’s administration is committed to addressing Virginia’s ongoing environmental, energy, and natural resources challenges, including taking necessary actions like this to protect the Chesapeake Bay.”

Sen. DeSteph released a separate statement Wednesday, saying his office had numerous people reach out about dangerous materials being used. “People were especially disappointed to learn that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Lynnhaven River Now had caused damage to the very waterways they are entrusted to protect,” DeSteph said.

Read Sen. DeSteph’s full statement.

He said permits for the affected projects have been revoked.

“The Chesapeake Bay is without question one of our region’s greatest treasures. We must do all we can to safeguard its well-being. Finding a balance between aquaculture, recreational, and navigational use of the Bay and its tributaries is paramount. I greatly respect the historic
contributions of both the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Lynnhaven River Now and look forward to their continued good work as they strive for what’s best for the Bay.”

Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.