VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — An ongoing debate on a Virginia Beach project is nearing a close, and so is the window of opportunity for you to voice your opinion on its drafted environmental impact assessment.

The back and forth started by in the 70’s when questions arose on how to improve Sandbridge Road. Since then, plans have evolved over time to instead extend an already existing Nimmo Parkway.

The most recent version, Nimmo Parkway Phase VII-B, recently had an in-person public comment meeting to discuss the project’s drafted environmental impact assessment.

The idea on the table would make Nimmo an additional road for use in cases where Sandbridge Road is impassable during storms. Currently, there’s only one road in and out of the mixed-bag residential/vacation area.

The road extension would be built along a strip of land, bought by the city nearly 30 years ago, that bisects the Lago Mar neighborhood, crosses Ashville Bridge Creek and through about a mile of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Documents show the road would be a two-lane, undivided roadway with shoulders, on-road bike lanes, and a single shared-use path. The project runs from Albuquerque Drive to the west and Sandbridge Road to the east.

The nearly two-mile-long proposal would meet at a point on Sandbridge Road as pictured below.

Courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach

Only having one way in and out of Sandbridge has created problems in the past, especially when coastal storms and flooding approach.

Project leaders say the community wouldn’t have to rely on Naval Air Station Oceana – Dam Neck Annex for that alternate access. According to the City of Virginia Beach, the Navy has said this emergency access cannot be guaranteed when needed and can’t be relied on.

The additional access is welcomed by some members of the Sandbridge residential community, but not everyone agrees. Lago Mar residents have pushed back in the past, citing the proximity of the road to their neighborhood and other impacts.

Additionally, some environmentalists have pushed back. The land the road would be extended onto divides the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge – meaning the city would be building through some of the marshes.

The Southern Environmental Law Center says the extended roadway impacts not only wildlife habitats, but
it would “undermine the wetlands’ ability to absorb flood waters during coastal storms and wind tides, making nearby homes more vulnerable to flooding during heavy storms.”

Several alternatives to the current proposed project were considered, according to the City of Virginia Beach website. Studies done reported the Nimmo Parkway corridor had a slightly larger impact on wetlands but has “significantly fewer impacts to private property, businesses, homes, and US Fish and Wildlife Services property.”

A city website dedicated to the project says it will not displace any residences, adding that all work being done will be within the existing right-of-way to the greatest extent possible.

Still, signs line nearby roadways reading, “Say NO to Nimmo VII-B,” “Fix Sandbridge Road” and “Protect Back Bay.” Those pushing for repairs and improvements to Sandbridge Road instead believe it will cause less environmental impact.

Virginia Beach city leaders have said they will implement the mitigation efforts to preserve the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge such as:

  • Small wildlife passages
  • Use of native vegetation in seeding of road shoulders
  • Planting of native trees and shrubs in the road corridor
  • Motion sensor lighting along the roadway to minimize ambient light at night
  • Educational signage

As far as flooding goes, information gathered by the South Environmental Law Center suggests building on the swampy, marsh areas will decrease the area’s natural ability to mitigate already intense flooding.

The City of Virginia Beach says the project would not create a dike, an embankment that confines water. Instead, they say the 800-foot-long bridge over Ashville Bridge Creek will allow water to flow along with drainage systems.

Your opportunity to voice an opinion on the drafted environmental assessment ends June 24. You can do so by clicking here.

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