Underwater Danger: Channel in Crisis

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach boaters say they have big concerns about the Lynnhaven River. 

They tell 10 On Your Side if it’s not dredged soon someone is going to get seriously hurt.

“The past year or so it really has been bad,” said Virginia Beach boater Scott Goodove.

Just as roads get pot holes, waterways end up with obstacles of their own.

“You’re worried you don’t know what the bottom is going to do,” added boater Kevin Stewart.  “It’s like driving a car on the road and having an invisible barricade that you run into.”

Shoaling on the river has caused sand to build up in the channel, creating a dangerous situation.  At low tide the water level can drop to about a foot and a half.

The dynamic on the Lynnhaven River can get complicated.  

The area around the Lesner Bridge and down towards Broad Bay is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Everything outside of that is Virginia Beach’s responsibility.   

There are parts of both that are in serious need of dredging.

“We’re standing right in the middle of the channel right now,” Goodove said while standing in waist deep water.  

“The biggest issue is the only way to get through here sometimes is high speed, is to break through the shallow portions.  It is a double edged sword, because if you slow the boat down you get stuck and if you go fast, you hit it and come to a dead stop and people get thrown off the boat.”

Chris Tolson is a project engineer for the Army Corps.  He tells 10 On Your Side that Congress funds around $500,000 for yearly dredging on the problem spots.  

This winter the Army Corps will spend $1 million doing a full scale dredge.  The sand will be put back on the nearby beaches.

They would like to see the water depth at around nine feet in the channel.

10 On Your Side found Don Carter walking his jet ski through knee high water.  Carter says he’s had to fix his boat twice after his propellor hit the bottom.

“It’s frustrating knowing you have damage to your boat,” Carter said.  “We feel that we are all on the water we are paying more taxes and what do we get for it?”

“You know that’s a valid opinion,” Virginia Beach Water Resources Engineer Phil Roehrs added. “I can respect it.”

Roehrs says the last time its portion of the Lynnhaven was dredged was in 1991.  However, after years of no funding, city council just set aside $5 million to do it.  Public Works say the project is still going through permitting and the hope is that work will start next spring.

“It always comes down to the boat captain who is responsible to know the waters that he is in,” Roehrs said.  “If he doesn’t know the waters he should exercise extreme care until he becomes familiar with them.”

“It can be very dangerous especially in certain parts at low tide,” said Coast Guard Waterways Management Deputy Chief Chris Scraba.

Scraba says the Coast Guard is responsible for setting the channel markers.  There is a plan in the works to move makers away from the shoaling, add danger warnings and install portable buoys should the shoaling move.  Right now the Coast Guard is looking for input from the boaters.

“We need to go in, repair it, remark it and re-establish it,” Scraba added.

The Coast Guard also keeps track of the latest boating conditions.

It looks like things on the river will improve.

“In the meantime, it is just getting worse every year,” Stewart said.  “It is just a matter of time before something does happen tragic.”

“Someone can die back here,” Goodove added.

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