RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear the local oystermen’s pollution case against the City of Suffolk and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) after losing to them in Suffolk Circuit Court. 

The issue to be decided was whether the Virginia Supreme Court agreed with the Circuit Court’s decision in which a judge ruled in the city’s favor and dismissed the case.

The judge used a 1919 U.S. Supreme Court case that “held an oyster bed lessee’s right to use river bottom is subordinate to the locality’s right to pollute the waterways.” 

On December 10, the Virginia Supreme Court says they affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court.

Suffolk oysterman Robert Johnson told WAVY News in January 2019 that there were several hundred acres of oyster beds condemned by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) because of bacterial pollution.

The court records show the oystermen filed an inverse condemnation claim against the city and HRSD alleging that discharges from a sewer system operated by the respondents polluted the waters in which they raise their oysters.

They allege that the VDH’s Division of Shellfish Sanitation closed polluted parts of the river to the harvesting of oysters, thereby “preventing the [p]etitioners from properly managing and using their oyster ground leases, harvesting their oyster property, planting oysters, and otherwise using and enjoying their property.”