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Scaled-back pier approved on lower Rappahannock

The state has approved a community pier to serve the proposed Rappahannock Cliffs development in Richmond County. Construction is expected to start this summer.

The state has approved a community pier to serve the proposed Rappahannock Cliffs development in Richmond County. Construction is expected to start this summer.

Plans for a community pier along Fones Cliffs on the tidal Rappahannock River have received a boost from the state.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission recently approved plans for the pier to serve Terrell Bowers’ Rappahannock Cliffs subdivision, though the agency scaled it down and added some restrictions.

The decision isn’t likely to end disagreements between the developer and conservationists over the structure.

“Now we can get on with the project,” Bowers said last week in an email. Construction could start this summer.

Bowers applied for a 255-foot-long, 6-foot-wide community pier with a 522-foot T-head on the end, to provide 46 wet boat slips. Richmond County required Bowers to build a community pier, rather than allow lot owners to build individual piers.

After hearing from both sides, the VMRC at its March 25 meeting denied the T-head extension and wet slips, but allowed the open-pile community pier. The permit specifies that work on the pier be restricted between Feb. 15 and June 30 to protect migratory fish, and that the construction follow provisions of the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act. No overnight mooring would be allowed.

Fones Cliffs, which runs for several miles on the Rappahannock’s northeastern shore, is a nationally recognized hot spot for bald eagles, and an area steeped in early Virginia history. The stretch of river was named an important bird area with global significance by the Audubon Society, as a stopover for migratory birds. And it was where Capt. John Smith’s barge was attacked by Rappahannock Indians on the English explorer’s second journey from Jamestown in 1608.

During the permit process, hundreds of people signed petitions and wrote letters opposing aspects of the pier project.

Among the complaints was a letter from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation last June to the VMRC, objecting to the pier “to preserve the natural, scenic, historic, scientific, open-space and recreational areas of the commonwealth.”

The letter was on VOF stationery and signed by Charles H. Seilheimer Jr., chairman of its board of trustees.

Last fall, Bowers took aim at that letter, saying the agency was being hypocritical by sending it at the same time the VOF was approving conservation easements that could allow drilling for oil and natural gas on nearby land.

More than 84,000 acres of the Taylorsville basin, a geological formation running under parts of the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, have been leased for potential oil and gas drilling. Some of those parcels are protected by VOF conservation easements.

The pier dispute shed light on those easements, which have been criticized by the Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council and the Shenandoah Valley Network.

Bowers filed a civil lawsuit in Richmond County Circuit Court last September, asking that VOF’s letter be withdrawn.

VOF Executive Director Brett Glymph followed up with a letter to VMRC, requesting that the protest letter be withdrawn, explaining that the letter had been sent without the board’s authorization.

Meanwhile, the VOF is re-evaluating its policies on oil and gas drilling in conservation easements. That was the topic of a VOF forum in Fredericksburg last month.

Bowers, who lives in South Carolina, bought the Rappahannock Cliffs property a decade ago while he was working in the commercial real estate business in Richmond.

The development plan changed several times over the years. The latest version was approved by the Richmond Board of Supervisors in 2012. It includes 23 riverfront home sites: 15 are along a creek near Carter’s Wharf and eight lots are on the cliffs. No homes have been built.

The pier would be located about a mile downstream of Carter’s Wharf, on the same spot as the former Fones pier, built a century ago, Bowers said.

He said Rappahannock Cliffs residents would be able to launch their boats at Carter’s Wharf, a small state-owned boat landing where improvements are planned by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431