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Regulators give ‘governmental activity’ exemption to marina and hotel project at Fort Monroe

Project won’t require premits for impacts to wetlands, beaches and dunes
The first Africans in Virginia arrived at Point Comfort, later the location of Fort Monroe in...
The first Africans in Virginia arrived at Point Comfort, later the location of Fort Monroe in Hampton.(U.S. Army photo)
Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 1:00 PM EDT
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A state regulatory panel determined that a plan to build a new boutique hotel and redevelop a marina at Fort Monroe is “governmental activity” that won’t require special permits for potential impacts to wetlands, beaches and sand dunes, sparking criticism from environmental groups.

The decision Tuesday by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which advances a project announced by Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration this May, involves 95,000 square feet of state-owned coastal bottomlands.

“The land may be owned by a state entity and of course leased to the private entity, but the permit applicant itself is still a private entity, and the proposed use of a hotel and a marina is not a government purpose in and of itself,” Mary-Carson Stiff, policy director of environmental nonprofit Wetlands Watch, told the commission.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which filed an 11th-hour letter of protest with the commission Friday, also took the same stance, arguing that state permitting exemptions for “governmental activity” was intended to apply to the construction and maintenance of public infrastructures like roads and sewers.

“By no reading of the statutory definition would this privately owned for-profit business qualify,” CBF Virginia Director Peggy Sanner wrote in the letter. “Exempting such a use from permitting on the grounds of ‘governmental activity,’ is a clear departure from the exemption’s intent and will set a harmful precedent.”

Assistant Attorney General Kelci Block, however, contended that the redevelopment of the site by Smithfield-based Pack Brothers Hospitality could be considered government activity because the property will continue to be owned by the commonwealth and “constructing public buildings is explicitly listed as a governmental activity.”

“Here it is also serving a national monument along with a visitors’ center that I believe is state-run and a museum at Fort Monroe that’s state-run,” she said. “This is a state property that is providing services to commonwealth citizens.”

Fort Monroe, a 565-acre former U.S. Army post off the coast of Hampton at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, has long attracted interest and tourism. The fort sits on the site of Old Point Comfort, where the first enslaved Africans arrived in what became the United States in 1619; UNESCO earlier this year designated it as a “site of memory” for the role it played in the slave trade. During the War of 1812, the fort was captured by the British, and it remained a Union stronghold in Confederate Virginia during the Civil War. At the conflict’s end, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned there.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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