On the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier Island Is Drowning In Red Tape

Dec 30, 2015

Tangier Island, VA is in the Chesapeake Bay northeast of Richmond.
Credit Crab Shanty By: Neil Kaye http://www.tangierisland-va.com/

“I tell people erosion's been going on but when it gets to your doorstep you pay more attention to it. Yeah, we don't have a lot of time to work with.”

Tangier Mayor James Ooker Eskridge has been giving tours and talking with the media for years. But today he has the eyes and ears of Norfolk Army Corps of Engineers newest district commander, Colonel Jason Kelly.”

“Has that been the plan, I mean really just retreat is that the way over the years you handle the erosion. Just relocate?”

“Yup. Yeah, there used to be a community up here and I don't know how many families that lived up here and they had a schoolhouse up there. The other community out here and they're all under water now.”

Later, at Tangier's school auditorium, nearly half the town came to hear news of the jetty and breakwaters. Three years ago Gov. Bob McDonnell was here to celebrate funding for the jetty project. What islanders misunderstood was the money was for a study. Today, the Corps was announcing the study was nearly complete. The jetty won't be built for another two years. Tangier school teacher Duane Crockett expressed the town's frustration.

“What is there left to study, we are washing away. I've contacted every state official. Every national official that I know to get in contact with concerning this.”

Colonel Kelly who talked with islanders during the meeting said it may be up to the town and state to help move the process along.

“I think everything that we can do in terms of our agency and the actions we can take, they've been taken. And that's one of the things I wanted to communicate during the session today.”

Kelly also said Tangier can ask his superiors in Washington to expedite the process.

And then there's $9.2 million breakwater project that's been shelved since 2011 for lack of funding. A recent study says unless something is done, islanders have about 25 years before they'll have to abandon the place their families have occupied since the 1600s. Town Counselor Jean Crockett said Tangier helped pay for a breakwater back in the 1980's but can't afford new ones.

“We increased our town taxes by 200 percent in order to try to get up our portion. We had to come up with $250,000 and we did.”

Back in 1980 there were about 700 islanders, today there are about 450, many over age 65. Town Manager Renee Tyler says it's a struggle.

“The town's bills are higher and we're getting less income in because of less people.”

“We don't have enough people to share the bill anymore.”

“So we have to depend on other sources.”

“Yeah, and we're going to have to shake some trees. Really hard. And we're going to shake them!”

For Virginia Public Radio I'm Pamela D'Angelo reporting from Tangier Island.