From the Virginia Office Fall 2015

Saving a Chesapeake Jewel at Fones Cliffs  

A visit to Fones Cliffs is like stepping back in time. Bald eagles perch atop 100-foot white and amber cliffs, scanning the Rappahannock River below for prey. A kingfisher skims just above the water while blue herons stalk the nearby shallows. Thick green forest tops riverside cliffs and covers ravines. The river's waters are home to myriad fish, from striped bass to shad to sturgeon. In rich wetlands, grasses and vibrant yellow flowers rustle in the breeze. It's easy to imagine that the site has changed little since 1608, when members of the Rappahannock tribe ambushed Captain John Smith from atop the cliffs.  

Photo by Bill Portlock.

The Diatomite Corporation of America is threatening to rezone part of Fones Cliffs, the jewel of the Rappahannock River. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

VA oyster restoration. Photo by Chuck Epes.

Oyster restoration in Virginia's Lafayette River. Photo by Chuck Epes/CBF Staff.

But this amazingly beautiful and historic spot is under threat. A developer's proposal would turn much of Fones Cliffs into a massive development and golf course covering nearly 1,000 acres in rural Richmond County on Virginia's Northern Neck. It would destroy critical wildlife habitat. Fones Cliffs as we know it would be lost forever. 

CBF has been working closely with local residents and officials on the issue. In October, an overflow crowd packed a public hearing where county residents, conservationists, and scientists overwhelmingly spoke out against the proposed development. CBF experts testified in front of county officials about the environmental damage the development would cause and urged skepticism regarding the project's promised economic benefits. At that meeting, CBF also delivered a petition to save Fones Cliffs, which more than 7,800 advocates signed. 

Later this fall the Richmond County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider once more the developer's request to rezone Fones Cliffs, a move that could pave the way for the project. As officials weigh this important decision, we will continue our efforts to ensure the best possible outcome for both this treasured natural asset and Richmond County. 

Also in recent months, our Virginia oyster restoration program has made remarkable progress. We've transplanted a record breaking 16.5 million oysters in the 2015 season, which wrapped up in September. Those millions of baby oysters all went into the Lafayette River, an urban waterway in Norfolk, as part of Bay-wide efforts to build and grow oyster reefs supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Restore America's Estuaries, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Elizabeth River Project. The expanded reefs dramatically increase oyster reproduction, revitalizing the oyster population across the Chesapeake and providing critical habitat for other marine life. 

Until the 1980s, oysters sustained the most valuable fishery in the Bay. Today, as a result of decades of pollution, overharvesting, and disease, the Bay's native oyster population is at a tiny fraction of historic levels. Each oyster is like a living water treatment plant that filters algae, sediment, and other pollutants, in the process improving water quality and clarity. Together with pollution-reduction efforts happening on land under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, oysters are crucial to efforts to Save the Bay. Large oyster reefs also provide habitat for fish, crabs, and other Bay organisms. As we bring back these historic oyster reefs, we're both restoring clean water and boosting the Bay's economic viability.

—Christy Everett
Acting Virginia Executive Director 
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

If you haven't already, please join us and the more than 7,800 other voices standing up to save Fones Cliffs.

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