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Plan to restrict boating near Little Creek Navy base draws hundreds of critical comments

By CLAIRE MITZEL | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: August 7, 2018

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The Navy received more than 200 public comments about a proposal to restrict access to Little Creek’s inner and outer harbors — and almost all of them were negative.

“From public feedback, we’re making appropriate changes,” Little Creek-Fort Story spokesman Scott Mohr said. So far, a public meeting has not been scheduled about the proposal.

The Navy through the Army Corps of Engineers submitted a proposal in late May to expand security operations that would affect Little Creek’s harbors. Boaters would have to notify the Little Creek Port Control via a VHF-FM radio when entering and exiting the outer harbor and request permission to enter the inner harbor.

After a glitch that resulted a lack of notification to property owners affected by the proposal, the public comment period was extended from June 22 to July 6. The Corps of Engineers last week released over 70 comments to The Virginian-Pilot with identifying information redacted. About 220 comments were received in total, but the ones turned over to The Pilot excluded form letters.

Emails between city officials in June showed the Navy was willing to back off the proposal.

Capt. Joey Frantzen, Little Creek-Fort Story’s commander, told military liaison Doug Beaver base officials were willing to amend the outer harbor restriction to a no wake zone, according to an email from Beaver. The inner harbor restriction would formalize a temporary restriction put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Frantzen understood “the application as currently written is problematic and likely unenforceable,” due to smaller watercraft not carrying radios, Beaver wrote in the email.

But so far, the Navy hasn’t said exactly what changes, if any, will be made. Mohr said he wasn’t sure how long the process would take. He said Little Creek-Fort Story officials would continue the dialogue with the Corps of Engineers and review public feedback.

A majority of the comments released show residents and boaters voiced concern about the proposal as currently written. Of the approximately 75 comments reviewed by The Pilot, four comments expressed support for the current proposal. And of the four supporters, three still had questions about how it would be enforced.

Most of the comments focused on the outer harbor restriction because would affect anyone who enters or exits the channel.

Waterway backups could occur if a line of boats are waiting to notify Port Control at the same time, one commenter wrote.

Others expressed concern about what would happen to boaters and kayakers who didn’t carry a VHF-FM radio onboard. By law, most vessels under 65 feet aren’t required to have one.

“Even for those boats that maintain a VHF radio, the proposed restriction must be conveyed to, and understood by, users in order for them to comply,” someone wrote. “And what of those who do not comply? Will they be stopped, searched, interviewed by a military security vessel?”

One supporter of the proposal said they had no qualms with the radio requirement: “As an avid kayak, (stand-up paddleboarder), and boating angler I take no issue with these changes in policy. l feel ANYONE entering the harbor should have a radio. Weather can change instantly.”

At least two people expressed displeasure with what they felt was little notification about the proposal, with one person calling it a “public relations nightmare” for the Navy. At least half of the commenters requested a public hearing and further notification about the proposal.

“It seems that the minimal efforts were made to (elicit) a minimal response before the matter would (be) considered and a determination made,” one person wrote.

Others said they don’t believe the extra security precautions are necessary at all. The base “would be last on the list of terrorist targets,” one commenter declared.

Another person wrote the existing security for the inner harbor restriction was ineffective, with calls to the port security team not routinely answered.

One supporter said they had “no problem with the proposal.”

“We do sometimes take our boat into that area and whatever inconvenience occurs is a fair trade for better security for the base,” they wrote.

Many of the comments questioned the proposal’s effectiveness and enforceability.

Randy Goodman, coordinator for the Little Creek Sailing Association, said Tuesday that the proposal was vague. The changes could affect the association’s activities – but Goodman said he couldn’t even be sure because there were questions left unanswered.

Patrick Bloodgood, a spokesman for the Army Corps’ Norfolk District, said the Corps would ultimately approve, approve with modifications or deny the proposal. But right now, the ball is in the Navy’s court.

“It’s up to them to make changes,” Bloodgood said.

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