The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Tuesday, May 2, 1995                   TAG: 9505020257
SECTION: LOCAL                    PAGE: B4   EDITION: FINAL 
DATELINE: VIRGINIA BEACH                     LENGTH: Medium:   98 lines


Navigating the western branch of the Lynnhaven River can be treacherous at times because the channel is filling with sediment running off the developed land around it.

Boaters and residents along the scenic waterway are trying to persuade the city to include $2.1 million in the proposed capital building budget to dredge the channel, which was last dredged in 1968. Their cause has gone unattended in past years, but they packed a recent budget hearing to plead their case.

Today the council will hold its final public hearing on the operating and capital budgets, followed by a workshop in which the vice mayor says he will try to work the dredging project into the six-year spending plan.

``I feel that Virginia Beach is turning its back on its No. 1 resource,'' Stephen E. Steinhilber, who owns a home and restaurant along the waterfront and is chairman of Friends of the Lynnhaven, said in an interview. ``This waterfront is underutilized by the people who live and vacation here because of its condition.

``The city should do this for the beauty and recreational benefit to the city.''

But whenever the city considers spending money that directly benefits a select group of residents, particularly the wealthy, issues of fairness and favoritism inevitably surface and draw opponents.

Under the proposed project, the city would dredge about five miles of the main channel from Lynnhaven Inlet to Thalia Creek. The 637 waterfront land owners along the western branch would be responsible for dredging from their ancillary coves out to the main channel if desired.

That was the same agreement the city made with property owners along the eastern branch of the Lynnhaven River when it was dredged in 1990.

Opponents, however, argue this project is different.

``On the eastern branch, there was a commercial aspect, we were supporting an industry,'' City Councilman Robert K. Dean said. ``On the western branch we're talking about supporting a luxury.

``I'm not fully convinced that this is the thing to do,'' said Dean, an avid boater. ``I'm trying to understand the cost-benefit ratio here.''

Tom Barton, a Little Neck resident and car dealer, said, ``I don't think we're a bunch of extravagant people, asking for special privilege.

``I look at this as more of a safety thing. As long as they have those channel markers out there, they should maintain the channel or somebody's going to get hurt.''

Dredging for recreational or aesthetic reasons has not been a priority with South Hampton Roads cities, including Virginia Beach.

The city dredged the eastern branch of the Lynnhaven River in 1990 to facilitate the flow of stormwater runoff from a new drainage canal that empties into the river.

At the time, eastern branch waterfront residents lobbied to get their ancillary coves dredged by the city, but were not successful.

So the residents banded together and paid for their own dredging. So far, 17 private dredging projects have been completed on the eastern branch, with three more planned.

Costs have varied from $11,000 to $25,000 per homeowner, with an average of $14,000, said George M. Londeree, who founded his own business, Laca Inc., to coordinate the dredging projects.

``It's a political hot potato,'' Londeree said. ``Of course, residents think the city should pay for it.''

The city staff, too, is wondering whether the city should pay for dredging right up to people's property lines. City staff is asking the City Council to authorize a study examining the cost-benefit ratios of dredging ancillary channels.

In Maryland, the counties of Anne Arundel and Baltimore have found it beneficial to share the costs of dredging the small, residential channels. Deep water access, they found, increases property values and therefore tax revenue.

``We look at it as a quality of life issue,'' said Phillip J. Roehrs, a Virginia Beach coastal engineer. ``And the city's function involves enhancing the quality of life for our citizens.

``One of the things we have going for us is we have an awful lot of waterfront property. Waterfront property owners pay an inordinate amount of tax compared to others.

``And the whole boating community pays taxes and fees on their boats. In some respects we owe them some services,'' Roehrs said.

Following the City Council's 2 p.m. public hearing today on the Capital Improvement Plan, Vice Mayor W.D. ``Will'' Sessoms Jr. said he will attempt to get the dredging into the six-year capital budget during a council workshop.

Dredging requires a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. That process has already begun.

``The Lynnhaven River is such a major asset to our community,'' Sessoms said. ``It would be wrong on the part of the city to let those channels silt in.'' ILLUSTRATION: Staff photo by CHARLIE MEADS

Mud flats in the western branch of the Lynnhaven River near Thalia

Island can make navigation difficult if not treacherous. Dredging

proponents say clearing the silt is a matter of safety. Opponents

say the costly venture improves a luxury for a few.