News | May 24, 2022

Review of planned Nimmo Parkway Extension raises more questions than answers

Draft environmental assessment glosses over threats and gives short shrift to alternatives
Senior Attorney Morgan Butler (center) confers with Steve Barnes (left), owner of BayBreeze Farms on Sandbridge Road, and Jared Brandwein, executive director of Back Bay Restoration Foundation, about how best to address flooding on Sandbridge Road. (©Julia Rendleman)

Virginia Beach officials and the Federal Highway Administration have released for public review and comment the city’s draft environmental assessment of the proposed “Nimmo Parkway Phase VII-B” road project. A group of local and regional environmental organizations including the Southern Environmental Law Center is raising strong concerns with both the city’s assessment and the proposal itself.    

The $46.9 million proposed road would be constructed along a strip of public land that bisects the Lago Mar neighborhood and extends eastward across Ashville Bridge Creek and through nearly a mile of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The 1.8-mile proposal would eventually tie into the existing Sandbridge Road corridor roughly one mile west of Sandbridge.  

Protect Virginia’s coastal wetlands.

“Building a road to enable 15,000 cars a day to cut through the middle of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge would severely disrupt its sensitive habitat and undermine the very purposes for which the refuge was established,” says Jared Brandwein, executive director of the Back Bay Restoration Foundation. 

The refuge was established in 1938 as a sanctuary and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.  

The proposal is also raising concerns from Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk-based non-profit that works to protect wetlands in Hampton Roads and across the Commonwealth because of the invaluable benefits they provide by absorbing floodwater and buffering communities from storms.     

“We can no longer afford to be destroying the remaining wetlands we have in the Tidewater area, and this project is particularly problematic because it would be built in the middle of the largest contiguous area of forested wetlands in the entire Back Bay watershed,” says Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch. “Building new roads across cypress swamps and through forested wetlands is not a recipe for regional resilience.” 

The recurrent flooding that too frequently closes the stretch of Sandbridge Road that leads in and out of the Sandbridge beach community is the driving force behind the Nimmo VII-B proposal. There is broad agreement that a solution is needed that provides safe and reliable access to and from the coastal community and for all the residents and businesses located along Sandbridge Road. But concerned groups and citizens say that upgrading the existing road to make it safe is the far more sensible solution.  

“We want to see the problems with Sandbridge Road fixed as badly as anyone else,” says Karen Forget, executive director of the non-profit organization Lynnhaven River NOW. “But pouring city funding and resources into building a major new road doesn’t help the residents and businesses along Sandbridge Road, who would still be at the mercy of Back Bay’s flooding. We need to be focused instead on fixing the existing road.”   

Because the Nimmo VII-B project would use federal dollars and destroy wetlands, the city must obtain federal approval of the road before it could be built. Federal law requires the city to prepare and present the public with a study of the Nimmo Phase VII-B proposal that evaluates its environmental impacts and compares it to alternatives such as upgrading existing Sandbridge Road.

A collection of cursory assertions does not serve the public or decision-makers well, and it certainly falls short of the thorough and objective study that federal law requires.

Morgan Butler, Senior Attorney

The city released its draft environmental assessment for public review and comment last month. However, environmental attorneys say the city’s draft review is far too cursory to satisfy legal requirements or to justify a federal approval, and that a lot more work is needed. 

“Among other serious flaws, the city’s draft environmental review is lacking the analysis to support many of its conclusions about the project’s impacts on the communities and resources it would bisect, and it relies on decades-old information to avoid comparing the Nimmo VII-B proposal to sensible alternatives,” says Senior Attorney Morgan Butler. “A collection of cursory assertions does not serve the public or decision-makers well, and it certainly falls far short of the thorough and objective study that federal law requires.” 

Written comments on the project and the draft environmental assessment can be submitted to rjohnson@vbgov.com until June 24, 2022. The draft environmental assessment can be found at www.nimmoparkway7b.com.