Posted on November 18, 2015
Salmons Inc., a Virginia Beach marine contractor, was fined Tuesday for the second time in two months for illegally dredging local waterways and causing environmental harm to them.
Problems arose this time in Crab Creek in Virginia Beach, along the Lynnhaven Boat Ramp and Beach Facility , a public landmark visible to motorists traveling the Lesner Bridge.
Salmons scooped too much sandy muck from the bottom of the creek, in violation of a state maritime permit and the company’s contract with the city of Virginia Beach to deepen the waterway to no more than 6 feet .
In many spots, however, the creek was dredged to 7, 8 or 9 feet deep.
State experts said the excessive work may have damaged crab habitat and spawning grounds for summer flounder and other fish species in the creek, located at the mouth of the Lynnhaven River as it empties into the Chesapeake Bay.
“This is a nursery area,” said Lyle Varnell , a biology adviser from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “The deeper you go, the longer it takes to restore itself.”
The violations continued unnoticed for about a month . On Tuesday, the company’s president could not explain what went wrong.
“No one in this room really knows what happened,” the president, James H. Salmons Jr. , told state regulators at an enforcement hearing in Newport News.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission voted unanimously to fine Salmons $2,000 and to charge the company triple royalty fees, or $3,564 , for disturbing state-owned bottomland.
A commission staffer handling the case had suggested a harsher penalty, including a $10,000 fine, saying Salmons should have known better.
Salmons last month was fined $15,000 by the state marine commission for illegally dredging a section of the Lafayette River in Norfolk for a proposed condominium project, Tanner’s Landing , near the Granby Street Bridge.
In that case, the Norfolk Wetlands Board also assessed Salmons a $20,000 penalty for tearing up shoreline wetlands and dumping muddy wastes removed from the river’s bottom in the wrong disposal site.
When the state marine commission levied its fine last month, it also voted to send a complaint letter against Salmons to the State Board of Contractors .
Since then, Salmons hired an attorney, Tim Hayes , of the Richmond firm Hunton & Williams . On Tuesday, Hayes argued that Salmons did not intentionally violate its state dredging permit and that, in Crab Creek, problems stemmed from “an innocent mistake that was corrected as soon as it was discovered.”
“The word ‘snakebit’ comes to mind,” Hayes said about his client’s two recent run-ins with regulators.
Hayes said Salmons would pay the $15,000 fine from the Lafayette River case Tuesday if the state commission agreed to rescind its letter to the board of contractors.
The commission agreed, but said that if Salmons violates another state dredging permit again in the next three years, the complaint letter will be sent.