Virginia Beach writes oyster restoration plan after spending $650K without one

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UPDATE: The City Council is expected to consider and formally accept the proposed oyster restoration plan at its June 21 meeting.

VIRGINIA BEACH — City staff will reveal an oyster restoration plan Tuesday that looks a lot like what they have been doing for 15 years without one.

City staff have been drafting the document since early last month, when an unscheduled audit revealed no such plan existed, even though more than half a million dollars had been spent on operations said to be on the plan. The expenditures came from 14 City Council actions that referenced the nonexistent plan over 15 years. While the plan did not exist, the money was spent on work that became what the city says is the world’s second-largest oyster restoration effort.

Planning Director Barry Frankenfield is scheduled to present the new plan on Tuesday to the City Council. It is dated June 9 and focuses on adding the last 37 acres of sanctuary reef in a goal of 100 to the Lynnhaven River.

The city manager on Monday published Frankenfield’s presentation with a copy of the plan in his weekly update.

Frankenfield did not immediately return messages seeking comment. It is unclear if the City Council will have to approve the document, titled the “Oyster Heritage Plan,” to make it official, but council members do have the power to alter it as the need arises, according to the plan.

City Auditor Lyndon Remias said by email Monday he is “very satisfied with the plan.”

It address the concerns he raised in his April 29 report, he wrote.

The plan calls for the continued accumulation of oyster shells at the city landfill until enough are cured for use in a sanctuary reef and — for the first time — for staff to track the shell inventory in a ledger. When Remias’ audit was released, officials were unable to say how many shells the city had.

Frankenfield’s presentation includes the first publicly available accounting of that figure. The city has about 14,100 bushels — nearly 10 million individual shells — at the dump, it said.

The new plan also requires the city to annually bid out its contract for collecting the shells, which are recycled from restaurants, events and drop-boxes. Currently, that work is automatically given to Lynnhaven River NOW, a nonprofit focused on the watershed and responsible for much of the city’s oyster restoration efforts.

“Now that we have a formalized, documented plan we will continue to monitor to see that the plan is actually executed,” Remias wrote. “It is one thing to have a plan on paper but another thing to have the plan implemented.”

The plan also calls for the reevaluation of the “Oyster Heritage Fund,” which pays for the city’s efforts to boost the filter-feeder’s local population. That fund, established in 2002,  is filled mostly by optional variance donations from developers.

Nearly $650,000 has been spent on oyster revival efforts, including the shell recycling program, educational materials and construction of a 50-acre sanctuary reef. The city finance director scrutinized the expenditures and in May said they were appropriate

About $57,000 remains in the account.

Previous coverage:

4.OysterHeritageFund

Have a story idea or news tip? Contact City Hall reporter Judah Taylor at Judah@SouthsideDaily.com or 757-490-2750.

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