By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Each saying he has yet to find a single constituent in favor of navigational buoys at Claytor Lake, Pulaski County supervisors unanimously declined Monday to support installation of any test buoys there.
Even Draper District Supervisor Dean Pratt, who in January felt the buoys “might be a good idea,” said he can no support them based on the number of people who have contacted him in opposition to the proposal by American Electric Power (AEP), parent company of Appalachian Power Co.
Around a dozen people either stood or spoke in opposition to the buoys during a public comment period held at Monday’s meeting. A “Stop the Buoys” petition presented to the board had more than 460 signatures.
Nonetheless, the ultimate decision on whether navigational buoys are installed lies with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. A DGIF official said in January he was unsure how much weight the supervisors’ opinion will carry in that decision.
Initially, AEP proposed the installation of 14 “test” buoys in the Little Wytheville section of the lake, but the supervisors requested AEP and a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) present an alternative plan involving fewer buoys.
Monday’s presentation was for eight buoys in the Allisonia area, only one of which would include a flashing light. Original plans called for each buoy to be lighted, but lake residents and users expressed concern that the lights would be an annoyance to homeowners and would take away from the overall beauty of the lake.
Opponents also have expressed concern the buoys will narrow channels so much as to reduce the recreational value of the lake for skiers and boaters.
AEP representative Liz Parcell, who lives at Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County, said the buoys will merely delineate the area that is safest for travel so that boats do not get stuck in silt deposits. As for the beauty or property values at the lake, she said AEP has no interest in harming either.
Parcell said the buoys are part of AEP’s dam relicensing agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). She said AEP proposed the buoys in the relicensing plan after holding community meetings to discuss issues at the lake. However, she said FERC isn’t “coming down hard with a hammer” and insisting the buoys be installed.
Some concern was expressed Monday that DGIF has indicated there is no provision for “test” buoys, so once they are installed they will remain in place until AEP requests removal.
Parcell gave her word to the board that if the eight test buoys aren’t beneficial at Claytor Lake AEP will petition to have them removed.
Nonetheless, Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready expressed concern that the board of supervisors would have no say as to whether the buoys are beneficial. He said what one person sees as beneficial may not seem beneficial to another person.
Claytor Lake resident Ken Jones said he has never seen a need for navigational aids on the lake. He said it is easy to understand why someone who lives on Smith Mountain Lake would see a need for the buoys, but “we’re a smaller lake with a greater safety record. That’s what I like about Claytor Lake.”
County Administrator Peter Huber recommended support for the navigational buoys, saying he has personally come across people stuck in silt deposits. “It’s one of those things you have to do the first time to not do again,” he said.
Even though Pratt said he has gotten stuck in silt deposits in the past, he and his fellow supervisors all said they have been “flooded” with emails and calls in opposition to the buoys.
If DGIF determines the buoys are needed, APCo’s Aids to Navigation Plan calls for 70 of the channel markers to eventually be installed at various parts of the lake.