Boat landing nationally recognized

Published 11:27 pm Friday, November 14, 2008

FRANKLIN—For all the cynics who think government never does anything right, Franklin Public Works Director Russ Pace and his colleagues in local and state government have their work on the Blackwater River boat landing to prove them wrong.

Now, they even have an award to back them up.

In October, the States Organization for Boating Access awarded Pace, Allester Watts, from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and Franklin Public Works Manager Lin Darden, with the organization’s Outstanding Service Mid-Size Access Award for their work on the Blackwater River boat landing.

Pace noted that the landing, with its adequate parking, pleasant environment, handicapped accessibility and public restrooms, satisfies an areawide need for river access.

“It not only serves the people of Franklin but the people in Isle of Wight and Surry,” Pace said. “Now people from everywhere from 30 to 40 miles around can come here and use the new facility.”

Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper Jeff Turner thinks the landing makes the river’s best part more accessible.

“It’s all about accessibility,” he said. “Before the boat landing, there wasn’t any facility to let people have access to that part of river. It’s the most navigable part of the river and no one had a way to put a regular motorboat on it and go look at the river.”

Pace credits the boat landing’s success to the hard work and collaboration of officials on both local and state levels.

“I’d equate it with the people we worked with. Although the project went well, we had full support with the few bumps that we did have,” he said. “It’s not often that a municipality works with a state department and the outcome is good.”

According to Pace, city and state officials began working together on the project soon after Hurricane Floyd flooded the area in 1999. With a price tag of $1 million, Franklin ended up having to only put up $25,000 of the cost, plus the cost of maintaining the landing.

“For many months we took a lot of grief from people around here who thought we had paid $1 million for the landing,” Pace said. “But that is not the actual reality.”

Originally, Pace explained, the city was supposed to put up $225,000 for the project. However, while researching the project, they discovered they could put up the land, which they already owned, in exchange for the majority of the cost. The result was a permanent easement arrangement in which the state uses the land for the boat ramp and the city maintains ownership and maintenance of the land.

Other funding for the landing came from state and federal grants, and allocation of the state excise tax coming from sportsmen user fees. According to Mayor Jim Councill, this is one of the first state uses of the excise tax, and caused the landing to be built without burdening taxpayers.

Councill said he feels the boat landing and the award is a positive thing for the city.

“It’s a real tribute to Russ and to the city to be selected for the award,” he said. “A real honor.”

SOBA is an organization dedicated to providing discussion and recognition for the exchanging of ideas and experiences related to recreational boating facilities. The national award is one of 10 annual SOBA gives to an agencies, groups, local governments or organizations whose boating access projects they judge to be innovative, useful, high quality, unique and economical.

Award criteria includes the use of sound engineering principals and innovative designs, the durability, the safety and the accessibility of the boat landing.

A presentation about the award is scheduled at the next Franklin City Council meeting, scheduled for Monday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m.