Reviving the River

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By JOHN DOWNS, SR.

L-R Doug Martin, Army Corps of Engineers talks with Doug Higginbotham, Tidewater Global LLC

L-R Doug Martin, Army Corps of Engineers talks with Doug Higginbotham, Tidewater Global LLC

For economic visionaries like Doug Higginbotham, the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River is the key to reviving the valuable waterway resources in Chesapeake and the surrounding areas, resources that can bring hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue along with more jobs and more cottage industries. Higginbotham is President of Tidewater Global, LLC, a Chesapeake company that provides national and international corporations with creative solutions to the challenges of transportation and handling.  “I’ve been on the river for 25 years in one capacity or another,” Higginbotham says proudly, “And I think it’s time to proactively promote, stimulate, and revitalize industrial maritime development opportunities.”

New Jordan Bridge

New Jordan Bridge

To that end, Tidewater Global has announced a private sector initiative known as “CHESPLEX.” It’s an effort to focus and concentrate many areas of expertise, including economic development and marketing, on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River stretching from downtown Norfolk out to the Steel Bridge in Chesapeake. On June 18th, a group of approximately 50 local businesspeople and community leaders were invited to an informative cruise/luncheon courtesy of Tidewater Global. One of Tidewater’s popular tour vessels, the Victory Rover, navigated the Southern Branch excursion for nearly 2 hours. Higginbotham provided on-going narration and drew upon his extensive expertise to provide guests with his interesting historical perspectives of the many businesses, wetlands, piers, and docks along the route. Several other speakers addressed the guests including Doug Martin, Chief of Civil Works Projects, United States Army Corps of Engineers; Pamela Boatwright, Assistant Director of the Elizabeth River Project; and Russell J. Held, Deputy Executive Director for the Virginia Port Authority.

A Grain vessel at Perdue

A Grain vessel at Perdue

Doug Martin’s presentation provided up to date information about the future of the dredging project which will give the Port of Hampton Roads a big advantage over other east coast destinations. It’s officially titled: “Norfolk Harbor and Channels; Elizabeth River 45 ft. and Southern Branch 40 ft. Deepening Project.” The initial stage will produce what is known as a Renaissance Report. “It’s purpose is to re-evaluate Federal interest in the project,” Martin explains, “Parameters examined include types and number of ships; types and tonnage of cargoes being transported; existing waterfront infrastructure; and other data. One of the most important parts of this report is the Benefit to Cost Ratio. We must demonstrate that the investment of Federal dollars will have the necessary positive economic impact to justify the initial expenditure.”

Enviva Wood Pellet Facility

Enviva Wood Pellet Facility

The total price tag for the taxpayer is approximately $50 million. Three fourths will come from the Federal government and one fourth from the State’s coffers. Martin feels confident that the investment will be worth the initial costs. “The project will have a large and positive impact on economic development by providing deeper channels thus allowing much larger ships to make port calls on the Southern Branch. This positive impact for the Hampton Roads region will also include the attraction of new business opportunities.”

Higginbotham adds, “When we finish this project, we will actually have deeper port facilities than many of the larger harbors on the east coast. That will be a tremendous advantage in revitalizing our waterways in Hampton Roads.”

Martin also foresees a generous increase in tax revenue for the City of Chesapeake. “We’re in the process of actually quantifying this in our General Re-evaluation Report.”

Top Rack Marina

Top Rack Marina

The cruise allowed everyone to see many of the landmark businesses on the Southern Branch from a new perspective. Some were struggling to stay open while others were actually looking to expand. The Southern Branch is home to many trademark and familiar names like U.S. Gypsum, Lonestar, Peck Marina, Precon, and Dominion Power to name but a few. Higginbotham underscored the economic impact these businesses have and used Dominion Power as an example. “The future of the coal fired plant on the Southern Branch is now in question,” he stated, “Closing of the Dominion Power plant would result in an $8 million dollar loss of tax revenue.”

The B.E. Lindholm

The B.E. Lindholm

Any responsible undertaking of this magnitude must include environmental impact considerations. Pamela Boatwright addressed the concept of a living shoreline for the Southern Branch and spoke specifically about the new Paradise Creek Nature Park. The park, while technically in the City of Portsmouth, abuts the shoreline of the South Branch and is easily seen from the top of the new Jordan Bridge. “We want to promote a balanced approach to the quality of life along the Southern Branch,” she began, “We’re very proud of the new Paradise Creek Nature Park. We call it an oasis of peace in an urban setting.” The funds to purchase the forty acre site were raised through the Elizabeth River Project, an independent non profit organization dedicated to the restoration of environmental quality along the Elizabeth River through government, business, and community partnerships. “The main park is now open to the public with additional phases underway and the entire project is scheduled for completion next year” Boatwright continued. “It’s developing into a wonderful showcase that demonstrates how industry and environmentally sound practices can coexist for the betterment of the community. Already song birds and water fowl are starting to call the park home.”

Hess Oil

Hess Oil

The total reviving of Chesapeake’s waterways is an on-going effort. While the dredging is tentatively scheduled to be finished in 2020, Higginbotham feels it’s vital to immediately have one strong voice that will have the ability to address legislative and industrial issues as they arise and will also send a message that we are “Open for Business”. He foresees the CHESPLEX Business Consortium as an added benefit of the total initiative and a vehicle for lobbying, policy advisement, and public relations.

The general feeling at the end of the Southern Branch tour was one of re-energized optimism. Various groups of community leaders lingered afterward to continue the discussion and Higginbotham felt it was a mission accomplished. “There are many hidden gems in these regional waterways with great potential waiting to be developed,” he assured everyone present.   “We intend to maximize every opportunity.”

For further information about CHESPLEX, please contact Sarah Higginbotham at

(757) 410-7517. Email: sarah@tidewaterglobal.net

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