Sunday, September 25, 2022

Witchduck Lake residents fearing for their safety in wake of water sports appeal

Dallas Norman’s property on Baker Road was once the site for many Virginia Beach Adaptive Watersports events. VBAW is a nonprofit organization that helps disabled people get on the water through specialized equipment. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — When a judge ruled that a Virginia Beach property owner needed to stop hosting a water skiing program for disabled people on Witchduck Lake, about 200 surrounding neighbors who signed a petition against the activities breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Their relief was short-lived, though, when two weeks later the property owner, Dallas Norman, filed an appeal to the judge’s ruling in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

Norman was found guilty in October of illegally hosting events on Witchduck Lake for Virginia Beach Adaptive Watersports, or VBAW. The nonprofit organization helped 211 disabled people get on the water with specialized sporting gear in the summer of 2017.

Virginia Beach General District Court Judge Daniel Lahne ruled against Norman’s continued use of the lake because it is zoned as a residential area.

In a September interview with Southside Daily, Norman said he has been using Witchduck Lake for recreational purposes since the 1980s, and that he has hosted events for VBAW and the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia on the water for several years.

Connie Hartz and Cathy Hawkins, who both live in neighborhoods surrounding the lake and testified against Norman in court, said that they don’t disapprove of what he’s doing with VBAW — but they don’t think Witchduck Lake is the appropriate place to host the events.

“This is a small, private lake in a residential community,” Hartz said, reading from a letter she and other residents wrote together. “It is only 42 acres in size. It is no place for VBAW to operate.”

At the top of their list of concerns is erosion, which they believe has been expedited on the Witchduck Lake shorelines due to motorboats creating wake. They believe erosion has already cost waterfront property owners about 10 feet of land in the Summerset Lake Condominium neighborhood, which borders the lake furthest from Norman’s property.

The women have taken pictures of the eroded shoreline, which show that some of the riprap — large rocks used to combat erosion — is covered by water, leaving space for wake to undercut the soil, pulling it away from the bank. Undercut soil creates a host of problems, including fallen trees and sinking shorelines.

“The erosion is caused by the wake,” Hawkins said. “It’s not just one residence. The entire circumference of the lake is affected the same way.”

Norman said that he believes erosion is being caused by an infestation of nutria, which are rodents that “eat underneath the banks and collapse them.”

Norman added that he would like to combat the erosion with riprap or sand, adding “the city makes it very difficult for private property owners to protect their property.”

Hartz and Hawkins said they are also concerned about safety. A neighbor called police on June 24, 2017 after a jet ski was boating on the lake after dusk and nearly knocked a kayaker off of her vessel.

“It rocked the kayak and terrified the young woman in it,” Hartz said. “She started to call for help and asked someone to call the police.”

Hartz said that at one point her 7-year-old grandson was swimming across the lake with his father when a boat set out on the lake and the pair got separated.

“He couldn’t get back with his dad,” she said. “He could have been killed.”

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