New boat ramp at Norfolk's Lake Whitehurst was years in the making
by Claire Mitzel at the The Virginia - Pilot | May 23, 2018
Local anglers will be able to cast their lines into Lake Whitehurst again when a new boat ramp opens Thursday on Heutte Drive.
The previous ramp, located on Shore Drive near Heutte, closed in November 2009. The city had leased the land from the Norfolk Airport Authority since 1990. The airport authority decided not to renew its contract with the city because the ramp was in the flight path of a proposed parallel runway, Deputy Executive Director Steve Sterling said. The previous ramp was also in the flight path of the existing runway and concerned the Federal Aviation Administration, Sterling said.
Airport officials are still trying to get the parallel runway built after the FAA halted the project.
The lake was popular for its largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and walleye. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stopped studying and stocking the lake once it became inaccessible to the public. After the ramp closed, Lake Whitehurst essentially became a private lake for residents who lived along the shoreline, aside from some boaters who navigated their way in from the other reservoirs.
City Council members promised angered anglers they would find an alternate location on Lake Whitehurst for a new ramp. But money was tight, and proposed alternatives didn’t pan out.
“I’d like to work it all out, but in the process, I don’t want to do so at the expense” of others, then-councilwoman Theresa Whibley said during a council meeting in 2010.
Councilman Tommy Smigiel, who represents the Lake Whitehurst area, said he heard many complaints about the closure when he campaigned for office in 2010.
“A lot of people were angry about it, and there was a lot of confusion about it,” he said. “People didn’t understand why it closed.”
After being elected to the City Council, he said he worked to find a solution. After proposing several options that didn’t get traction, Smigiel got hold of a map of open properties on the lake and saw the Heutte Drive location was vacant.
Smigiel said there was some pushback from the lake community about the new ramp.
“There are some people who live on the lake that don’t want people on the lake,” he said. “They think they own it, but it’s a public lake.”
He said he’s glad the lake will be available to local anglers again.
City officials began talks in 2011 with Dominion Energy about using a slice of their land on the corner of Heutte Drive for a new ramp, Public Works Assistant Manager Trista Pope Fayton said. Dominion needed the land to finish a transmission line upgrade project, but agreed to an easement when the project finished.
Bids for construction took place in the spring of 2017, and construction of the new boat ramp facility began in September.
The facility, which includes a ramp, pier and parking lot, cost about $500,000, Fayton said.
The Utilities Department made sure the new ramp didn’t interfere with the reservoir, spokesman Harry Kenyon said.
He said the airport authority didn’t have to approve the Heutte Drive location because it’s not within a flight path. The Department of Recreation, Parks and Open Space will maintain the new facility, Kenyon said.
Thursday’s opening will be at 4 p.m. near the intersection of Heutte and Shore drives. Mayor Kenny Alexander and Smigiel will be there, and the ramp will officially open with a remote-controlled boat race.
Boat permits are required to launch a boat into city reservoirs, and fishing permits are required to fish from a boat. Fishing is not allowed from the shoreline.