Petersburg hopeful its harbor will come back, if this step is taken

Posted at 7:44 PM, Jul 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-03 19:44:08-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Ships traveled up the James River,  down the Appomattox River and into the harbor in Petersburg during the 1800's well into the 1900s, and the vision to make it a reality again is gaining steam.

By the 1980s the harbor was just a memory and the river was filling with silt, to the point that dredging was begun by the early 1990s to help clean a passage.

But after nine miles, with just one more mile to Petersburg remaining, the project was halted due to a contaminate discovered.  For 20 years now, the dredging project to complete the last 5,000 feet has been on hold.

Thursday morning, Senator Tim Kaine met with city leaders about making the vision of a harbor become reality.

And now may be just the time to make it happen.

"Health and wellness is becoming a big deal, to a lot of urban people; walkable communities like this and we've created 10 miles of trails already," says Wayne Walton, Chairman of the Friends of the Lower Appomattox.

While a harbor will become a destination point it will not be just about the water. Walking and biking trails, along with waterfront commerce, could bring a financial windfall not just for Petersburg, but the Tri-Cities region.

"We've seen in Richmond just how the work we did along the canal didn't just immediately start but it really has done great things for the city," says Senator Kaine.

As Mayor of Richmond, Kaine says he realized the importance of capitalizing on the river and as governor he was aware of the issue along the Appomattox in Petersburg.

"This would be an important project and would make this river more navigable, that's one of the Corps of Engineers main missions" he said, whilst standing on the banks of the Appomattox.

Kaine says there are 150,000 cars passing on Interstate 95 within sight of the old harbor, so making this a destination spot would be good for the local economy.

At the same time he says there is a huge federal deficit, though he understands the need to try to move this $15 million project forward, and will work with the Corps of Engineers to try to get that done.

Local businesses, like the Dixie Restaurant in Old Towne Petersburg and Eco Trek Adventures in Prince George, say a completed dredging project would benefit many local businesses.

City leaders say the completed project could also bring housing and shops to the waterfront.