The proposed widening of the General Thomas Highway in Southampton County is having a knock-on effect on the way the Nottoway River is to be used in the future. The road widening plan looks set to close a boat ramp providing access to the river that will mean a new point of access is needing to be built with a parking area also needed for the boat ramp to be accessed widely. The issues surrounding the planned boat ramp construction is that of zoning with the 1.5-acre piece of land owned by the Ashland group that has been zoned for light industrial use.

One of the main reasons for the raising of the issue by members of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is the fact the agency is looking for input from the public about the construction. The plan is to construct a new boat ramp providing access to the Nottoway River across the highway from the existing ramp with the Department of Game expecting the existing ramp to cost around $200,000 with the funding already in place.

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Among the issues expecting to be addressed is the level of traffic on the waterway which the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is expected to manage successfully throughout the year. The loss of even one boat ramp along the Nottoway River will cause a great deal of stress on the boat ramps and river itself as those who would have used the access point on General Thomas Highway would be required to use other ramps along the river. By closing even one boat ramp along the river, the problem of added traffic moving along the existing boat ramps and building the level of damage done to the river as more boats access from existing ramps.

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries must now look to Southampton County officials to allow them to change the zoning classification of the land to be used for the proposed boat ramp. The current light industrial usage of the boat ramp area means it can currently be used for a limited amount of businesses. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries believe it could be allowed to use the land for the construction and use of a boat ramp if a conditional use permit can be awarded by Southampton County officials. If the agreement can be reached with officials from Southampton County the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries explained they hope to start the process of construction soon and have the ramp open by the summer.

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In terms of the busy nature of the Nottoway River, the majority of users of the existing General Thomas Highway boat ramp are intent on using the slipway to enjoy the river between Franklin and Newsoms. The boat ramp is popular because of its location along the Shady Brook Trail where the use of the land for its intended purpose could also impact the natural beauty of the region. Beth Lewis of the Southampton County Zoning Department explained the light industrial use of the land would allow for warehouses and mechanical uses.

Among the important factors to be faced when members of Southampton County make their decision about the planned boat ramp will be the opinions of the public from the region. A meeting will take place at the County Government Center in Courtland with members of the Board of Supervisors of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries along with Southampton County officials and the general public. The opinions of the public regarding the construction of the boat ramp and parking lot will be included in any final decision made about the construction plan.

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