"Ocean front property owners in Sandbridge contacted us after some of them were cited by the Virginia Beach Wetlands Board for removing sand from their ocean front property without the permit required by the Virginia Coastal Primary Dunes and Beaches Act."

Sand can be beautiful, but when feet and feet of sand inundate ocean front properties it becomes a real problem. Ocean front residential and commercial property owners in the Sandbridge section of Virginia Beach, Virginia have for years coped with the effects of wind-blown sand and sand that migrates onto their ocean front property as part of a natural cycle. In the summer, sand moves onto the beach and is stored in dunes, with the dune line at Sandbridge being co-located with the line of ocean front homes. During the winter months, sand migrates off the beach and into sand bars where it is stored beyond the breakers. At Sandbridge, when the sand moves onto the beach, it arrives in vast amounts that are more than enough to smother barriers, fences, decks, pools, and walkways—and even enough to engulf homeowners’ back doors.

Sand obstructed access to wheelchair accessibility ramps and public beach walkways.

Virginia Beach Sand on Boardwalk Ramp

Accumulated sand reached about one-third the height of a telephone pole on Sandfiddler Road in the Sandbridge section of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Sand piling up around a pole

Sand overcame and inundated the pool safety fence at ocean front properties, allowing easy access to homeowners’ back yards. This presented a potential hazard to children, because a wandering child could now easily enter a backyard pool area from the beach.

Sand piling up over a fence into someones backyard

If left uncorrected, the sand would build up to the point that entire homes would be covered.

Removing the sand is the obvious solution —but this was not as easy as it sounds due to the limitations imposed by the Virginia Coastal Primary Dunes and Beaches Act, which required the ocean front property owner to get a permit from the Virginia Beach Wetlands Board before moving sand away from the property. The technical work needed to prepare the permit application could cost as much as $3,000 and the processing time to obtain the permit could take up to 90 days. Further adding to the impracticality, the permit allowed a one-time-only removal of sand. When the sand returned in a few months, as inevitably it would, the ocean front property owner would be forced to go through the regulatory process again, or else surreptitiously remove the sand and risk prosecution for violating the Virginia Coastal Primary Dunes and Beaches Act. Violations of the Act can be prosecuted in criminal enforcement action resulting in up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.00. If the regulators choose to bring a civil enforcement action, instead of a criminal enforcement action, violators risk a penalty of up to $25,000.00 for each day of violation.

"Removing the sand is the obvious solution —but this was not as easy as it sounds due to the limitations imposed by the Virginia Coastal Primary Dunes and Beaches Act, which required the ocean front property owner to get a permit from the Virginia Beach Wetlands Board before moving sand away from the property. The technical work needed to prepare the permit application could cost as much as $3,000 and the processing time to obtain the permit could take up to 90 days."

bulldozer moving sand

Ocean front property owners in Sandbridge contacted us after some of them were cited by the Virginia Beach Wetlands Board for removing sand from their ocean front property without the permit required by the Virginia Coastal Primary Dunes and Beaches Act. As reported in the media, our clients were looking for the ability to move the sand off their bulkhead without being prosecuted. We designed an alternative process using the concept of a “general permit” as a substitute option for the cumbersome and expensive “individual permit” process. We are familiar with the “general permit” concept because of our experience in environmental law, where general permits are widely used.

The general permit concept turned out to be a natural fit for the problem encountered by the ocean front property owners in Sandbridge. Our client, working with the City of Virginia Beach, persuaded the Virginia General Assembly to enact into law during the 2017 session the “general permit” concept that we designed. This change to the Virginia Coastal Primary Dunes and Beaches Act means that ocean front property owners in the Sandbridge section of Virginia Beach now have an environmentally responsible and cost-effective way to protect their property from encroaching sand. Additionally, this general permit provides three years of coverage for ocean front property owners, as opposed to the individual permit which required them to pay and re-apply for a permit each time they removed sand from their property (or risk prosecution for sand removal without the required individual permit).