Another Chapter in Virginia Streams and Kings Grants: April 2016 Lawsuit by Craig County Property Owners over Stream Navigability Determinations by Va. Marine Resources Commission in March 2015

April 2016 brought another development in the long-running issue in Virginia of streambed ownership, Kings (or Crown) Grants, and access to waterways for navigation, recreation, or other activities.

On April 7, 2016, in Craig County Circuit Court, two citizens and two businesses that own property along Johns Creek in Craig County sued the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and VMRC Commissioner John Bull over the VMRC’s determination in March 2015 that parts of Johns Creek and 13 other streams in Virginia are navigable and therefore open for public boating, based on the drainage area of the streams sections each exceeding five square miles.  The stream sections were in the following 14 waterways: Barbours Creek, Craig County; Blackwater River (North Fork), Franklin County; Bullpasture River, Highland and Bath counties; Cedar Creek, Shenandoah County; Colliers/Buffalo Creek, Rockbridge County; Gooney Run, Warren County; Irish Creek, Rockbridge County; Jennings Creek, Botetourt County; Johns Creek, Craig County; North Creek, Botetourt County; Passage Creek, Shenandoah and Warren counties; Piney River, Amherst and Nelson counties; Potts Creek, Alleghany and Craig counties; and Wolf Creek, Bland and Tazewell counties.

The determination that these stream sections were navigable was given in a March 17, 2015, letter by VMRC Commissioner Bull to Virginia State Senator David Marsden (D-37th) of Fairfax County, who had requested the determination for these particular stream sections based on recommendations by stream-paddling enthusiasts.  (The letter from Mr. Bull to Sen. Marsden is available online at the Virginia Places Web site, at http://www.virginiaplaces.org/boundaries/kingsgrants.html; see Reference #8, as of 4/12/16).  The plaintiffs in the Craig County lawsuit claim Kings Grant ownership of the stream bottom in a part of Johns Creek declared navigable by the VMRC; the plaintiffs assert that the VMRC determination amounted to a public “taking” of property without due process or compensation, which would violate the U.S. Constitution.

News sources and ongoing list of articles (listed from oldest to newest):
State review opens Virginia waterways to the public, Roanoke Times, 8/16/15.
Craig County landowners sue over paddling, property rights, Roanoke Times, 4/10/16.

For more information:
“King’s Grants/Crown Grants,” on Charles Grymes’ “Virginia Places” Web site, online at http://www.virginiaplaces.org/boundaries/kingsgrants.html – a detailed treatment of this issue, including several maps, aerial photos, and links to pertinent documents (including the March 17, 2015, letter from VMRC Commissioner John Bull to State Sen. David Marsden; see also http://www.virginiaplaces.org/about.html for an explanation of the Virginia Places Web site, developed by Charles Grymes as part of his teaching of geography at George Mason University).

VMRC’s “Subaqueous Guidelines,” available online at http://www.mrc.virginia.gov/regulations/subaqueous_guidelines.shtm – describes regulations relevant to stream navigation and other issues concerning the beds of water bodies.

Previous Water Central News Grouper post on this issue – November 2012 Update on Court Case over Stream Ownership and Access Rights on Jackson River in Alleghany County, Va.

Virginia Water Center reports on recreational rights in Virginia waters – Inland Recreational Fishing Rights in Virginia: Implications of the Virginia Supreme Court Case Kraft v. Burr, 1999, online at http://vwrrc.vt.edu/special_reports.html#1999; and “Public Recreational Rights on Virginia’s Inland Streams,” 1980, online at http://vwrrc.vt.edu/special_reports.html#1980.

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