STATEMENT:Environmental Travesty at Fones Cliffs Leads to Lawsuit Over Damages and Violations

Annapolis, MD – Following an announcement by Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality regarding the filing of a lawsuit for significant and repeated environmental violations at the development project near Fones Cliffs in Richmond County, Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn issued the following statement:

“We are very pleased that Attorney General Herring, DEQ Director David Paylor, and the entire Northam Administration are taking this environmental travesty seriously.

“We are hopeful that the penalties will include remediation of the site and will be commensurate with the significant losses of habitat and archaeological resources.

“Thank you to the thousands of people who have voiced their support for Fones Cliffs. We remain hopeful that we can permanently protect the cliffs for current and future generations.”


Background: Fones Cliffs is a 4-mile formation along the tidal-fresh portion of the Rappahannock River in Richmond County, Virginia. It is located within the boundary of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and is a critical site along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. The forested cliffs reach heights of 80 to 100 feet above the river and are composed of diatomaceous earth formed millions of years ago.

This special stretch of the river has one of the highest densities of bald eagles on the east coast.  It is home to 100+ pairs of resident breeding bald eagles, which are joined by thousands more throughout the year, as they track waterfowl and fish migrations in the fall and spring. The highest eagle counts ever recorded along the river were made in February 2005, when nearly 400 birds were seen in a single day, with dozens seen in the Fones Cliff stretch of the river. There are many other species of concern that depend upon this habitat, the bald eagle is just the most charismatic, making this a special place within the acquisition boundary of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Fones Cliffs is among the earliest areas described by New World explorers. Captain John Smith sailed by Fones Cliffs on August 18, 1608. Smith and his crew documented a historic skirmish they had with the Rappahannock Indians that day. Indeed, there is documented evidence of thousands of years of occupation by the American Indians in this location. Standing on the bluffs at Fones Cliffs today, the view is incredibly similar to what it was 400 years ago, making it a vital component of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, managed by the National Park Service.