Suffolk not likely to become home to wildlife refuge

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Chesapeake appears to be the forerunner in the race for federal funds to build a new visitor’s center for the Great Dismal Swamp and Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., broke the news Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife is recommending the facility go to Chesapeake, instead of Suffolk. The plan will be unveiled for public comments soon.

&uot;Our biggest concern was losing everything to North Carolina,&uot; Forbes said. &uot;We wanted to make sure it went somewhere in Virginia.

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&uot;The bottom line…is their budget is against the wall,&uot; he said. &uot;They told us they will not do an offsite visitors center,…that there is no way they could convince the appropriators to fund that.&uot;

Once the federal recommendation is submitted, the chance of it being funded is marginal, Forbes said. Only two new visitor’s centers have been funded in recent history, he said.

Forbes’ comments came after Lynette Brugeman, the city’s tourism director, reiterated the city’s request for $2 million in federal funding to build a 7,000-square-foot interpretative center at the intersection of Constance Road and North Main Street.

&uot;We consider this a regional model…and we have been steadfast in our support for this model for the past four or five years,&uot; she said.

The city’s proposed facility would be located adjacent to the historic Nansemond County Courthouse, where the Suffolk Visitors Center is relocating within the next 18 months.

The city’s plan also called for setting up sites in the refuge where the public could rent bikes and kayaks to better explore the property.

The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed plan does not leave Suffolk in the cold, Forbes stressed.

&uot;Their plan is for Suffolk to play a main role,&uot; Forbes said. &uot;They understand that Suffolk has the only land access to the refuge.&uot;

The agency plan calls for investing in major improvements to the refuge’s roads and trails, facilities and entrances, he added. If the plan is approved, work on that part of the project would begin within a couple of months.

Meanwhile, there may be other pots of federal money the city could tap to acquire funding for an interpretative center, Forbes said.