City Councilmember Barbara Henley, seen during a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 16, says she will seek reelection this year to represent the Princess Anne District, which encompasses the southern area of Virginia Beach. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

VIRGINIA BEACH – Councilmember Barbara Henley, a farmer who first joined the Virginia Beach City Council four decades ago and an advocate for land preservation and limiting rural development, says she is running again this year to represent the Princess Anne District.

“It’s time to say I’m all in,” Henley said during an interview on Wednesday, Jan. 18, one of two recent conversations with The Independent News about her political plans.

“I’m running,” she said. “There’s a lot of things I want to see through.”

Henley, who will be 76 on Election Day, is a former teacher, the author of a book about the history of Princess Anne County and a partner in the family farm that bears the Henley name. The district she represents on the council encompasses the main coverage area of this newspaper.

“This is what I’ve committed my life to,” Henley said. “I want to make sure we’ve made for future generations a good place to live.”

Henley said she wants to continue efforts to address development and flooding concerns in the district, and she said current studies of watersheds and the potential impacts of sea level rise will give Virginia Beach the data to make better informed decisions about development going forward.

“It’s about how much we’re going to allow development to creep toward these lowlands,” she said. “I’m not going to say keep on building and let people buy houses where we know it’s going to flood. Maybe there are places that just shouldn’t develop.”

Henley said she wants to work to complete a number of road projects that are nearing fruition and continue to advocate for the preservation of farmland, open space for recreation and environmental purposes and making informed decisions when considering development. 

Henley recently has favored offering an incentive program called the agricultural reserve program, or ARP, as an alternative to development in the transition area between the suburban and rural city. She championed the creation of the program, which pays for development rights on agricultural land, and her family farm in Pungo has participated in it. 

Henley noted that some neighborhoods in the transition area, including subdivisions near Pungo that were put on the path toward development while Henley was not on the council, have faced significant flooding issues. 

“I didn’t want to develop in the transition area,” Henley said.

In the transition area, projects once billed as ones that essentially would pay for themselves now need taxpayers to bail out drainage issues. Henley has called for holding off on additional projects until after flooding studies are complete. She also urged the city to push up its study of the southern watershed. 

Rural areas of Virginia Beach drain differently than other parts of the city and they also are susceptible to wind tides that push water northward into Back Bay. 

Henley repeatedly has stressed these points while discussing potential development, and she said active public participation in ongoing meetings about recurrent flooding and sea level rise is needed. 

“That’s why we want people to talk to the engineers,” Henley said.

The southern areas of the city will likely face greater effects of sea level rise, especially long term, according to initial study findings shared during public meetings. Henley also said Virginia Beach needs to work with Chesapeake and Currituck County, N.C., to look at how areas that flood are interconnected.

“Their water is our water, and our water is their water,” Henley said. “It sloshes back and forth.”

Henley said she wants to help guide the city as it forms strategies for dealing with flooding and changing environmental conditions based upon recommendations from experts.

“The part that’s going to take the political will is implementing these changes,” Henley said. “This area down here is going to bear the brunt of sea level rise.”

Henley also said she hopes to continue work with the agricultural community and the city agriculture department to help farms develop new crops or techniques and increase profitability. A strong farming community not only helps preserve land, she noted, but it may help prevent worsening flooding in the area.

“It may be that agriculture has a very significant part to play with this issue in the southern watershed,” Henley said. “I don’t want to preserve farmland and find out in 10 years nobody could make a living. … 

“You ride down Princess Anne Road, and I see businesses,” she added, speaking of fields. “These are businesses, and I want them to be profitable.”

Henley also said the city will soon bring some relief to the Pungo light at the intersection of Princess Anne and Indian River roads, the heart of the village area considered the gateway to the city’s rural reaches.

“We will be doing the turn lane in Pungo this spring,” Henley said, adding that the project is expected to be completed before Memorial Day – the weekend of the Pungo Strawberry Festival, in other words.

Of road projects, she cautioned, “They’re never in concrete until it’s in concrete.” 

She said city staff said the project to aid challenges making turns at the Pungo light will be designed soon and is expected to go forward. More details will be forthcoming, and Henley will discuss the matter during monthly district forums she holds for constituents.

Henley was first elected to the city council in 1978, representing the former Pungo Borough until 1990, including serving as vice mayor from 1982 to 1984. She rejoined the council in 1994, serving until 2002, but was defeated in a reelection bid by James Reeve. She in turn defeated him to return to office in 2006. 

The district includes rural communities, but it also includes places as diverse as Courthouse, Red Mill and Sandbridge.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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