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Board Meeting Minutes

BOARD OF GAME AND INLAND FISHERIES MEETING MINUTES
4000 WEST BROAD STREET
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA
OCTOBER 23, 2003

PRESENT:  Dan Hoffler, Chairman, Marshall Davison, John Montgomery, Jr., Richard Railey, Jr., Will McNeely, Sherry Crumley, Jack Shoosmith, Dan McCoy, Chuck Cunningham; ABSENT:  Richard Corrigan and Cecil Campbell, Schedule Conflicts; DIRECTOR:  William L. Woodfin, Jr.; LEGAL COUNSEL:  Roger Chaffe; SENIOR STAFF:  Ray Davis, Bob Duncan, Herb Foster, Gary Martel, Charlie Sledd, Jeff Uerz, David Whitehurst

Chairman Hoffler called the meeting to order at 9:00 a.m. and Jeff Uerz was requested to lead the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.  Mr. Hoffler announced that a quorum was present.  He welcomed visitors, and indicated that a closed session would not be convened.

The public was advised that remarks should be restricted to three minutes per speaker.

Leighton Powell, representing Scenic Virginia, was recognized.  She indicated that at a recent Scenic Virginia awards ceremony, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries received the Scenic Hero award for developing and implementing the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail.  A re-enactment of the award presentation was observed, with Director Woodfin and David Whitehurst accepting. 

Debbie Horne and Laura Newell-Furniss, Hunters for the Hungry, were requested to come forward to receive the first check ($5,013.50) resulting from donations made to the Hunters for the Hungry program by hunting license buyers.  Ms. Horne and Ms. Newell-Furniss were commended for the work they do to continue the Hunters for the Hungry program founded by David Horne.

Ms. Newell-Furniss thanked the Department, the Board and staff for their continued support for the Hunters for the Hungry program.  For the record she noted that $5,000 would provide 28,000 servings of venison to the hungry.

Public Comment, Non-agenda Items:  B. J. Ostergren, Hanover, Virginia referenced an August 21, 2003 email in which she cited ß 29.1-707 of the Code of Virginia pertaining to the availability of Department records to the public (boat registrations).  Ms. Ostergren felt that the Code gives the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries the authority to prescribe conditions regarding public access to records of the Department.  She objects to the Department charging for boating records when requested under the requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and asked that the Board require that department records not contain social security numbers and dates of birth.  She asked that the Board enact changes to prohibit the sale of boat registration and hunting and fishing license records.  In addition she asked that the web site advise citizens that information provided when purchasing hunting or fishing licenses or boat registration transactions would be sold when requested, as required by the Freedom of Information Act.

Ms. Ostergren also noted for the record that the Board had failed to meet the Freedom of Information Act requirement that meeting minutes for August 20 and 21, 2003 be posted on the agencyís web site. 

Note to Minutes:  The draft minutes of the August 20, 2003 and August 21, 2003 meetings were posted on the Departmentís web site on August 28, 2003 (within the allowed 10-days).

Paulette Albright, Montebello, Virginia representing Friends of Virginia Fish Hatcheries, stated that due to budget cuts, the Department had closed all of its fish hatcheries to public visitation.  She stated that the funds provided by the Nelson County Board of Supervisors to keep the Hatchery open to public visitation would be exhausted soon, and she requested that all fish hatcheries, and specifically the Montebello Fish Hatchery, remain open to public visitation year round, noting that she felt tax dollars must be spent wisely.

Recognition of Employees and Others:  Colonel Herb Foster was requested to introduce Officer Tim Worrell who was recognized for his efforts to rescue stranded citizens in the Guinea area of Gloucester County during Hurricane Isabel.  Officer Worrell responded to a call for assistance for stranded citizens on September 18, 2003.  He went to the scene and found conditions too severe to safely utilize his patrol boat.   He and Major Michael Nicely of the Gloucester County Sheriffís Department requested the assistance of the Virginia National Guard. At the risk of their own personal safety, the officers, along with the National Guard, went through high water, extreme quantities of downed trees and debris, impaired fields of vision and hazardous materials to reach the stranded citizens.   One rescue vehicle stalled as a result of the high water, but it was eventually restarted and the rescue efforts continued.  When Officer Nicelyís vehicle became stuck in mud, Officer Worrell returned to the scene to locate the missing vehicle.  When located, a human chain had to be formed to safely transfer some stranded citizens to the serviceable vehicle.  Eventually, all stranded citizens were rescued.  As a result of his efforts, Officer Worrell has met President Bush and Governor Warner.

Sergeant Lannie Chitwood was recognized for his efforts to rescue two stranded boaters on the Chesapeake Bay.  While on personal leave, when returning to shore in his private boat, Officer Chitwood observed two individuals waving from what appeared to be a submerged boat in the vicinity of the Cape Charles boat ramp, approximately one mile from shore.  Upon reaching the site, he found two individuals in the water, holding on to the boat.  He was able to get the two occupants of the submerged craft into his boat.  He made radio contact with the Coast Guard and a rescue vessel responded to tow the submerged boat to shore and take the two victims to safety.

Game Warden Jason Harris, assigned to Grayson County, received a call for rescue assistance for a capsized kayaker stranded on the New River.  Due to heavy rainfall, the river level was considerably elevated.  Using the Departmentís inflatable Zodiac watercraft, the only craft deemed suitable for the rescue effort, Officer Harris, along with Grayson County Deputy Sheriff Glenn Hyatt, negotiated the craft through dangerous waters to reach the stranded individual that had pull himself onto a rock.  They were able to pull the stranded citizen onto the Zodiac and returned him to safety.

The three officers were congratulated and commended for their outstanding work.

Colonel Foster reported that Lieutenant Ron Henry continues to recover from severe injuries sustained when he was intentionally injured by a youth operating an ATV.  In the preliminary Juvenile and Domestics Relations court trial, evidence gathered by SLAP team members, using advanced technology in mapping and photography, supported the charges certified against the juvenile. The juvenile has been certified for trial as an adult.  SLAP team members were congratulated for their work in gathering the evidence that supported the pending charges. 

It is hoped that Lieutenant Henry will be able to return to work in early 2004.

Ray Davis recognized James Adams.  Mr. Adams announced that Mark Wood recently received a Special Recognition Award from the States Organization of Boating Access (SOBA) for his contributions to support the mission of SOBA and the Departmentís boating access program.  This is the third national award presented by SOBA to the agency or agency individuals for excelling in the boating access field. 

Ray Davis announced that the Department has been recognized for its technology work by receiving a second Governorís Technology Award.  This year, the Department received a Governorís Silver Government Service Award in the small state agency category for its online hunting and fishing license service developed in partnership with the Virginia Information Providers Network (VIPNET).  Dr. Virgil Kopf, Assistant Director of the Administrative Services Division, was recognized for his outstanding work.

Dr. Kopf recognized Mike Hammel and Carmen Houston for their work in developing the online sales program for hunting and fishing licenses.  The technology award was presented to Mr. Hammel and Mr. Houston. 

Gary Martel recognized Fisheries Division employees for recently received awards.

Scott Smith was recognized for receiving the AFS State Chapter Aquatic Biologist of the Year award.  He was also nominated for the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) Aquatic Biologist of the Year award.

Dan Wilson was recognized for receiving the runner-up 2002 Best Paper Award from the SEAFWA.

John Odenkirk was recognized for receiving the 2002 Best Paper Award from the SEAFWA.

The research work done by these Fisheries Division employees provides critical information that is used by the Department in the management of its fisheries programs.

Director Woodfin commended all agency employees for their outstanding work.

For the record, Mr. Hoffler commented that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is one of the finest wildlife agencies throughout the country.  He said that this remark was based on comments heard from external wildlife professionals around the country.  He commented that he, and all members of the Board, are very proud to be associated with everyone who works to make this happen, especially Director Woodfin.

Minutes of the Meetings:   The draft minutes of the August 20 and August 21, 2003 meeting were posted on the web site and included in Board memberís meeting briefing materials.  Chairman Hoffler called for any additions or corrections to the August 20 meeting minutes, and called for a motion of approval.  Mr. Railey moved, seconded by Ms. Crumley, passed (Mr. Cunningham abstained since he was absent from the meeting) that the minutes of the August 20, 2003 meeting be approved as written.

After it was noted that only the August 20 minutes were approved in an earlier action of the Board, Mr. Railey moved, seconded by Ms. Crumley, passed (Mr. Cunningham abstained since he was absent from the meeting) that the minutes of the August 20 and August 21, 2003 meetings be approved as written.

Access Fee Discussion:  Mr. Woodfin commented that the Department has formed an advisory group to develop recommendations for the implementation of an access fee to department owned lands and facilities, as allowed by SB 786 enacted by the 2003 General Assembly Session.  The enabling legislation gives the Board the authority to develop a fee structure to be paid in lieu of a hunting or fishing license or a registered boat.  The legislation exempts youths 16 years of age or younger and users of the agencyís boat ramps from the access fee requirement.  Unlike a criminal penalty, a violation of the access fee requirement will be a civil penalty of up to $50 that will be paid into the Game Protection Fund. 

Using Power Point, Virgil Kopf presented an overview of the advisory groupís findings to date.  Additional work will be done on the access fee, and it will be taken to a broader citizen base for further review and input.

Dr. Kopf recognized Ms. Phebe VanValen and Ed Rhodes, participants in the workgroup. 

The workgroup determined that any access fee action should support the mission of the agency, and that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries should not be expected to provide camp and/or lodging sites, that it should be a net revenue producer for the agency (recapture administrative and enforcement costs), and marketing/advertising is essential.

Concerns and issues identified by the workgroup included:  the legislation allowed boat ramp exemption, the group fee may not be supported, a desire for planned multiple use and equity in consideration of operations, the current use or characteristics of the current users of our wildlife management areas is unknown, and any improvements will need to be consistent with the wildlife mission of the property.  Another concern is the administrative start-up costs for the permit fees (up to $12.00). However if an adequate number of permit fees are bought, revenue could be generated to provide for improvements on the wildlife management areas that would benefit hunters and anglers as well as wildlife enthusiasts. 

The workgroup identified planning unknowns:  the current level and types of use of facilities, the potential level and types of use, a willingness or ability to pay enhancement fees, the potential revenue generation estimates, operational and enforcement cost estimates, multiple use conflicts/synergies and grant/deed limitations. 

Staff recommended that discussions and reviews continue, that regulation language be developed for a $12.00 annual and $3.00 daily permit, that a determination be made as to where the $3.00 permit would be reasonable and appropriate, possible exemptions from the fee, and that administrative procedures to handle the penalty and the daily fee be developed.  Results of these reviews and discussions will be brought back to the Board at its March 25, 2004 meeting. 

The Board discussed relative issues for an access fee.  They agreed with the workgroupís recommendation that they proceed cautiously and that the concept be taken to constituent groups for review and input.  A concern was expressed for the boat ramp exemption (canoeists and kayakers) and that implementation of the permit fee not be a revenue neutral initiative (enabling legislation may be too restrictive).   

Mr. Montgomery moved that staff proceed with its feasibility evaluation of an access permit fee as outlined and that they report back to the Board at its March 25 meeting, seconded by Ms. Crumley, passed unanimously.  Mr. Cunningham suggested that reversals to the legislative exemptions be sought in the upcoming General Assembly session.

Chairman Hoffler provided an opportunity for public comment on the access fee discussion.

Phebe VanValen, Richmond, Virginia, representing the Richmond Audubon, commented that Richmond birders strongly support the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  An enforcement difficulty is anticipated with the access fee, and they fear that enforcement will absorb any generated funds.  She further stated that only one out of 18 recent Richmond Audubon trips was to a wildlife management area.  She questioned how non-resident permit conditions would be administered.

Regulation Cycle Discussion:  Charlie Sledd presented a conceptual change to how the Board currently handles its regulatory procedures (wildlife regulations in odd numbered years and fisheries regulations in even numbered years).  Staff proposed that the procedure be changed to handle all regulatory and boating proposals every other year, beginning in 2005.  This would provide an improved opportunity for public comment, a cost savings from advertisement requirements, digest printing, staff time, and improve the quality of the regulations digests, etc. Under this scenario, staff suggested that Board meetings be scheduled in April, June, August and November of each year.  In the regulatory cycle, staff recommendations for regulation changes would be presented to the Board at its April meeting, and those recommendations would be taken to the public for review and input from April to August.  Regulation proposals would be presented to the Board at its August meeting for approval for advertisement, and an official public comment period would be opened.  The Board would take final action on the advertised proposals at an early November meeting, and changes would become effective in July of the following year.  Webless migratory game bird and waterfowl seasons would continue to be addressed annually by the Board.  A combined hunting and fishing digest would result if this concept were implemented.

The Board discussed the pros and cons of the proposed change.  It was felt that it would increase the amount of time needed to complete the agenda at the regulatory action meetings.  It would not cause a significant increase in the Boardís workload. 

Ms. Crumley moved, seconded by Mr. Davison, passed unanimously, that staff take the proposed regulatory cycle change to constituent groups for review and input.

Directorís Report:  Director Woodfin recognized outdoor writer Garvey Winegar who plans to retire from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Chairman Hoffler presented Mr. Winegar with a certificate of appreciation, and he was thanked for his support of the Department.

Mr. Winegar thanked the Board and indicated that he appreciated the opportunity to cover the activities of the Board and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. 

James Adams was asked to present an easement request received from the Virginia Gas Pipe Line for a project that would extend from Grundy to Saltville across the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area.  Department staff asked the company to try to locate another appropriate site that would not impact our wildlife management area, and they have been unsuccessful in their attempts.  They have asked that negotiations for a pipeline easement begin, to be ready for use by October 2004.  No objections have been raised to the proposed pipeline, and the Department of Mines and Minerals will handle the permitting requirements.  It is an interstate project that does not fall within federal regulatory requirements. 

Staff asked the Board to authorize it to negotiate the best possible easement for the Department and that the Director be authorized to execute the easement.

Mr. McCoy moved, seconded by Mr. Montgomery, passed unanimously, that the Department staff and the Director negotiate and execute the requested easement.

Using Power Point, Legal Counsel Roger Chaffe presented an overview of the requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information and Conflict of Interest Acts.  The Board was advised that as a public body, it is required to conduct its business in open meetings and meeting minutes/records must be produced and recorded.  Telephonic and video/electronic meetings are not permitted.  Meetings must be noticed and state whether public comments will be heard.  Notices must be furnished to anyone requesting such.  Secret ballots and written voting are prohibited.  Briefing materials are to be made available for public review. 

Closed meetings are permitted for the purposes of specific personnel matters for individuals supervised by the Board, real estate acquisition transactions and/or for legal counsel on active or probable litigation or specific legal matters requiring legal advice.  The Board is required to certify in public session that no topics were discussed in a closed session that was not identified in the convening motion.   

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requests for public records, including drafts, reflecting public business, must be provided within five working days of the receipt of the request.  A seven-day extension is allowed if additional time is needed to assemble the requested information.  Board members were urged to refer any individually received FOIA requests to the agency Director for assistance.  FOIA exemptions and enforcement conditions exist. 

An overview of the Conflict of Interest Act was also provided.  Board members were advised that the act covers three areas:  general, contracts and transactions.  They cannot solicit or accept compensation for doing their job or use confidential information for anyoneís benefit. 

A public official is prohibited from having a contract, or personal interest, with its own agency, or another agency unless the contract was awarded competitively or a certification is made by the awarding agency that the contract is in the publicís interest.  If a public official has a financial stake in a matter, it may be problematic for the public official.  Forms are provided for the use of public officials if a potential conflict of interest act violation exists.  They must not participate in any action that might be a potential Conflict of Interest Act violation.  A violation of the Act is a criminal offense.

Board members were advised that any individually received correspondence (ex parte record) is a public record and it should be forwarded to the Director for inclusion in the public record to insure that the full Board has had access to all records.

Mr. Mongtomery noted for the record, that the entire Freedom of Information Act was provided to him shortly upon his appointment to the Board. 

Mr. Woodfin announced that Americaís Most Wanted plans to air a segment on November 1, 2003 on an unsolved hunting fatality that occurred in Rockbridge County on the opening day of the spring gobbler season.  SLAP team members have been investigating the incident.  The National Wild Turkey Federation posted a reward for information leading to an arrest.  That award has now grown to $36,000.  SLAP team members were recognized for their outstanding work.

Board members were reminded that they have been invited to the Virginia Deer Hunters Association banquet being held October 23, 2003 in Richmond.

Adjournment:  As there were no additional matters to discuss, at 11:35 a.m., Mr. Davison moved, seconded by Mr. Montgomery, passed unanimously that the meeting adjourn.

                                                            Respectfully submitted,

                                                            Belle Harding
                                                            Secretary to the Director

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