WEST POINT — An invasive grass is threatening one of West Point's best attributes — its waterfront views — and residents want town leaders to do something about it.
"In West Point there used to be water views everywhere. One by one we're losing those views," resident Bill Cawley said. "If something isn't done about it soon, we're going to lose the uniqueness of the town."
"It's the worst it's ever been," added resident Gail Nichols.
From her front porch on Lee Street, Nichols and her husband used to have a clear view of the Mattaponi River and its natural habitat. Now all they see is tall marsh grass.
Take a walk through downtown West Point these days and that's pretty much all you see along the shoreline. The small town is surrounded by three rivers, but there isn't much of a river view.
In a recent letter to the Tidewater Review, Cawley compared the loss of the town's water views by phragmites to the movie monster Godzilla.
"I may have been a bit dramatic to make a point, but I am not so sure that analogy wasn't correct. The real non-native invasive phragmites are devouring West Point like the fictitious Godzilla," he told the Town Council last Tuesday.
"One need only walk about the town, Lee Street, Kirby Street, the walkway crossing West Point Creek, to see the damage the weed is doing to our natural ecosystem," Cawley said.
His letter inspired other residents to speak up and petition the council to take action.
"One of the primary reasons my wife and I decided to build in West Point was the rich shoreline," George Cunningham told the council.
"In the past six years, our shoreline and water views on Lee Street have disappeared. We can no longer enjoy watching the waterfowl and small shoreline and wetlands creatures since their habitat has been destroyed. They are gone and will not return unless we deal with the phragmites," he said.
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation describes phragmites — pronounced "frag-might-ese" — as a marsh invader. It crowds out native grasses by forming dense underground mats of roots up to 3 feet thick that strangle out less aggressive plants, and by shading them out in dense strands towering up to 12 feet high.
An obstructed water view isn't the only cause for concern.
"It can displace about 20 to 25 species of native plants in an acre of fresh tidal marsh, offering very little wildlife habitat benefits," said Rick Myers, natural heritage stewardship manager with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The invading grass also increases the risk of wildfires, blocks drainage and irrigation ditches, clogs drain fields and increases mosquito breeding activity.
The phragmites invasion in West Point extends around the peninsula and has taken over the drainage ditches on the west side of Kirby Street, as well as the undeveloped lots between Kirby and the Pamunkey River.
"A permanent solution to the West Point phragmites issue must be implemented," Cunningham told the council. "No one will pay top dollar for a property that has no view of waterfowl or wildlife or river activity, and which is nothing more than tall and expanding curtains of phragmites."
Mayor Jim Hudson said the town is committed to addressing the problem.
"We've done at least two rounds of studies on this in the past, but we need to look at it again from an ecological standpoint," he said.
"Residents have brought up a valid concern. We need to explore what new technology and treatment is available."