In 1972 the floodwaters from Hurricane Agnes completely submerged Mayo’s Island and The Mayo Bridge. To gain a perspective on just how bad it was, check out the current day Google Street View image from approximately the same angle looking southwest from the I-95 bridge.
Hurricane Agnes also wasn’t kind to large swaths of both sides of the river including industrial Manchester as evidenced by the Library of Virginia photographs below. Since that time the Army Core of Engineers has erected the flood wall to prevent such disasters from inundating both downtown Richmond and portions of Manchester’s industrial section.
But no such flood wall protection exists for Mayo’s Island. I suspect this is in large part why Mayo’s Island remains undeveloped to this day despite its beautiful views of the James River and the Richmond skyline. In fact, the island remains virtually forgotten.
The City of Richmond’s Riverfront Development Plan calls for Mayo’s Island to be acquired by the city and converted into a public park. However, today it is primarily being used as an overflow parking lot for VCU, a recycling center, and art studio/commercial space.
Perhaps the most shocking and disgusting fact of all, is that in this modern day and age, there is no sewer connectivity to Mayo’s Island. So that means-yep, you got it-raw sewage from the buildings on Mayo’s Island dump straight into the James River in violation of modern regulatory and health codes. It is unfathomable to me that this condition has been allowed to persist for so long, especially in light of the Clean Water Act that was passed in 1972 around the same exact time that the flood pictures above were taken. That is a whopping 44 years that has passed with no progress on cleaning up this unacceptable public health hazard.
It is unfortunate that Mayo’s Island as such a crucial part of Richmond’s waterfront continues to stick out like a sore thumb despite progress being made on Brown’s Island, Belle Isle, The Canal, and the recently opened T-Pot bridge. Let’s hope the City of Richmond finally cobbles together enough resources and a viable plan for repurposing Mayo’s Island into its highest and best use as a public park, and solving the environmental hazard that has been allowed to persist for far too long.
Excerpt from the City’s Riverfront Development Plan for Mayo’s Island
Photo Credits: Library of Virginia & Google.