The Fones Cliffs along the Rappahannock River in central Virginia is home to hundreds of nesting bald eagles, and as many as 20,000 visit the area during migration seasons. According to Bryan D. Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, the location is "a global hot spot" for this iconic eagle species which, thanks to significant conservation efforts, has come back from severe population declines during the 1970s. “There’s no other place on the continent like the Chesapeake Bay for eagles, and this place is one of the most important places in the bay. It’s an eagle magnet," he told the Washington Post this week.

Even so, Diatomite Corporation of America has received approval from the Richmond County Planning Commission to rezone the cliffs. They plan to create a resort with luxury homes. Specifically, the plans include a 116-room lodge, guest cottages, a 150-seat restaurant, an 18-hole golf course, and 718 homes that would cost between $300,000 and $500,000 (when the average home price in the area is around $150,000).

When the bald eagles heard about the approval for rezoning their favorite spot in the Chesapeake Bay, they were like:

An expressive bald eagle. (Photo: Humming Bird Art/Shutterstock)

So too were many residents. The entire plan is a source of significant controversy in Richmond County. It's more than just cutting down the trees in which eagles nest. It's also an area that attracts thousands of visiting eagles each year. Construction could degrade the area for both resident and visiting eagles for years to come. Even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is opposed to the development. After all, it was only eight years ago that the eagle was removed from the endangered species list.

The developers point out that the project would bring in new jobs and significant tax revenue. And of course 3,500-square-foot homes in a rural county where, according to the Washington Post, "the largest road, two-lane Route 624, is so sparsely traveled that workers didn’t bother to paint a yellow stripe."

In an article on from March of this year, Watts notes that while the eagles have protection from hunting and disturbing their nests, they don't have protection against development. "The good thing about the Rappahannock River," said Watts, "is that many of the counties where the birds nest remain rural, and that’s the way it needs to stay for them to continue to thrive."

With the proposed development, the area may lose a bit of that rural feel. The Washington Post reports, "The county board of supervisors will start considering the proposal in the fall, a process that could take a year."

It's still unknown whether the plans will be approved and development will move forward, but the bald eagles certainly have conservation-minded residents and organizations fighting for them to keep their reclaimed place in this favored bend of the river.

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Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.