Engage Louisa is a community newsletter aimed at keeping folks informed about Louisa County government. It’s free, non-partisan, and powered by volunteers. We believe our community is stronger and our government serves us better when we increase transparency, accessibility, and engagement.
A quiet coming week for public meetings
With the cancellation of the Ag/Forestal and Rural Preservation Committee’s August meeting, there are no public meetings on tap this week, according Louisa County's website.
In September, county government will return to its normal pace with the Board of Supervisors convening two meetings after holding only one in July and August.
Additional information about Louisa County’s upcoming public meetings is available here.
Interested in taking your talents to one of the county’s numerous boards and commissions? Find out more here, including which boards have vacancies and how to apply.
Delivery of census data opens door to redistricting
Last November, Virginians voted overwhelmingly to transform the Commonwealth’s redistricting process, adopting a constitutional amendment that established the bipartisan Virginia Redistricting Commission. The hybrid advisory body made up of eight citizens and eight legislators is charged with drawing maps for Virginia’s 11 Congressional districts, 100 House of Delegates districts, and 40 State Senate districts based on the results of the decennial census.
Under Virginia’s former redistricting process, the power to draw and approve new districts belonged to the General Assembly and governor, leading to partisan gerrymandering on part of both Republicans and Democrats. Supporters of the new amendment contend that a bipartisan process will yield fairer maps for all Virginians.
Upon delivery of census data, the commission has 45 days to draw new maps for the House of Delegates and State Senate, and 60 days to draw Congressional district lines. The maps must be approved by a supermajority of commissioners, with 6 of 8 citizens and 6 of 8 legislators in support.
The maps then move to the General Assembly for a vote, requiring the support of at least a simple majority. If the commission or legislature fail to agree on maps, the task of establishing new districts falls to the Virginia Supreme Court.
While awaiting census data, delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the brand new commission spent much of the year learning about redistricting and figuring out exactly how they’d tackle the task, from drawing up a budget to laying out a plan for citizen engagement. With the arrival of census data on August 12, the commission’s work just got a lot more interesting and contentious.
At two public meetings last week, commissioners made some key decisions on how they’ll move forward. They voted to use Thursday, August 26 as the start date for drawing maps. Legal counsel said pushing the start date back two weeks is acceptable because the data was delivered in an old format.
The commission made several controversial decisions, permitting the consideration of incumbents’ addresses and political data when drawing districts and opting to hire two sets of map-drawers, one representing Democrats and the other representing Republicans. The commission already hired Democratic and Republican legal counsel.
A vote to hire nonpartisan map-drawers from the University of Richmond’s Spatial Analysis Lab failed in an 8-8 party-line vote. Democratic legislators and citizen members supported hiring the nonpartisan group while Republicans opposed.
That move sparked the ire of some observers who had hopes that the new commission would make redistricting a less partisan process.
“You’ve turned it into a political circus,” Phillip Thompson, head of the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization, said during a public comment period at the close of the commission’s August 17 meeting. “You need to kind of hurry up so the Supreme Court can get on with hiring whoever they’re going to hire to draw these maps.”
The commission also voted to establish guidance for acceptable population differences among state legislative districts. Congressional districts must adhere to a strict standard of equality while state legislative districts must be “substantially equal,” allowing for a bit more leeway. Commissioners voted for a population deviation of no more than +/- 2 percent when possible.
In public hearings earlier this summer, citizens voiced concerns that their communities had been sliced up during the last redistricting process and asked that commissioners avoid unnecessarily splitting localities. In response, the commission chose to adopt a guideline stating that towns, cities, and counties “should be preserved to the extent possible by avoiding unnecessary divisions.”
Commissioners are expected to decide at this Monday’s meeting whether to start map drawing from scratch or tweak current district lines.
The commission’s complicated task is governed by provisions in the US Constitution, the Virginia Constitution, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Virginia law. Check out the commission’s “2021 Redistricting Guidelines and Criteria” here, which lay out a range of guideposts, from preserving “communities of interest” to making sure districts are compact and contiguous.
While new legislative maps won’t be ready for this November’s elections, they will determine voting districts in 2022 and beyond. Given the population growth across Central Virginia, the Seventh Congressional District and the 56th House of Delegates District, which include all of Louisa County, and the 17th Senate District, which includes most of the county, all exceed their respective population targets, according to preliminary data not yet adjusted for the reallocation of incarcerated individuals. (Under a new Virginia law, incarcerated individuals must be counted at their home address, if in Virginia, for the purpose of drawing voting districts. The Division of Legislative Services has 30 days to reallocate the incarcerated population). The 22nd Senate District, which includes a slice of eastern Louisa County, falls below its target.
Virginia’s Congressional districts should each include about 784,672 people. The Seventh is home to more than 817,000 people, about 4 percent over the target. The 56th House of Delegates District should ideally include 86,314 residents. Over 94,300 people currently live in the district, more than 9 percent over the target. The 17th Senate District is home to about 231,913 people, about 7.5% percent over the target population of 215,785. The 22nd Senate District falls 7.7 percent below that target with just under 200,000 residents.
As noted above, the redistricting commission will aim for no more than a +/- 2 percent population deviation among state legislative districts. Congressional districts must be essentially equal.
How to weigh in on redistricting
The Virginia Redistricting Commission has already held a series of public hearings to listen to citizens’ ideas and concerns about redistricting. Find out more about upcoming public hearings and other ways to participate here. Every commission meeting is open to the public and live-streamed. Public comment is accepted at meetings and via the commission's website.
For nonpartisan updates following each meeting, check out the League of Women Voters of Virginia’s redistricting blog.
What’s the plan for local redistricting?
While the new commission will tackle map drawing for seats in Richmond and Washington, counties and cities are charged with charting their own course for local redistricting. That means, within the parameters of state and federal law, the Board of Supervisors will determine how the county draws maps for its seven voting districts and the precincts within them. Each voting district is represented by a supervisor and school board member as well as appointees to various county committees.
The Board of Supervisors publicly discussed redistricting at both its January 19 and March 15 meetings but no decisions were made on how to move forward. In January, staff provided a brief presentation in which they attempted to estimate population shifts within the county and how that might impact new district maps.
In March, County Attorney Helen Phillips suggested to the board that the best course of action might be to “tread water” until the state sorted out its map-drawing process. State code requires that precincts are wholly contained in local voting districts as well as larger state legislative and Congressional districts.
Since then, the board hasn’t publicly discussed redistricting. It remains unclear if supervisors will draw their own districts, as they did in 2011, or follow the state’s lead and allow for more direct citizen involvement. Some localities form citizen-led advisory committees to draw maps. Code requires, at minimum, a public hearing before the board can adopt new districts. The timeline for local redistricting is also unknown.
In an email to Engage Louisa, County Administrator Christian Goodwin offered little insight into the county’s plans for redistricting.
“All eyes are on the state's redistricting commission's efforts at this time. Their recommendations to the GA are the next step in the process, and that is a significant factor in the overall timing of the effort,” he wrote. “Our board continues to place a high value on public input, and staff will be working with them to finalize local processes as things move forward.”
Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes told Engage Louisa that the board has had “no real conversations” about redistricting in recent months.
No matter how the board decides to draw new maps, some county residents will inevitably find themselves with new representatives on the Board of Supervisors and School Board.
According to census data, Louisa County’s population grew 13.4 percent over the last decade, from 33,153 in 2010 to 37,596 in 2020. Based on that population, each voting district should ideally include 5,371 residents. According to redistricting guidance from the Division of Legislative Services, local voting districts are allowed a +/- 5 percent deviation in population so each district should include between 5,102 and 5,640 people.
A preliminary look at census data per voting district, prior to the reallocation of incarcerated individuals, shows that the Green Springs District has the highest population with 6,418 residents. The Patrick Henry District includes 5,584 residents, followed by the Louisa District with 5,451 and the Mineral District with 5,403.
The voting districts on the eastern end of the county have smaller populations. The Cuckoo District is home to 4,968 people, the Mountain Road District has 4,888 residents, and the Jackson District has a population of 4,884.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the state and local redistricting process in the weeks and months to come. To learn more about redistricting, check out the Virginia Public Access Project’s user-friendly resources here.
Other news of note:
Harmful Algae Bloom spreads at Lake Anna: The Virginia Department of Health expanded a no swim advisory for parts of Lake Anna last week due to a Harmful Algae Bloom that has plagued the lake over the last four summers.
The August 17 advisory warns residents and visitors to avoid contact with water in the Upper Pamunkey and North Anna branches of the lake until algae concentrations return to acceptable levels. The North Anna and Upper Pamunkey branches stretch across parts of the western end of the lake in Louisa, Orange, and Spotsylvania counties. Click here for the VDH advisory and here for an interactive map. Impacted areas include:
Pamunkey Branch (Rt. 719 and Terry’s Run sites added, advisory extended)
From the upper inundated waters of the Pamunkey arm of the lake downstream to the 612 Bridge. (Does Include Terry’s Run).
North Anna Branch (Lower North Anna site added, advisory extended)
From the upper inundated waters of the North Anna arm of the lake downstream to above the confluence with Pamunkey Branch above Goodwins Point. Does not include “the Splits.”
Tests conducted on August 5 found unsafe levels of cyanobacteria, which can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illness including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. People and pets are advised to avoid activities that may involve ingesting water like swimming, windsurfing, and standup paddle boarding. Follow up monitoring is planned above Route 208 in the second week of September.
Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth, according to the advisory. Most algae species are harmless but some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins. VDH advises people to avoid discolored water or scums that are green or blueish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins.
Harmful algae blooms have prompted no swim advisories in parts of the lake over the last four summers, shutting down swimming at Lake Anna State Park in 2019. The first no swim advisory for this summer was issued in early July. It has twice been extended and expanded. Local and state officials have struggled with how best to address the blooms.
During the 2021 General Assembly session, State Senator Mark Peake pushed through a language-only amendment to the state budget that instructs the Department of Environmental Quality, which tests the lake’s waters, to convene a Harmful Algae Bloom workgroup in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The group is required to submit a report to the Chairs of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee and Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee by September 1 detailing the location, frequency, and severity of Harmful Algae Blooms in Virginia, the factors that lead to their formation and occurrence, and strategies for state agencies to lead or support appropriate mitigation efforts.
Local business leaders updated on broadband project: The Louisa County Chamber of Commerce hosted a broadband forum for local business leaders on Monday, August 16 at the Louisa Arts Center. The forum included opening remarks from Louisa County Administrator Christian Goodwin and a panel discussion featuring Gary Wood, CEO of Firefly, a subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, David Walker, Director of Rural Broadband at Dominion Energy Virginia, and Peter Muhoro, Vice President of Strategy and Technology at Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.
The utilities are partnering with Louisa County to bring fiber broadband to anyone in the locality that wants it by 2025 with Firefly serving as the internet service provider. The panelists provided an overview of the project and answered questions submitted by attendees. To watch the forum, check out the YouTube video below.
Louisa County Public Schools wins grant for two electric buses: Louisa County Public Schools will add two more electric school buses to its fleet thanks to $530,000 in state grant funding,
LCPS was awarded the money through a $20 million grant program administered by the Department of Environmental Quality and aimed at helping transition school buses away from diesel and toward cleaner fuel sources. Governor Ralph Northam announced $10.5 million in grants to 19 school divisions for 83 electric and propane buses in an August 19 press release.
Funding for the program comes from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, part of a $2.7 billion settlement Attorney General Mark Herring announced in 2016. The settlement resolved allegations that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act through the use of emission testing defeat devices designed to cheat on federal emissions tests.
Louisa already has two electric school buses on the roads and a charging station behind Louisa County High School. Dominion Energy provided the buses and infrastructure in 2020 via its Electric School Bus Program. The pilot initiative provided 50 buses to 16 divisions at roughly the same cost as cheaper diesel vehicles. Dominion paid the difference, and owns and manages the charging equipment.
Energix reaches deal to buy solar developer with Cooke Rail Park lease: Energix, an Israeli company with a US subsidiary, recently got a thumbs up from the Louisa County Board of Supervisors to construct and operate a 60-acre solar array off School Bus Road.
Now, the company’s solar stake in the county could grow significantly. Energix announced last week that it reached an agreement to acquire North Carolina Renewable Energy (NCRE) for $33 million.
Two Oaks Solar LLC, a subsidiary of NCRE, signed a ground lease agreement with the Louisa County Industrial Development Authority last year to pursue the development of a solar facility at the 800-acre Cooke Industrial Rail Park across Davis Highway (Route 22) from the Energix site.
At its August 12 meeting, the Louisa County Planning Commission recommended approval of a proffer amendment clearing the way for Two Oaks Solar to request a Conditional Use Permit to construct a solar facility at the rail park. The proffer amendment request will be the subject of a public hearing at the Board of Supervisors’ September 7 meeting.
Economic Developer Director Andy Wade referenced both Two Oaks Solar and NCRE in his remarks to the commission regarding the IDA’s plans for the park. Two Oaks and NCRE share the same corporate address.
Supervisors approved Energix’s School Bus Road facility at their August 2 meeting. Many School Bus Road residents staunchly opposed the project throughout much of the approval process. But, a group of citizens calling themselves the “Residents of School Bus Road Watch Committee” formally withdrew their opposition at the meeting.
Energix agreed to several community proffers to address residents’ concerns including annual soil and water testing, a walking trail, and more than $87,000 in scholarship money for the descendants of School Bus Road residents.
“The operations of NCRE, mainly in Virginia and the rest in neighboring states, are in line with (Energix’s) strategy. This deal significantly strengthens the company’s backlog of projects and is expected to accelerate our operations in the US,” Energix CEO Asa Levinger said in a statement.
Click here for contact information for the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.
Find agendas and minutes from previous meetings as well as archived recordings here.
Click here for contact information for the Louisa County School Board.
Click here for minutes and agendas for school board meetings.