Quiet coming week in county government; Pipeline developer misses board meeting; Workforce housing development won't move forward at Ferncliff; BOS candidates talk business at Chamber forum
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Quiet coming week in county government
According to Louisa County’s website, there are no public meetings scheduled for the coming week.
But, with election season in full swing, county government will still be in the spotlight as Green Springs District residents have a chance to hear from the two candidates vying to represent them on the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.
Thursday, September 30: Spring Creek Candidates’ Forum
The Spring Creek Leadership Council will host a candidates’ forum featuring current Supervisor Bob Babyok and challenger Rachel Jones on Thursday, September 30 in the Celebration Room at Spring Creek’s Main Clubhouse, 109 Clubhouse Way. Doors open at 6:30 pm. A question and answer period will follow from 7:00 to 8:30 pm and the event concludes at 9 pm. Voters will have a chance to talk with the candidates before and after the Q and A.
Spring Creek Leadership Council Chairman Mark Tubbs will moderate the event. Tubbs twice ran for the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors prior to moving to Louisa. For more information about the forum, click here.
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.
Pipeline developer misses scheduled appearance at board meeting
The developer of the proposed Chickahominy pipeline failed to show up for a scheduled presentation at last Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, a move that didn’t sit well with board members. (video, meeting materials)
County officials invited Irfan Ali to the September 20 meeting to share details of Chickahominy Pipeline LLC’s plan to build a 90-mile pipeline that would carry fracked gas across Louisa County en route to the yet-to-be constructed Chickahominy Power Plant in Charles City County.
Ali is also involved with the development of that facility, via Chickahominy Power LLC. The plant is backed by private investors and plans to sell its power on a wholesale market serving numerous states. Both Chickahominy Power LLC and Chickahominy Pipeline LLC are subsidiaries of Balico LLC.
County officials were informed Monday afternoon that Ali wouldn’t attend the meeting.
“My understanding is that he advised that he forgot to put it on his calendar,” County Attorney Helen Phillips told the board.
That revelation irked supervisors, who have been contacted by concerned constituents since the project came to light this summer. In early July, residents began receiving letters from Chickahominy asking for permission to access their property to investigate possible construction of a 24-inch natural gas pipeline.
“I’m disappointed that the representatives of the pipeline didn’t show up tonight to tell us who they are and what they do. I don’t know anything about them…Little to none of the pipeline comes through my district but I’ve already had plenty of people calling me concerned about it,” Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell said, referencing a map outlining the pipeline’s proposed route included in the board’s agenda packet.
According to that document, the pipeline would cut across the heart of the county, starting near James Madison Highway (Route 15) and traveling east along an exiting transmission line right-of-way. It would diverge from the transmission line west of the county reservoir, cross Jefferson Highway (Route 33) at Cuckoo, and travel through eastern Louisa to the north of Jefferson Highway. The pipeline would then travel through Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, and Charles City. The developer told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the pipeline would connect with the Transco pipeline in western Louisa.
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams sounded a similar note as Purcell.
“We have a bigger crowd here than normal. I’m sure some of these folks came to hear about this. We asked (the developer) to come and he forgot it. Out of proper etiquette in mixed company, I won’t tell you the next thoughts that I have,” he said.
Board Chair Bob Babyok said his concerns extend beyond the developer’s failure to appear at Monday’s meeting.
“They went to residents first without ever coming to the county to explain what they were proposing and issuing these letters to our residents. That’s what I took real exception to,” he said.
Phillips told the board that, in a filing earlier this month, Chickahominy asked the State Corporation Commission to rule that its pipeline doesn't require SCC approval. The filing argued that the project isn’t subject to the Virginia Utility Facilities Act because Chickahominy isn’t a public utility and doesn’t plan to sell gas to two or more customers.
Impacted localities and interested parties were originally given until September 24 to respond to the petition but Phillips said the deadline had been extended until Oct. 8, adding that she hopes the developer will attend the board’s next meeting on October 4.
On Friday, Ali told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he’s “trying to be as transparent and forthcoming as I can be” and missing the Louisa meeting was merely a scheduling oversight.
He reiterated his previous claim that his company doesn’t plan to use eminent domain, telling the paper that if property owners don’t want to participate, “we’ll go in a different direction.” When the public learned of the project in July, Ali said that building the pipeline would only require routine environmental permits.
According to the Times-Dispatch, officials in other impacted localities are also struggling to get information from the developer. Hanover County Administrator John Budesky told his Board of Supervisors Wednesday night that officials had repeatedly reached out to Chickahominy with little response.
Louisa supervisors made no final determination on exactly how they’ll respond to Chickahominy’s filing but several sounded eager to urge the SCC to keep the project under its jurisdiction. Babyok encouraged citizens to reach out to supervisors and attend the October 4 meeting to weigh in on the project.
Supervisors allowed for a second public comment period on Monday to accommodate people who showed up to hear from the developer. Two residents spoke.
Steve Lucas, who owns property along Louisa Road that could be impacted, expressed concern about what would happen to the pipeline in the future, noting that Virginia is moving to phase out fossil fuel power plants by 2050.
“We are going to have this pipeline through Louisa County, if it’s built, that, hopefully before I die, will be heading for a generation plant that has been shut down,” he said. “And then what happens to that pipeline? What are we going to hand down to my daughter when she inherits our farm?”
Louisa County is already home to some natural gas infrastructure: the federally-regulated Transco and Columbia gas pipelines.
Aaron Thompson, a representative from TC Energy attended Monday’s meeting to brief the board on upgrades to its Boswell’s Tavern compressor station off Waldrop Road, which serves the Columbia line. He told supervisors that the company plans to add an electric motor at the station to power it with electricity from the grid instead of natural gas. The shift will allow for increased capacity along the pipeline.
Williams asked Thompson if that increased capacity would service Chickahominy. Thompson said that TC Energy is not affiliated with the Chickahominy project.
Workforce housing development won’t move forward at Ferncliff
A workforce housing development that Louisa County hoped to build in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville on county-owned land at Ferncliff won't move forward at that location, Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes said at Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
The county had selected a 13.3-acre parcel (tax map parcel 67-2-D) near the corner of Mallory Road (Route 626) and Three Notch Road (Route 250) for the development of Ferncliff Place, a mixed income community that would’ve featured some 80 units, 25 of which were set aside as affordable housing. At the request of the board, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger secured $775,000 in federal funding in a House of Representatives appropriations package to support the project. The package cleared the House in July and has moved to the Senate for consideration.
Barnes said Monday night that the affordable housing committee formed at the board’s previous meeting, tasked with exploring locations for such development, decided against moving forward at Ferncliff. He said the committee would continue to look for a “more suitable” site.
Cuckoo District Supervisor Willie Gentry, who serves alongside Barnes on the committee, added that they hope to find a site closer to the Town of Louisa “where we have the infrastructure and services.”
The Ferncliff location met significant resistance from neighbors who argued it’s ill-suited for dense development. Several raised concerns about the destruction of wetlands, increased traffic, and public safety.
Committee members didn’t say when they would provide another update on their search but Gentry said he expects it to be a “slow process.” It’s possible that Ferncliff Place’s federal earmark, which still must pass the Senate, could be transferred to another site. A source working on the project said that option is being discussed.
Affordable housing is a serious concern across central Virginia. A recent report by the Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership indicated that about 10 percent of households in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District (Louisa, Fluvanna, Greene, Albemarle, Nelson, and Charlottesville) are severely cost-burdened, meaning they spend over 50 percent of their income on housing. In Louisa, nearly 12 percent of households are either cost-burdened, spending over 30 percent of their income on housing, or severely cost-burdened.
BOS roundup: more news and notes from the September 20 meeting
More news and notes from the September 20 Board of Supervisors meeting:
Board approves first solar committee recommendation: A newly-formed committee charged with recommending policies and ordinances that could guide utility-scale solar development in the county had its first policy suggestion approved Monday night.
Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes and Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams, who make up the committee, recommended that the board make clear its commitment to protect properties near solar facilities that could be impacted by stormwater runoff.
“We recommend against the future approval of any utility-scale solar development that does not demonstrate a significant commitment to thoughtful development and enhanced protection for downstream lands and resources,” Barnes said, reading a statement from the committee.
Several board members have criticized the Department of Environmental Quality’s efforts to regulate and mitigate runoff at Dominion’s Belcher solar facility off Waldrop Church Road and called for the county to beef up its own oversight of solar projects.
The board approved the recommendation in a 6-0-1 vote. Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell abstained, citing a Conditional Use Permit application that Aura Power recently filed with the county to develop a utility-scale solar facility on a 445-acre parcel (tmp 43-4) owned by him and his father, Charles. The Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on that application at its October 14 meeting.
Jackson District Supervisor Toni Williams said he supported the committee’s statement but thought it needed more teeth. He also wondered how the board could address issues that might arise with projects already approved but not yet constructed.
Supervisors have green-lighted five utility-scale solar projects to date. Only two are built and providing power.
Adams said that the committee’s recommendation is a “good first step” that “begins to put an expectation on downstream accountability” and gives the county some time to work on its solar ordinances. He added that the committee could present more extensive recommendations by the board’s first December meeting.
Adams noted that he supports placing a cap on utility-scale solar development and suggested that the county could hire a third-party engineering firm, paid for by applicants, to review solar projects and act as a “second set of eyes.”
“It’s painfully obvious to me that DEQ is not representing the citizens of Louisa County and there are seven people that are elected to represent the citizens of Louisa County,” he said.
Barnes said that the committee would likely come up with a set of best management practices and draw ideas from people who have been impacted by the Belcher project.
It’s unclear how the county can strengthen regulations on solar projects that have already been approved via the CUP process but not yet constructed.
Board moves for public hearing regarding truck traffic on Chopping and Chalklevel Roads: Supervisors directed staff to prepare for and advertise a public hearing regarding restricting through truck traffic on Chopping and Chalklevel Roads (Routes 623 and 625).
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams said at the board’s May 17 meeting that he regularly gets calls from constituents about tractor trailers using Chopping Road as a cut-through from Interstate 95 to Interstate 64. He asked staff to explore how the county could address the issue.
VDOT’s Alan Saunders, on hand for Monday night’s meeting to provide the agency’s quarterly report, laid out the state’s process for restricting through truck traffic on qualifying highways and provided data about traffic on Chopping Road. He noted that some 4,100 vehicles per day travel the road and about two and half percent of those are tractor trailers.
Localities can request that VDOT bar through truck traffic on some roads but must propose a suitable alternative route, hold a public hearing, and meet other requirements, Saunders explained. Requests are subject to state approval.
Jackson District Supervisor Toni Williams said the board needed to address through trucks on Chopping and Chalklevel Roads in tandem because barring them from the former would just push them to the latter.
Board members briefly discussed potential alternative routes including through the Town of Mineral, where trucks currently wouldn’t be able to turn right at the stoplight. Adams resurrected the idea of a short Mineral bypass beginning near Mineral Baptist Church and covering about a half mile, which officials considered a number of years ago. He also suggested that trucks could travel from Route 522 north to Route 20 or Route 29.
“I really don’t care if Winn Dixie has to add 10 more miles to (its truck’s) route. I’m responsible and answerable to the people who live along that road and in Louisa County. It’s a major, major issue,” Adams said.
Cuckoo District Supervisor Willie Gentry, a former VDOT administrator, said that there are conceptual plans from the past, like the bypass mentioned by Adams, that the board should consider. Adams acknowledged that securing funding for new road construction would be a challenge.
Gentry recommended that the board move to hold a public hearing, an initial step in the process to bar through trucks. The board unanimously approved the suggestion, though settling on an alternative route will likely require much more discussion.
Supervisors approve legislative priorities ahead of meeting with state delegation: The board unanimously approved its legislative priorities for the 2022 General Assembly session ahead of its October 4 meeting with Sens. Bryce Reeves and Mark Peake, and Delegate John McGuire.
The county’s priorities include:
Broadband: Earlier this year, county officials announced plans to deliver fiber internet access to everyone in Louisa County who wants it by 2025 via a partnership with Firefly Broadband, a subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and Dominion Energy.
The partnership was made possible, in part, by changes in Virginia law that allow electric cooperatives to provide internet access using existing easements outside of their service area. The initiative could get a significant funding assist from Richmond as well via a grant from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative.
According to its adopted priorities, the county “supports state (and federal) efforts to offset further funding requirements and to bolster cooperative efforts (among utility providers and other entities) and concerns such as easement usage associated with deployment.”
Overtime requirements: As an amended Virginia Overtime Wage Act went into effect in July, Louisa County responded by prohibiting county employees from volunteering for their employer, a move that particularly impacts Fire and EMS staff. Some FEMS employees volunteered at local stations when they weren’t on paid duty.
The county argues the prohibition is necessary because the law “amends the definition of employee, essentially including in that definition personnel who volunteer to perform the same type of services as they perform on a paid basis for a political subdivision.” Officials said the amendments made the county potentially liable for up to three years of back overtime pay.
Supervisors are requesting that the General Assembly allow for the use of notarized waivers, which state that staffers are willing to provide volunteer services and waive any associated compensation.
Compensation Board/related state funding flexibility: When the state provides salary increases and bonuses to local agencies that employ both state-supported and non-state supported staff, like the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office, it only provides funding for state-supported positions and, sometimes, compels localities to provide money for the rest.
The county requests that local governments “have the choice (and therefore bear the responsibility for their decision) to either match the state amount for all positions or to spread state funding across all positions.”
Census delays/election funding: Delays in the delivery of census data upended Virginia’s redistricting process, leaving the Commonwealth and localities no choice but to use current districts for 2021 elections.
Some election experts speculate that Virginia could be compelled to hold House of Delegates and local elections again in 2022 on new maps, drawn from the latest census data.
The county requests that the state bear its fair share of funding for additional elections and that local officials elected in 2021 be allowed to serve out their terms.
Freshwater Harmful Algae Blooms: Harmful Algae Blooms have plagued the western end of Lake Anna over the last four summers. Currently, parts of the lake are under a no-swim advisory due to the blooms.
Last session, Senator Mark Peake passed a language-only amendment to the state budget directing several state agencies to complete a study on the prevalence of freshwater Harmful Algae Blooms in Virginia, their causes, and how the state might help mitigate their occurrence.
The county expresses gratitude for the study, which was released in draft form earlier this month, and “looks forward to the continuation of efforts stemming from the study which will aid in the mitigation of future blooms.”
Equal revenue authority: The board is again asking the General Assembly to grant counties the same revenue generating authority as cities. The legislature has made some progress in that area in recent sessions including permitting counties to enact a local cigarette tax.
Jail costs: The county requests an increase in jail per diem funding to levels that better represent the costs of housing state inmates in regional jails. It also requests that the funding is adjusted for inflation in the future so that payments keep pace with rising costs.
Supervisors okay bonuses for LCSO: The board held a public hearing, required by state code, and unanimously approved bonuses for sworn deputies employed by the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office.
During a special session in early August, the General Assembly appropriated over $3 billion in federal pandemic relief aid, courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act. The appropriations included $3,000 bonuses for state-supported sworn officers of sheriff's departments and regional jails.
LCSO employs both state-supported and non-state supported sworn officers. The county will pay bonuses to every sworn deputy employed by the office as of October 1. In addition, the board amended the resolution presented at the meeting to add $1,500 bonuses for part-time deputies, many of whom staff Louisa’s courts. The bonuses must be paid on or before November 30.
The county will draw $83,967 from state funds to cover the bonuses and nearly $200,000 from county funds. County Administrator Christian Goodwin indicated that the county’s share would come from American Rescue Plan Act funds, as stated in the original resolution, unless supervisors decide otherwise.
Board appropriates grant funding: The board appropriated millions of dollars in state and federal grant funding Monday night to Louisa County Public Schools, Louisa Fire and EMS, and the Shannon Hill Regional Business Park.
Louisa County was awarded $786,333 from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Go Virginia grant program for onsite utility design work and a Phase 1 Cultural Resource Survey at the Shannon Hill Regional Business Park. The county is providing a $396,000 local match from the Utility Capital Project fund.
The county was also awarded a $752,196 grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation for road improvement design to Shannon Hill Road and a new internal business park road. The state portion of the grant is $626,098 and the local match is $126,098, with the local portion coming from the County Transportation Investment Pool.
Louisa County Public Schools will receive $2,467,500 in state grant funding to address unfinished learning and extended school/year-round school initiatives, per the grant program.
The division also received $1,601,823 in additional funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program.
Superintendent Doug Straley told the board that the school division is using the funds to implement a two-year plan to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
LCPS received $530,000 from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Clean School Bus program for the purchase of two electric school buses. The grant covers the difference in cost between diesel buses and the more expensive electric buses.
The Louisa County Department of Fire and Emergency Services received two grants from FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. One grant totals $494,875.84 ($128,593.96 first year and $122,093.96 for the following three years) for the period of November 25, 2021 to November 24, 2025 and covers the recruitment and retention of volunteers. The second grant totals $1,897,410 ($632,470 per year) for the period of February 27, 2022 to February 26, 2025 and covers the hiring of 10 Fire/EMS staffers.
BOS candidates talk business at Chamber forum
Candidates vying for seats on the Board of Supervisors this November attended the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum Wednesday night, sharing their views on economic and residential development and how to best foster an environment friendly to businesses big and small.
Of the four seats up for grabs on the board, only the Green Springs and Patrick Henry Districts feature contested races. Though the forum provided little room for direct interaction between opposing candidates, it did highlight a few prominent issues in both contests.
The Green Springs race: Moderator Rachel Keller, from WRIC News, kicked off the forum by asking Green Springs District Supervisor Bob Babyok and challenger Rachel Jones how many rooftops it would take to bring a high-end grocery store to Zion Crossroads.
Babyok said that there’s no “magic number,” noting that every company has its own formula for making such decisions.
Since he knocked off incumbent Richard Havasy to win a seat on the board in 2017, Babyok has pushed to bring a new supermarket and other amenities to Zion. And he’s consistently supported projects that add rooftops in the area.
In a recent appearance on “Real Talk with Keith Smith and Jerry Miller,” he touted two approved but yet-to-be constructed developments that will bring hundreds of new housing units. In 2019, supervisors approved Zion Town Center, expected to include about 600 apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes, and Crossing Pointe, which will feature over 300 townhouses and multi-family homes.
Jones took a different tack in answering the question. She said, based on her research, that the significant residential growth it could take to attract a high-end grocer would clog roadways, adding that VDOT doesn’t have the funds to upgrade transportation infrastructure in the area beyond basic safety improvements.
“I will do everything I can to bring a grocery store here and look outside the box without having to add the cost increase from rooftops and population in a ten-mile radius for one grocery store,” she said. “That will cause massive gridlock. I live three miles from Zion Crossroads and when you add that many cars, how long would it take you to get to that one grocery store?”
During an appearance at the Louisa County Agricultural Fair in late July, Jones said that growth is both important and inevitable but emphasized the need to properly manage it.
“How is our infrastructure going to look, how are our schools going to look if we put 2,000 new homes at Zion Crossroads,” she said.
Both Jones and Babyok will appear at a candidates’ forum in Spring Creek on Thursday, September 30 (see above) where their vision for the county’s future residential and commercial growth will likely be a hot topic.
The Patrick Henry race: Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes and challenger William Woody found some common ground Wednesday night as both called for limiting government regulations on small businesses and keeping taxes low.
In the forum’s final question, Keller asked each candidate what’s the single most important thing the Commonwealth and the county can do to help local businesses thrive.
Barnes focused on the need to cut burdensome regulations and regressive taxes.
“There’s an old gospel song that goes ‘if you can’t help me, please don’t stop me. Get on out of my way’ and that’s pretty much how I feel about government,” he said.
He added that he’d like to see the state address the gas and grocery tax, which he described as “pet peeves.”
“The food tax affects the poor man and poor woman who are trying to put food on the table and the gas tax prevents them from going to work so they can put food on the table,” he said.
Woody said that state government “needs to stop tearing down the things that make Virginia great,” arguing that the state’s business-friendly climate is deteriorating.
“We are taxing people right out of Virginia,” he said.
On the local level, he urged the county to cut red tape and bureaucratic hurdles.
“We need to make any interaction with a county office as quick and easy and seamless as possible,” he said.
Woody would like to see the county tighten regulations on large solar developments. Earlier in the forum, he criticized the county for its handling of the Belcher solar facility, where stormwater runoff has caused significant damage to downstream farms, and reiterated his call for a moratorium on utility-scale solar projects.
“We have an environmental disaster at the Belcher project,” he said. “It’s not being taken into consideration fast enough or seriously enough.”
Barnes and Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams are currently exploring ways to strengthen the county’s solar ordinances and policies with a particular emphasis on protecting downstream land (see above).
Barnes didn’t directly respond to Woody during the forum.
“I’m going to respect the wishes of the Chamber but it’s hard for me to not get into a debate when I’m hearing some of these miscues,” he said.
Though they are running unopposed, Adams and Mountain Road District Supervisor Tommy Barlow also participated in the event, echoing familiar themes about cutting regulations and minimizing taxes.
Neither candidate vying for the 56th District House of Delegates seat participated in the event. Democrat Blakely Lockhart originally planned to attend but was unable. She instead sent a representative from her campaign. Chamber Vice Chair Sarah Marshall said the group plans to hold a virtual Q and A with Lockhart. Republican incumbent John McGuire did not agree to participate in the forum.
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