This week in county government; BOS gets little new info on proposed pipeline; Supes discuss legislative priorities with state delegation; PC to consider solar facility near Town of Mineral
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.
This week in county government: public meetings, Oct. 11-16
Wednesday, October 13
James River Water Authority, Morris Room, Fluvanna County Administration Building, 132 Main Street, Palmyra, 9 am. (agenda packet)
Louisa County Electoral Board, Administrative Conference Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 10 am. At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available. Listen to the meeting by calling 540-967-3405. If you have questions about the meeting, call the Registrar’s Office at 540-967-3427.
Louisa County Water Authority, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 6 pm. At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available.
Thursday, October 14
Louisa County Planning Commission long-range planning work session, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 6 pm. (agenda packet, livestream) Planners will hold a work session to discuss how to address towing yards is county Land Use Regulations. The term “towing yard” is currently undefined.
Louisa County Planning Commission, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 7 pm. (agenda packet, livestream) Planners will hold a public hearing to consider Aura Power’s application for a Conditional Use Permit to construct an up to 94 MW solar array on 224 acres (maximum) of a 448.9-acre parcel (tmp 43-4) accessed by Old County Road (Route 746). See below for more information.
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.
BOS gets little new info on proposed pipeline
A brief presentation about the proposed Chickahominy pipeline at last Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting yielded little new insight into the controversial project and prompted one board member to say he was insulted. (meeting materials, video)
Charles “Chuck” Akers, a project manager with Encompass Energy Services, spoke to the board on behalf of Chickahominy Pipeline LLC, the company that hopes to build a roughly 83-mile pipeline to channel fracked gas from an existing pipeline in western Louisa County to a yet-to-be constructed power plant in Charles City County.
Akers said that his company is contracted by Chickahominy to follow up on letters asking affected landowners for access to their property to investigate possible construction of the pipeline. He said that he and another land agent are visiting property owners, seeking their permission to conduct initial survey work to determine if the pipeline’s proposed path is feasible.
Akers’ presentation provided little new information about the project, which has been shrouded in mystery since it first came to light in early July. The pipeline would impact five central Virginia counties: Louisa; Hanover; Henrico; New Kent; and Charles City. And officials in several have been both perplexed and frustrated by the scant details available about the project.
Akers told the board that the pipeline would connect with the Transco pipeline near Charlottesville and traverse nearly 400 parcels, including 180 in Louisa, en route to the proposed Chickahominy Power Plant in Charles City. According to the presentation, the project “hopes to parallel existing utility lines for 40 percent of the route.”
Akers showed a series of slides with broad talking points about the pipeline and power plant it would serve. He made clear that he is merely a contract employee with no involvement in the pipeline’s actual construction or operation.
Board members were already frustrated with the pipeline and power plant’s lead developer, Irfan Ali, after he failed to show up for their September 20 meeting. Akers’ presentation appeared to only exacerbate that frustration.
“It looks like someone gave you a box of rocks and said, ‘go see those boys and leave’…it kinda insults me as a board member and I’m probably one of the mildest guys you’ll meet,” Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes told Akers.
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams echoed Barnes.
“You must’ve drawn the short straw for them to send you here tonight. I’ve been in business for 42 years and sat on this board for four. That’s the worst presentation that I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said, noting that the developer’s behavior was a textbook example of bad public relations.
Adams zeroed in on one slide that stated the pipeline would connect with Transco’s existing infrastructure near Charlottesville. He asked Akers if he knew exactly where the pipeline would begin.
Akers responded that the pipeline would start “near Charlottesville” not in Louisa. According to a map of the pipeline’s proposed route, provided by Encompass, it would begin near James Madison Highway (Route 15) in western Louisa. The Transco pipeline travels through that area.
Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell suggested that both the board and landowners deserve answers from Chickahominy.
“Please take back to your employer that if they have any designs to do business in Louisa County, they better understand that this is not acceptable. It’s not just that it’s not acceptable to this board. It’s not acceptable to our people,” he said. “They’ve got to be better informed about who you are, where you are from, what your plans are.”
Nine people, including seven Louisa County residents, registered their concerns about the proposed pipeline during the board’s public comment period. In an email to supervisors, Mountain Road District resident Mary Kranz worried that Louisa could become a “dumping ground” for projects that folks in more densely populated areas don’t want.
“Is Louisa County to be a dumping ground for every transmission line and pipeline that they don’t want in a high-density location? Louisa County has been my home for 50 years and I’ve been watching as pressures from increasing population around us squeeze us. We need to stand up and say no to harmful things like this,” she wrote, adding, “this company’s treatment of this board has made it abundantly clear that you are no more than a bug on their windshield.”
On a motion by Adams, the board directed County Attorney Helen Phillips to relay local residents’ concerns to the State Corporation Commission. In a filing in early September, Chickahominy Pipeline LLC asked the SCC to rule that its project doesn't require commission approval because it isn’t a public utility, as defined by the Virginia Utility Facilities Act, and won’t sell gas to two or more customers.
The commission docketed Chickahominy’s case and gave impacted localities and other interested parties until October 8 to respond to the filing. Louisa County filed an initial Notice of Participation on September 27, requesting that the SCC reject Chickahominy’s legal arguments. Louisa followed up with two more filings on Friday afternoon, one of which documents the concerns shared at Monday’s meeting.
Earlier on Friday, SCC staff issued a response to Chickahominy’s request. The response says that the pipeline should fall under the SCC’s regulatory authority and that a record must be developed to show that Virginia Natural Gas, a public utility with exclusive rights to serve the area, isn’t able to meet Chickahominy Power Plant’s needs. Chickahominy Pipeline LLC agues that obtaining adequate gas supply from VNG isn’t feasible, necessitating the pipeline’s construction.
Both Chickahominy Power LLC, the plant’s developer, and Chickahominy Pipeline LLC, the pipeline’s developer, are subsidiaries of Balico LLC. Chickahominy’s power plant, already approved by state regulators, plans to sell its energy on a large market serving numerous states.
“(Chickahominy Power LLC's) attempt to subvert the Utility Facilities Act and escape regulation by creating a shell corporation to own its public utility facilities, does not mean that the facilities are not used in the sale of natural gas. To proceed with the proposed Pipeline, Chickahominy (Pipeline LLC) must seek a CPCN (Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity) from the Commission and the record must be developed on whether VNG is unable to meet its legal duty to provide natural gas to the customers in its certificated service territory,” staff wrote.
The staff response is only a recommendation. The commission itself will make the final ruling.
Note: Engage Louisa aims to engage folks in local government by reporting on county meetings. I try to be fair and informative, encouraging folks to think about issues but not telling readers what to think. There are occasionally issues that I feel compelled to speak up on at these meetings. At last Monday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, I shared my concerns about the proposed Chickahominy Pipeline. -Tammy
BOS roundup: other news and notes from the Oct. 4 meeting
More news and notes from supervisors’ Oct. 4 meeting:
New rules for filing personal property tax forms: The board held a public hearing and unanimously approved an amendment to county code that eliminates the filing of annual personal property tax forms on motor vehicles, trailers, and boats if there has been no change on these items since a previous form was filed.
Any changes in situs and/or ownership on motor vehicles, trailers, and boats should be reported to the Commissioner of the Revenue within 30 days of the change, according to the ordinance, via a form available online and from the commissioner’s office.
Commissioner of the Revenue Stacey Fletcher told the board that her office currently mails personal property tax forms, including forms for reporting high mileage vehicles, early each year. Under the new ordinance, her office would no longer send those forms to taxpayers. Eliminating the mailings would save the county about $20,000 a year in printing and postage costs, Fletcher said.
Ending the mailings caused some concern among board members, who worried residents would have to remember to report changes to the commissioner’s office on their own.
Fletcher noted that her office would do outreach to let folks know about the new policy. She also said her staff downloads, on a monthly basis, DMV records on motor vehicles and trailers to help ensure accurate personal property tax records.
The board agreed to approve the change on a phased in basis so county residents have time to adjust to the new procedure.
Approval of changes to tax relief sliding scale: At the request of Commissioner of the Revenue Stacey Fletcher, the board held a public hearing and unanimously approved an amendment to county code that adjusts the sliding scale that determines the amount of real estate tax relief available to some elderly (65 and over) and totally disabled residents.
After supervisors raised concerns about elderly residents’ ability to cover their rising tax bills earlier this year, the board expanded its tax relief policy, which hadn’t been updated since 2009. They unanimously agreed to raise the financial net worth cap for eligibility from $100,000 to $200,000, excluding the dwelling and ten acres, and the cap on allowable tax relief from $1,000 to $2,000. The board decided to leave the annual income cap at $40,000.
Fletcher pointed out that when the board increased the net worth cap, the tax relief scale was not updated so the extra $100,000 of net worth was added to the end. She asked the board to adjust the net worth across the scale. See below for the scale approved at Monday night’s meeting (in yellow) and how it compares to the previous scale.
Board approves funding for Freedom of Choice marker: Louisa County High School will be home to a new historic marker thanks to an oral history program initiated by the Louisa County Historical Society.
Vernon Fleming, a society board member, told supervisors that the organization received grant funding for several projects focused on local African American history. One initiative, “The Freedom of Choice Remembrance Project” sought to “capture the decisions that led to the partial integration of Louisa County High School in 1965. The objective is to educate people on the events that happened prior to and during that period,” Fleming explained.
Volunteers interviewed 11 of the 13 African American students who first de-segregated the high school, some of their white classmates as well as a teacher. Fleming, one of the 13 students to integrate the school, noted that Mountain Road District Supervisor Tommy Barlow, an LCHS eighth grader in 1965, was one of the white students interviewed for the project.
The society decided to commemorate LCHS’s partial integration and the decisions that surrounded it with a local marker. They received permission from school officials to place the marker in front of the high school, adjacent to Route 22.
“The objective is not to rewrite history but to shine a light on something that was significant in the county and needs to be known by both students and adults alike,” Fleming said.
The marker lists the names of the 13 students who de-segregated the school and reads, in part, “Despite state and local government efforts to deny access to equal education through such measures as Massive Resistance and “Separate but Equal,” these students, with the leadership and support of their parents, community members and the NAACP, courageously sought and obtained the equal education deserved by all children.”
On a motion by Barlow, the board unanimously approved funding for the marker, which is expected to cost just over $3,000. The county will cover half the cost. The Louisa County Sheriff's Office Foundation agreed to pay the rest. The society hopes to erect the marker in February 2022.
Posthumously honoring Dr. John Thomasson: In February, the General Assembly passed a memorial resolution celebrating the life of Dr. John Thomasson, the first African American elected to public office in Louisa County and a prominent local mortician. At Monday’s meeting, Senator Bryce Reeves presented the resolution to Thomasson’s wife, Christine.
The resolution notes that Thomasson, who died on July 22, 2020, founded Thomasson’s Funeral Service in Louisa in 1951 and operated the business for 53 years. In 1979, he won a seat on the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, becoming the first African American elected to public office in the county. After losing his seat in 1981, he was re-elected in 1985 and, in total, served on the board for 6 years, representing the Patrick Henry District.
LCPS receives VaCo award for Wireless on Wheels project: Louisa County Public Schools recently earned accolades from the Virginia Association of Counties for its efforts to provide accessible internet to students via its Wireless on Wheels program.
At last Monday’s meeting, a VaCo representative presented LCPS Superintendent Doug Straley with a 2021 Achievement Award for the W.O.W program.
As LCPS sought to get students online to access remote learning during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the division’s Technology department and Career and Technical Services program partnered to build and deploy a fleet of solar-powered Wi-Fi hotspots around the county. The hotspots are free and available to anyone in the community.
Straley told the board that CTE students continue to construct the hotspots as part of their hands-on learning and he’s eager to set up more across the county.
Supes discuss legislative priorities with state delegation, focus on Harmful Algae Blooms
Supervisors met with Louisa County’s three representatives in the General Assembly, Sens. Bryce Reeves and Mark Peake and Delegate John McGuire, prior to last Monday’s regular board meeting to discuss the county’s legislative priorities ahead of the 2022 General Assembly session. (video)
Much of the conversation focused on how to gain state support to address Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB), which have plagued the western end of Lake Anna over the last several years.
The blooms, comprised of toxin-producing cyanobacteria that can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses when ingested, prompted the Virginia Department of Health to issue no swim advisories for the lake’s North Anna and Upper Pamunkey branches during each of the last four summers. In 2019, an HAB advisory shut down swimming at Lake Anna State Park’s main beach for several weeks.
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams told legislators that the blooms are a serious issue with ramifications far beyond the lake’s shores.
“There is a tremendous economic engine at Lake Anna for Louisa County, both from property taxes from the homes that are built at Lake Anna to tourist business. The economic impact of the HAB problem at the lake—I don’t use this word very often—has the potential to be catastrophic, not only to our residents and visitors but to both county governments that have a lot of tax revenue on it,” Adams said, referring to Louisa and Spotsylvania counties.
In an effort to draw attention to the blooms, Peake passed a language-only amendment to the state budget during the General Assembly’s last regular session, which instructed the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to convene a Harmful Algae Bloom workgroup to study the issue.
The workgroup released a draft report in September detailing the location, frequency, and severity of HAB in Virginia, some factors that may lead to their formation and occurrence, and possible strategies for state agencies to support appropriate mitigation efforts.
The report notes that neither DEQ, which conducts HAB testing in cooperation with the state’s HAB Taskforce, nor the Virginia Department of Health, which issues HAB advisories, have the resources necessary to adequately monitor, test, and respond to freshwater Harmful Algae Blooms.
DEQ has “has no budget or staff resources to perform the additional monitoring needed to support a consistent schedule of freshwater HAB response monitoring necessary to determine causal factors and protect human health. VDH does not receive any funding to support the 100,000 miles of freshwater rivers and streams and 248 publicly owned lakes, all designated to support recreational uses throughout the state. Given the scope and complexity of HAB occurrences in Virginia, the timeline associated with this report was not sufficient to determine exact causal factors contributing to specific HAB events,” the report states.
Legislative efforts to secure resources to address freshwater blooms have, so far, been unsuccessful. In 2020, Peake submitted a $500,000 budget amendment to increase funding for freshwater Harmful Algae Bloom testing. The limited funding currently available is drawn from the state’s marine water testing program. That same year, McGuire introduced a $500,000 budget amendment to expand testing, study the blooms, and devise a strategy to eliminate them. Neither request was included in the state budget.
“We really need to work together to figure out how to tailor a piece of legislation that will get DEQ and VDH the resources they need to monitor this more effectively and to learn more about causes,” County Administrator Christian Goodwin told legislators at Monday afternoon’s meeting.
Peake indicated that the study was a first step to draw attention to the issue and the next task is to acquire funding via a budget amendment. County officials and legislators strategized on how to get such an amendment passed.
Adams noted that many people who own second homes at the lake reside in northern Virginia. He suggested that legislators reach out to their colleagues in that part of the state and let them know that HAB at Lake Anna impacts their constituents.
Both Peake and his legislative aide, George Goodwin, said the delegation has reached out to members of the House and Senate “money committees,” a number of whom represent parts of northern Virginia, to discuss the issue. Goodwin suggested that local officials figure out a way to mobilize these legislators’ constituents.
“I would also suggest that you consider talking with the other localities, that being Spotsy and Orange, about figuring out some way to get a message out to homeowners, renters, and day-trippers and have them talk to their representatives in Northern Virginia,” he said. “I think all of you will agree constituents going to them carries a lot more weight than a fellow representative.”
Reeves encouraged local officials to ask the Virginia Association of Counties to make addressing the blooms one of the organization’s legislative priorities. He echoed others in noting that the issue isn’t just a problem for Lousia and Spotsylvania residents. Christian Goodwin pointed out that DEQ’s report illustrates that freshwater Harmful Algae Blooms impact other freshwater resources across the state.
“I’m happy to try to amplify this outside the Lake Anna area. It’s certainly beyond that on a statewide basis, not just people visiting Lake Anna from other parts of the state. But, Lake Anna is not the only freshwater resource in the state that is impacted by this situation,” he said.
The board also touched on other legislative priorities including limiting unfunded mandates passed on from Richmond, addressing issues with the Virginia Overtime Wage Act, and securing additional money for local elections if supervisors and members of the House of Delegates are forced to run again next year due to delays in redistricting. Check out the board’s legislative priorities here. Read Engage Louisa’s coverage of their adoption at the board’s September 20 meeting here.
PC to consider solar facility near Town of Mineral
As the Board of Supervisors ponder new ordinances and policies that could shape the future of utility-scale solar development in the Louisa County, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Thursday night to consider a Conditional Use Permit for what could be the county’s sixth large-scale solar site.
Aura Power Development LLC is requesting a CUP to construct and operate an up to 94 MW solar project on a 448.9-acre parcel near the Town of Mineral. The property (tax map parcel 43-4) is owned by Charles Purcell and his son, Louisa District Supervisor Eric Purcell, via Mine and Hemmer LLC.
The site is located east of Chopping Road (Route 623) behind Hidden Farms Estates, west of Zachary Taylor Highway (Route 522), and north of the CSX railroad line in the Mineral Voting District. Much of the property is zoned agricultural (A-2) but portions fall into residential (R-2) and commercial (C-2) zoning. The property is accessed by Old County Road (Route 746).
According to the land use application, the solar array and ancillary equipment would cover a maximum of 224 acres. The remainder of the property would “be used for setbacks, vegetative buffers, pollinator plantings, creeks, streams, wetland protection areas, erosion and sediment control measures, stormwater management, roads, and construction staging areas.”
The facility, which is expected to operate for 35 to 50 years, would connect to Dominion’s electric grid via a 230 kV transmission line that traverses the property. If approved, construction is expected to begin in 2023.
Aura already has one solar facility approved in the county: a yet-to be constructed up to 244 MW array on portions of a roughly 1400-tract owned by the Purcells. The Board of Supervisors okayed that project, which stretches from just south of Davis Highway (Route 22) to the county’s reservoir, last August in a 6-0 vote. Purcell recused himself from considering the CUP request.
Aura’s second application comes as utility-scale solar development faces an uncertain future in the county. Significant stormwater runoff at Dominion’s Belcher Solar Facility off Waldrop Church Road has caused damage to nearby farms and sparked concern among board members. Some supervisors are now advocating for new regulations on large-scale solar sites.
At the board’s September 7 meeting, Chair Bob Babyok formed a committee, comprised of Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams and Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes, to recommend regulations and practices that could guide solar development going forward. At the board’s September 20 meeting, the committee recommended and the board approved a policy aimed a protecting nearby land.
“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 at the meeting, reading a statement from the committee.
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 breathing room as they craft new ordinances and policies. He added that the committee could present more extensive recommendations by the board’s first December meeting, noting that he supports a cap on large-scale solar development.
Though Aura is the only developer with an active CUP application for a utility-scale solar project, supervisors recently approved a proffer amendment that could open the door for a large solar array at the 800-acre Cooke Industrial Rail Park. The Louisa County Industrial Development Authority, which owns the park, signed a ground lease agreement with Two Oaks Solar LLC, giving the company five and a half years to conduct due diligence for the potential development of a solar facility.
Louisa County has approved five utility-scale solar sites to date, three of which are located between the towns of Louisa and Mineral. Only two projects, Dominion’s Belcher and White House facilities, have been constructed.
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