This week in county government; Busy agenda for year's final BOS meeting; Broadband funds to benefit Louisa; Louisa residents voice concerns about proposed redistricting maps
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, Dec. 20 through Dec. 25
Monday, Dec. 20
Louisa County Board of Supervisors, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., Louisa, 6 pm. (agenda packet, livestream) The board will convene in closed session at 5 pm. According to the meeting agenda, supervisors will hear five presentations and consider several significant action items. 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.
Busy agenda for supervisors’ Dec. 20 meeting
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors will convene for its final meeting of calendar year 2021 on Monday night with a busy agenda on tap including five presentations, one discussion item, and several significant action items.
Following his loss to Republican Rachel Jones in November, Green Springs District Supervisor Bob Babyok will say goodbye to the board. The independent was elected to the body in 2017 and served as its chair for the last two years. Jones will join the board at its January 3 meeting where supervisors will elect a chair and vice chair. Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams currently serves as vice chair.
Board to consider buying $2 million in real estate at Industrial Air Park: Supervisors will consider purchasing an office building and adjoining lot in the Louisa County Industrial Air Park that could provide much-needed space for local government agencies as well as room for future growth.
The resolution under consideration would authorize the acquisition of two properties off Industrial Drive including a roughly 5.8-acre parcel, formerly home to Virginia Community Bank’s corporate offices, and an adjoining 3.95-acre lot. The sales contract lists a $2 million purchase price and a January 19, 2022 closing date. Virginia Community Bank is named as the properties’ seller. Blue Ridge Bank purchased VCB in 2019.
The office building and lot (tmp 41B 1 4) are assessed at about $1.86 million while the vacant adjoining parcel (tmp 41 200) is assessed at $172,400, per county records.
The board first publicly discussed the potential purchase at its November 22 meeting. County Administrator Christian Goodwin said that the opportunity to buy the property comes as the Louisa County Health Department, located in mobile units adjacent to the Betty Queen Center, is looking for a more permanent home. The health department’s current lease on the units expires at the end of the year. County officials have also been searching for a new home for the cramped Registrar’s office, according to discussions at recent Electoral Board meetings.
Goodwin told the board at its December 6 meeting that he and his staff are continuing to evaluate which agencies would move into the office space if the county follows through with its acquisition.
Supervisors to vote on agreement to terminate Zion Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department: Supervisors will consider a pair of resolutions related to the Zion Crossroads Volunteer Fire Department. One states that the department, also known as “Company 7,” “has decided to cease conducting activities dedicated to extinguishing fires and providing fire protection, first aid and related emergency medical services.”
The proposed resolution authorizes the execution of an agreement that terminates the department and transfers its assets to Louisa County. The accompanying termination agreement states that ownership of the Zion Crossroads Volunteer Fire Station and eight “fire and safety vehicles” would be transferred to the county.
A second resolution would authorize the county’s acquisition of the fire station, which sits on a 2.5-acre lot (tmp 52-53) off Poindexter Road (Route 613).
Board to discuss coyote bounty hunting: The board’s agenda includes one discussion item: “Bounty on Coyotes in Louisa County.”
Coyotes are legally classified as a nuisance species in Virginia and, in recent years, their population has grown. No permit is required to kill them and state code enables localities to allow, by ordinance, the killing of coyotes at any time and a bounty payment for each coyote killed.
Seventeen Virginia localities have enacted ordinances to permit coyote bounty hunting but only 10 fund bounty programs, according to an email from Cale Godfrey, Assistant Bureau Director with Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources. Louisa County does not currently have a bounty program.
The email, which is included in the board’s agenda packet, is in response to an inquiry from County Administrator Christian Goodwin concerning the effectiveness of coyote bounty programs. According to Godfrey, the programs have not been successful in reducing coyote populations. Godfrey notes that his department “has consistently recommended against these programs in favor of targeted control efforts on properties where coyote damage is a concern.”
Board to consider budget transfer for road improvements at Shannon Hill Regional Business Park: The Shannon Hill Regional Business Park sparked intense opposition from some local residents when it was proposed, modified, then approved in 2019. Since then, Economic Development Director Andy Wade has quietly progressed in developing the site, securing state grant funding for infrastructure design as well as significant local investment.
On Monday, the board will consider authorizing a $473,902 budget transfer “for construction of road enhancements at the Regional Business Park,” according to the proposed resolution. No additional information about the project is included in the meeting materials.
If approved, the funds will be transferred from the county’s Transportation Investment Fund, which is used to “save for transportation projects that have significant public value, as determined by the Board of Supervisors” to the Regional Business Park Transportation Capital Project, per the resolution.
Solar committee expected to deliver report: Though it’s not explicitly listed on the agenda, the board is expected to hear a comprehensive report from its solar committee. The committee, comprised of Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes and Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams, is tasked with crafting recommendations for ordinances and policies that could shape the future of utility-scale solar development in the county.
Barnes and Adams have also been in discussion with Dominion Energy about its handling of stormwater runoff and erosion and sediment control issues at the Belcher Solar Facility off Waldrop Church Road. The pair toured the facility in November and met with Dominion about the problems, which have attracted media attention far beyond the county.
In October, WTVR News 6 aired an in-depth story documenting severe erosion and other damage to farm land adjacent to the Belcher site. At a meeting earlier this year, Adams described the impact of runoff on land off Bickley Road near the southern end of the facility as “pretty catastrophic.”
The fallout from Belcher prompted supervisors to rethink their approach to siting and permitting large-scale solar facilities. In September, Community Development Director Robert Gardner presented a memo to the board that laid out a range of “best practices” implemented in other localities.
The board approved an extensive rewrite of the county’s Land Use Regulations in February, which included amendments that address utility-scale solar projects. But, according to Gardner’s memo, those provisions were the “first step to provide a fixed standard for development.” He noted that currently “no guidelines, policies or ordinances exist which control either suitable locations or numbers of land use amendments necessary for establishing (solar) facilities.”
Gardner’s memo lists six broad suggestions for supervisors’ consideration including: placing a cap on solar development; limiting how far solar facilities could be located from a transmission line; increasing the distance between solar facilities and other development; requiring that solar facilities are located in close proximity to each other; restricting solar development in conservation districts; and mandating minimum and/or maximum acreage included in solar facilities.
Beyond the memo, Barnes and Adams recently provided a preview of some specific recommendations that could be included in their report. When the board approved Aura Power’s 94 MW solar array off Chopping Road (Route 623) in November, Adams requested several amendments to the proposed Conditional Use Permit aimed at ensuring the problems at Belcher don’t happen elsewhere.
One amendment gave the county the option to hire an independent engineer to inspect the project at the developer’s expense. Another required a $500,000 bond to ensure compliance with the CUP, which would be released after the project’s completion. Barnes told the applicant that the beefed up conditions would likely be required for future projects.
Board to hear five presentations: Supervisors will hear five presentations Monday night including an update from regional transit provider JAUNT and information about a grant request from the Lake Anna Civic Association. The Virginia Department of Transportation and Louisa County Water Authority will both deliver quarterly reports. The accounting firm Robinson, Farmer, Cox will present the FY21 Louisa County Annual Comprehensive Financial Report.
Louisa to benefit from state grant funding for broadband expansion
Louisa County is a step closer to universal broadband access thanks to a significant boost from state grant funding.
Governor Ralph Northam announced Monday that the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative will award over $79 million to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and Firefly Fiber Broadband to expand high-speed internet access in 13 central Virginia localities including Louisa. The funding will support Firefly’s Regional Internet Expansion project (RISE) and extend access to fiber connectivity to more than 36,000 unserved homes and businesses.
The announcement, which Northam made at a Goochland fire station, is part of a larger investment in broadband across the commonwealth. In total, the governor announced $722 million in VATI grants, which will enable broadband expansion in 70 localities and to more than 278,000 homes, businesses, and community institutions.
“Broadband access impacts every facet of our daily lives, from education to business to health care. It’s a necessity for navigating today’s digital world. With this funding, Virginia will close the digital divide,” Northam said in a news release.
The state has ramped up its investment in broadband infrastructure in recent years. During a special session this summer, the General Assembly allocated $700 million to VATI. That funding came courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act, federal pandemic relief legislation signed into law in March.
In September, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors pledged its support for the RISE project, committing nearly $9 million in local funds. Across the 13-county region, RISE is leveraging about $209 million in local and private investment.
“Today is a landmark day for broadband in rural central Virginia. Thanks to the critical funding provided by the federal government and made available through the VATI program, we can now assure that every family and business in central Virginia will have access to reliable, affordable internet service equivalent to the best in the United States,” Firefly CEO Gary Wood said in a news release.
Firefly’s RISE project is made possible by a partnership between three major electric providers, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, of which Firefly is a wholly-owned subsidiary, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, and Dominion Energy as well as county governments and the TJPDC. Firefly will act as the internet service provider and lease fiber lines from Dominion and REC. TJPDC will administer the VATI grant.
In a presentation to the Board of Supervisors in September, Wood provided a brief overview of the RISE project including its projected budget for Louisa County. According to Firefly’s estimates at the time, there are just over 10,000 addresses that meet the criteria for VATI funding, which is aimed at connecting unserved residents, defined as those who don’t have access to internet speeds at or exceeding 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads. The company estimates that construction costs in VATI-eligible areas will reach about $75 million.
In addition to the county’s contribution, Firefly, Dominion, and REC will contribute over $47 million to the local portion of the project. Firefly and TJPDC requested over $18.5 million in VATI funds for Louisa, according to Wood’s presentation.
Beyond RISE, Firefly has already connected large swaths of western Louisa in CVEC’s service area. The Board of Supervisors provided the company with a $500,000 tax abatement to aid that effort. Federal CARES Act funding has also helped connect residents in the area. Additional federal funds will help cover costs in parts of southern Louisa.
In March, the county initially announced a partnership with Firefly, REC, and Dominion to deliver county-wide fiber access by 2025. Supervisors expressed excitement about Monday’s news.
“Today was a landmark day, a phenomenal day, and really part of the completion of our initial entry into bringing internet service to Louisa County,” Board Chair and Green Springs District Supervisor Bob Babyok said in a video posted on Louisa County’s Facebook page.
“Today’s event continues to drive Louisa County towards the finish line as we build a bridge across the digital divide,” Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams said in the same video. “Today is another step in providing fiber to every house and business in Louisa County.”
Louisa residents voice concerns about proposed redistricting maps
Louisa County residents voiced their concerns about proposed redistricting maps, which significantly revamp state legislative and congressional districts, during two virtual public hearings hosted by the Supreme Court of Virginia on Wednesday and Friday afternoon.
The preliminary maps, drafted by a pair of special masters appointed by the court and based on data from the 2020 census, would place Louisa in a new congressional district and split it into two new House of Delegates and state senate districts. The maps could leave county residents with an entirely new slate of representatives in Congress and the General Assembly.
Several residents who spoke at the hearings expressed particular concern with the county’s placement in the First Congressional District, which would stretch from Fluvanna County east across the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck to the Chesapeake Bay. It would grab slices of Henrico County and Hampton Roads along the way.
Juanita Jo Matkins, who ran as a Democrat for the 56th District House of Delegates seat in 2019, told the court and special masters that Louisa County doesn’t share much in common with counties along the bay and should instead be included in a central Virginia-centered district that better represents its interests and that’s geographically compact.
“The compactness of the district is questionable. Looking at the map, three counties stick out to the west and are out of place, almost like the thumb in a mitten,” Matkins said, referring to Louisa, Fluvanna, and Goochland counties. “Another questionable premise of this map is the idea of a community of interest for the district. The assumption seems to be that all rural areas are alike. However, we, who live in central Virginia, do not share cultural, social, nor economic interests with Essex, Lancaster, etcetera. Many of our residents travel to Charlottesville and Richmond to work and we do our Christmas shopping by travelling to Richmond and Charlottesville. Our farmers do not harvest oysters. Instead, many harvest trees.”
Sarah Teets, who lives in western Louisa County just outside of Gordonsville, voiced concern about how the proposed map would splinter her community.
“Like many of my neighbors, I spend much more of my time in the Town of Gordonsville with its beautiful Main Street and its regionally famous restaurants than I do even in the county seat of Louisa, some 12 miles away. This is because of the continuity in the community between Orange and western Louisa. I am greatly concerned to think that I may soon live in a separate congressional district from the town that I consider my home, a mere three-minute drive from my house,” Teets said. “The store where my neighbors and I buy our groceries, our post office, the restaurants and shops our families enjoy, even the town park where our children play may soon have a separate congressional representative from us over the county line. Meanwhile, we, in Louisa, will be grouped in with the coastal communities who have different needs and concerns than ours.”
The proposed maps would dismantle the current Seventh Congressional District, which includes both Louisa and Orange counties, moving Orange to the 10th Congressional District and Louisa to the First. Map drawers plotted a new Seventh in northern Virginia, centered on Democratic-leaning Prince William County.
Democrat Abigial Spanberger, who currently represents the Seventh, would find her Henrico County home drawn into the First, a right-leaning district represented by Republican Rob Wittman. Wittman’s Montross home would also remain in the district.
The proposed state legislative maps would sever Louisa from its current representatives in Richmond, a trio of Republicans: 22nd District Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), 17th District Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), and 56th District Delegate John McGuire (R-Goochland). Virginia’s state legislators are required to live in the district they represent but there is no such requirement at the federal level.
The senate proposal splits Louisa County, drawing the Zion, Mechanicsville and Patrick Henry 1 precincts into the Democrat-friendly 11th District, which would include the City of Charlottesville, and Albemarle, Nelson, and Amherst counties. The rest of Louisa would be drawn into the 10th Senate District, which includes all or part of 10 localities. The strong Republican district would stretch east into Hanover and encompasses Fluvanna and Goochland as it reaches as far south as Appomattox.
The House of Delegates draft also splits the county, placing the same three precincts into the 55th House District. The blue-leaning seat would include most of Albemarle and a slice of northern Nelson. The remainder of Louisa would fall into the 59th House District, which reaches across western Hanover and grabs a slice of western Henrico around Glen Allen.
Mark Itzkoff, a Lake Anna resident, told the court that he’s troubled by the dramatic changes that the new maps would impose on central Virginia, specifically at the federal level, and argued that impacted residents deserve more say in the process.
“I feel that the process has been somewhat deficient. In previous redistrictings, the congressional districts have been modified, borders have been changed, but I cannot recall any instance in the past where an entire congressional district was basically wiped off the map and incorporated into the other,” he said. “This sort of massive change in our status really requires more than just two hearings to justify. The maps that were proposed before this did not include the removal of the Seventh CD. I think that as members of the Seventh CD, we are entitled to more input into our representation in Congress.”
Many of the roughly 100 Virginians who spoke during last week’s hearings expressed concerns about the current Seventh and proposed First, contending that the First doesn’t represent a community of interest and that the draft maps carve up the Richmond suburbs and central Virginia.
Several local residents shared concerns beyond Louisa’s placement in a new congressional district, noting map drawers’ decision to split the county in its state legislative districts. Currently, Louisa is wholly contained in the 56th House of Delegates District and largely contained in the 17th Senate District. A slice of eastern Louisa falls into the 22nd Senate District.
Amy Huml, a Zion Crossroads resident, said she has worked in the mental health and education fields much of her adult life and she worries about how the proposed maps could impact a range of community services.
“Decisions made at the congressional, state, and local levels have important consequences for residents that impact so many areas of life including education, public safety, health care, recreation, and the list goes on. Residents deserve clear, accessible information in elections and to have representatives that understand the unique needs of the area they would serve, if elected,” Huml said. “With the proposed stretched congressional district and Louisa County divided for state House of Delegates and senate, I am concerned the proposed maps make it much more difficult to achieve those outcomes. Trying to serve communities with such a diverse range of needs seems destined to result in underserving the district as a whole.”
Gary Schatz, a former chair of the Louisa County Democratic Committee, complained that splitting the county would complicate the work of local political parties in recruiting candidates and electioneering. He also said, under the proposed maps, the county could lose its current slate of representatives.
“We depend on developing and maintaining close working relationships with our elected officials and their staff to support Louisa County’s needs. Relationships are everything in a rural county and make all the wheels of government turn,” Schatz said.
Melvin Burruss, a Patrick Henry District resident, questioned the maps’ constitutionality and suggested that separating the Patrick Henry 1 precinct, which includes a large minority population, from other parts of the county in state-level districts would dilute the voting power of Black residents.
“I feel that the (special) masters have done a poor job of truly looking out for Black voters’ interests, ignoring the long and difficult history of electing African Americans in a southern state,” he said.
Voters revamped Virginia’s redistricting process last year, passing a constitutional amendment aimed at limiting partisan gerrymandering. The amendment established the bipartisan Virginia Redistricting Commission, tasking its sixteen members with crafting new districts. Bogged down by partisan bickering, the commission failed to reach consensus, leaving the Virginia Supreme Court in charge of drawing the maps.
The court selected a pair of special masters, Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende and University of California-Irvine professor Bernard Grofman, to collaborate on the maps. Republican leaders in the General Assembly recommended Trende while Democrats recommended Grofman.
In a 53-page memo accompanying the proposed maps, which require court approval, Grofman and Trende wrote that they drafted the maps taking their primary directive from the court’s instructions to them. In so doing, they both prioritized and balanced a range of constitutional and statutory requirements.
“To summarize our approach: we carefully drew districts that met constitutional and statutory population requirements. In doing so, we minimized county and city splits, while respecting natural boundaries and communities of interest (“COIs”) to the extent possible. We attempted to draw compact districts, although equal population requirements and Virginia’s geography often conspired to limit our ability to do so. While we were mindful of federal and state requirements to draw districts that would elect the minority candidate of choice, we did so within the confines of the criteria above,” they wrote.
Trende and Grofman also noted that, as required by state law, they worked together to draw maps that don’t “unduly favor or disfavor any political party.” With no instructions to protect incumbents, they wrote that they remained ignorant of incumbents’ addresses.
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams, a prominent local Republican, opted not to share his thoughts with Engage Louisa on the draft maps and how they might impact the county. He wrote in an email that he appreciates “the Supreme Court of Virginia's task of redrawing the state lines.”
“In conversations I've had with my constituents, I've encouraged them to look at the proposed maps and submit public comments to the Supreme Court if they have concerns about their representation,” he added.
Adams and his colleagues on the Louisa County Board of Supervisors will themselves be involved in redrawing voting districts in the weeks ahead when the county takes on local redistricting. The board has not publicly discussed that process in several months. In an email to Engage Louisa earlier this year, County Administrator Christian Goodwin indicated that the board planned to wait until state maps are finalized before moving ahead at the local level.
While no more public hearings are scheduled for the statewide proposals, Virginians have until December 20 at 1 pm to submit comments via email or directly on the interactive maps. To learn more about how to provide written feedback, click here.
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.