This week in county government; PC okays solar facility near Town of Mineral; Busy agenda for BOS meeting; Who’s funding the candidates
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. 18-23
Monday, Oct. 18
Thursday, Oct. 21
Louisa County Industrial Development Authority, Public Meeting Room, 1 Woolfolk Ave., 8:30 am. At publication time, an agenda was not publicly available. (public notice)
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.
Planning Commission okays solar facility near Town of Mineral
The Louisa County Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to recommend to the Board of Supervisors approval of what could be the county’s sixth utility-scale solar site. (meeting materials, video)
Planners enthusiastically green-lighted Aura Power Development’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to construct and operate an up to 94 MW solar facility 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 & Hemmer LLC. Supervisors are expected to hold a public hearing and vote on the request in November.
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-acre 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 year in a 6-0 vote. Purcell recused himself from considering the CUP request.
In his presentation Thursday night, Charles Purcell zeroed in on several issues that have emerged as concerns for county officials and residents when considering utility-scale solar development: stormwater runoff; buffering; and traffic during construction.
Purcell told the commission that not all solar facilities are the same and that they can be constructed properly or poorly. He noted that Aura is determined to differentiate the Mine & Hemmer site from Dominion’s Belcher facility off Waldrop Church Road where stormwater runoff has caused significant damage to nearby farms.
“This project is intentionally not Belcher. We have gone about doing this project to make it a benefit to the county and I am going to prove that to you,” he said in his opening remarks to the commission.
Specifically, Purcell pointed to Aura’s erosion and sediment control plan. He said that Belcher’s developer cleared some 1,100 acres at once and the site only included nine sediment basins. In contrast, about 200 acres would be cleared at Mine & Hemmer and the project would include 27 sediment basins, accompanied by diversion ditches and surrounded by silt fencing. In addition, he noted that the project would be constructed in phases with the smallest phase consisting of about 35 acres and the largest encompassing about 84 acres.
Purcell said that Aura’s erosion and sediment control plan is subject to county and state approval and that the company would have an inspector on site daily to monitor the project. According to the Conditional Use Permit, the inspector would “provide the county a weekly status report on the project and any issues while coordinating with the County Erosion and Sediment Control inspector, Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Virginia Department of Environment Quality, as necessary, to resolve any stormwater and erosion and sediment control issues that occur on site.”
Purcell also outlined Aura’s traffic plan. The site is located in close proximity to Louisa County High School and Middle School, an area that experiences significant congestion during peak hours. Traffic flow between the towns of Louisa and Mineral, where two other solar projects are already approved for construction, emerged as a particular concern for Cuckoo District Commissioner George Goodwin. At a recent public hearing, Goodwin said that traffic from solar construction in the area, combined with the usual congestion, could cause a traffic “nightmare.”
Purcell agreed to include in Aura’s CUP a condition that limits construction traffic to and from the facility during peak travel times. He also said that the entrance to Old County Road would be widened and the unpaved portion of the road would be covered in asphalt to limit “mud, dirt, or debris.”
During previous public discussions about solar development, adequate buffering and screening around the sites has also been a point of contention. Neighbors and county officials have voiced concerns about view shed protection and maintaining the area’s rural character.
Purcell said that the Mine & Hemmer site would include a 200-foot vegetative buffer exceeding the county’s 150-foot buffer requirement. He indicated that 100 feet would be covered in fast-growing pine trees with 542 trees planted per acre. He said the remainder of the buffer would be covered in pollinator plantings, noting that 54 acres of the roughly 450-acre property would be covered in a tree buffer while 51 acres would be preserved as a pollinator meadow.
Four people spoke during the public hearing in favor of the project while no one opposed. Rebecca Cavanaugh, who lives near the property, said she supports solar as a clean energy source and she’s confident the proposed buffering will render the panels invisible from her home.
Commissioners also reacted favorably to Aura’s application.
“We really needed an application like this to feel good about solar projects,” Louisa District Commissioner Manning Woodward said. “Hopefully, this will help us move forward in the county for (projects) that come in the future and give us some guidelines to make sure that the projects are better.”
Chair Holly Reynolds, who represents the Green Springs District, concurred, saying that the application sets a “high bar.”
During his presentation, Purcell didn't address the facility’s economic impact on the county. Changes in Virginia law allow localities to reap increased financial benefits from utility-scale solar development in the form of machinery and tools taxes, revenue sharing agreements, and siting agreements that can include cash proffers earmarked for specific purposes.
According to the CUP, Aura agreed to a one-time $25,000 cash payment to the county for the deployment of broadband infrastructure. The applicant estimates that the county could receive $6,580,000 in tax revenue over the 50-year life of the project, or $131,600 per year. Those figures are currently under review by county staff.
Busy agenda for upcoming BOS meeting
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors will convene for its second October meeting Monday night with a busy agenda on tap. The board will hold two public hearings, hear two presentations, and consider several resolutions, two of which would appropriate additional funding to Louisa County Public Schools.
Public hearing to consider a special exception for Bio-Cat: The board will hold a public hearing to consider Mircozyme LLC’s request for buffering and screening modifications for its Bio-Cat facility at Zion Crossroads. The property is located southwest of the intersection of Three Notch Road (Route 250) and Poindexter Road (Route 613) in the Patrick Henry Voting District.
In July, the board approved Microzyme’s application to rezone 23.43 acres of a 24.585-acre parcel (tmp 52-29) from Commercial (C-2) to Industrial (I-2 GAOD). Microzyme requested the rezoning to expand the operation of Bio-Cat, a biotechnology company that has operated in the county for more than 30 years. The company has long blended and distributed enzymes and since branched out into manufacturing human-grade probiotics via Bio-Cat Microbials.
The rezoning allows the company to add a 30,000-square foot facility for microbial production, drive aisles, and accessory parking as well as providing space for future development.
During the approval process, Bio-Cat representatives told county officials that the 100-foot buffer required around industrially-zoned properties in Growth Area Overlay Districts wasn’t feasible and that the company planned to seek a special exception.
Instead of a 100-foot buffer around the periphery of the property, Microzyme proposes the following buffering and screening:
Northward: Existing landscaping to remain and adding supplemental vegetative landscaping containing trees and shrubs within 100 feet of the property boundary with Route 250.
Eastward: Providing a 25-foot to 50-foot setback or yard areas and a partial 25-foot vegetative buffering/screening area using the existing treeline.
Southward: Providing a 25-foot setback or yard area and a 25-foot vegetative buffering/screening area.
Westward: Providing a 10-foot setback or yard area and vegetative buffering/screening.
In its request, Microzyme states that the county’s GAODs exist to “promote high-quality and well-planned development.” The company contends that both will be achieved at the site despite the reduction in the buffer’s width, pointing out that the proposed buffering and landscape enhancement are effective given the nature of Bio-Cat’s operation and the context of surrounding properties. Microzyme notes that the most robust buffers are maintained adjacent to properties zoned agricultural, and that the landscaping along Route 250 and bordering commercial properties are proposed to contribute to landscape aesthetics rather than screening.
Public hearing to consider golf carts on the roads of Overton Fork subdivision: The board will hold a public hearing to consider an amendment to county code that would permit the operation of golf carts and utility vehicles, subject to certain terms and conditions, on public highways at Lake Anna’s Overton Fork subdivision. The roads include Overton Drive (Route 1060) and Lois Lane (Route 1061).
Code already allows the use of golf carts and utility vehicles on public roads in a handful of subdivisions around Lake Anna as well as in the Blue Ridge Shores subdivision.
Increasing pay for school bus drivers: Louisa County Public Schools is requesting a $358,000 supplemental appropriation to raise the starting pay for school bus drivers, increase compensation for current drivers, and raise the daily pay rate for substitute drivers.
The proposed resolution states that the school division hopes to raise the hourly starting pay rate for drivers to $21.00 per hour and the daily pay rate for substitute drivers to $84.00. The salary for current drivers would increase based on scale adjustment in conjunction with drivers’ experience. The starting pay for school bus drivers in Louisa County is currently $15.57 an hour while the daily pay rate for substitutes is $80.
School systems across the country are facing a critical bus driver shortage and LCPS officials hope the pay hikes will help the division retain drivers and recruit new ones.
At the board’s September 20 meeting, LCPS Transportation Director Deborah Coles and Superintendent Doug Straley told the board that the division currently has all its school bus routes covered but occasionally drivers have to run double routes, meaning children arrive home later than anticipated. The division also has a limited pool of substitute drivers.
“We are looking over the cliff right now. That’s how close to the edge we are,” Straley said of the division’s ability to cover all its routes.
Straley said that surrounding counties, some of which don’t have drivers for all their routes, are pushing hard to recruit new drivers and Louisa needs to do what it can to both retain its current fleet and bring on new employees.
“Communities surrounding Louisa are doing some things to recruit drivers and we want to make sure we can retain our drivers. We have a great fleet of drivers. They are amazing. They are great with our students and they are great getting our kids to and from school safely. We want to make sure we are able to keep those drivers and recruit others,” he said.
Straley emphasized that having a full fleet of drivers to cover every route is essential in a large county like Louisa where many parents commute outside of the community to work.
“Many of our families drive to Charlottesville, to Richmond, to Fredericksburg to work. They can’t drop their students off at 8 o’clock in the morning at school and get to work on time. They need the bus transportation,” he said.
If approved, the pay increase for this fiscal year would be drawn from carry-over funds from FY21.
Funding media production technology classes and related equipment: Louisa County Public Schools is requesting a second supplemental appropriation in the amount of $380,000, also drawn from funds carried over from FY21, to cover the costs of media production equipment and MiFi devices.
According to the proposed resolution, LCPS hopes to offer “Media Production Technology classes that will expose students to the specific technologies associated with audio and visual production and connect graduates with employment opportunities.”
The classes would offer students hands-on learning opportunities in a variety of media disciplines including script and story development, digital video camera and acquisition technology, sports media production, digital media production, broadcast media production, audio production, audio post-production, video editing, digital photography, 20 animation, 30 animation, compositing, and basic live film production and broadcasting.
In addition to the equipment necessary for media production courses, the division needs additional MiFi devices and accompanying service to aid students in remote learning. The production equipment would cost $290,000 while the MiFi devices and service would total $90,000.
DEQ review of erosion and sediment control plans for large solar sites: During the 2021 General Assembly session, lawmakers passed legislation that provides certain localities with the option to request that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) review the erosion and sediment control (ESC) plans for solar projects exceeding 5 MW in electric generation capacity.
Supervisors will consider a resolution to request DEQ review. If adopted, DEQ would begin reviewing ESC plans November 1. After completing its review, DEQ would provide a recommendation to the county on a plan’s compliance with the state’s ESC law and regulations. The county is subsequently responsible for granting written approval of the plan or providing written notice of disapproval in accordance with Virginia law.
Discussion of changes to the emergency warning system serving North Anna Power Station: The board will discuss the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), FEMA's national system for local alerting that provides authenticated emergency information to the public through mobile phones using Wireless Emergency Alerts, to radio and television via the Emergency Alert System, and on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio.
The discussion will focus on IPAWS as the primary notification system in the event of an emergency at North Anna Nuclear Power Station. Currently, the power station is served by an Emergency Alert System featuring 68 sirens within a 10-mile radius of the plant that act as a primary notification pathway. The sirens, tested quarterly, are located in Caroline, Hanover, Louisa, Orange, and Spotsylvania counties.
According to a presentation from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management included in the board’s agenda packet, the sirens will be maintained and remain a primary notification protocol until early 2022. A targeted and multi-outlet media campaign will be carried out prior to phasing out the sirens. The sirens will then be decommissioned and removed. Going forward, notifications will be sent via IPAWS in conjunction with other communications pathways determined by the individual needs of localities.
Presentations by the President of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and the Jefferson Area Board for Aging: Supervisors will hear a presentation from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College President Dr. Paula Pando. Dr. Pando will update the board on the latest news from the college with a particular emphasis on Louisa County.
The board will also hear an update from the Jefferson Area Board for Aging. The local non-profit provides information and support that helps seniors and adults with disabilities live independently and remain active in their communities. It also provides crucial support to caregivers.
Follow the money: who’s funding the candidates?
Election Day is just over two weeks away and the race for votes is heating up. The race for money is as well.
Candidates running for local and state office this November filed campaign finance reports for the month of September on Friday and they show a flurry of fundraising across the Commonwealth.
Here in Louisa County, five candidates for local office filed reports. Office-seekers who don’t raise or spend any money may be exempted from regularly filing, and donations of $100 or less aren’t required to be itemized. Here’s a quick look at the latest filings for local races and the 56th District House of Delegates seat.
Barnes leads local fundraising efforts
Patrick Henry District Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes, running as an independent, continued to post strong fundraising numbers, leading all local candidates in cash contributions during the month of September.
Barnes raised $9,100 from 11 contributions. He took in $3,000 from Charlottesville Developer Christopher Henry of Stony Point Development Group and $2,600 from Charlottesville businessman Chris Schuler. Schuler owns and operates Bio-Cat, an enzyme distributor based at Zion Crossroads. Since he launched his campaign this spring, Barnes has hauled in more than $22,000.
Barnes spent $4,114 during September, mostly on campaign materials, signs, and a donation. He ended the filing period with $11,145 cash on hand. (full report)
Republican challenger William Woody raised $3,700 on 6 contributions. He received $2,000 from Louisa County Republican Committee Chair Robin Horne and $1,000 from Friends of John McGuire, 56th District Delegate John McGuire’s campaign committee. Since he announced his candidacy in May, Woody has raised nearly $13,300 with $4,000 of that coming from Horne.
Woody spent $2,469 with the bulk of that covering the cost of large signs, printing, and mailings. As of September 30, his campaign had $9,205 in the bank. (full report)
Jones taps into McGuire’s war chest
In the race for the Green Springs District Board of Supervisors seat, Republican challenger Rachel Jones tapped into Delegate John McGuire’s campaign war chest to boost her fundraising.
Jones raised $2,850 with $2,000 coming from McGuire’s campaign committee. She received 10 contributions during September. Over the course of her campaign, Jones has brought in nearly $6,500.
Her campaign spent $1,913 during the filing period. More than half of that paid for campaign mailings. She closed September with $2,899 cash on hand. (full report)
Independent incumber Bob Babyok, vying for his second term on the board, announced in September that he wouldn’t accept contributions, opting to self-fund his campaign.
Babyok loaned his campaign $5,000, according to his latest filing. He spent $1,975 with much of that paying back a portion of a loan he gave his campaign during the previous filing period. He ended September with $4,114 in the bank. (full report)
Adams brings in cash in uncontested Mineral race
Mineral District Supervisor Duane Adams, a Republican seeking re-election for his second term, raised $2,700 on 10 donations. He received $500 from Joseph Beasley, a Haymarket, VA insurance agent, his largest cash contribution. Adams is running unopposed.
Adams spent $1,226, mainly on campaign signs and consulting services. He ended the filing period with $1,887 cash on hand. (full report)
McGuire spreads the wealth in 56th HoD race
Republican incumbent John McGuire, running for his third term in the House of Delegates, hauled in $139,372 from 482 contributions. He collected $25,000 from Reliable Paving and Concrete, an Arlington, TX-based company, and $12,800 from Tatnall Hillman, an Aspen, CO retiree, his largest cash contributions. Stephen Hearst of Hillsborough, CA, Vice President of Hearst Corporation, and UBS, a California-based financial services company, chipped in $10,000 each.
McGuire has racked up gaudy fundraising numbers in recent months, hauling in more than $371,000 since July 1. Reliable Paving and Concrete has contributed $75,000.
The fitness instructor and former Navy Seal is widely believed to be preparing to run for the Seventh Congressional District seat, currently held by Democrat Abigail Spanberger. He failed to win the Republican nomination for that job last year.
McGuire is spending much of this campaign season fundraising, advocating for Republican candidates across the state, and donating some of his largesse to their campaigns.
In September alone, he spent $88,237 with nearly $38,000 going to Kyle Sisk, a Massachusetts-based fundraising consultant. He donated about $18,000 to Republican candidates running for local and state office including Jones and Woody. He ended the filing period with $249,231 cash on hand. (full report)
In a press release earlier this month, McGuire announced that his campaign has contributed more than $31,000 to support Republican candidates in Virginia during the 2021 campaign.
Democratic challenger Blakely Lockhart raised $31,477 from 379 contributions. She received $5,000 from both the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and Clean Virginia Fund, her largest cash contributions.
Lockhart spent $38,117 with about $20,000 of that paying for campaign literature and mailings. She ended September with $42,243 cash on hand. (full report)
Campaigns will have a quick turnaround for their next filings. The current campaign finance period runs from October 1 through October 21 and filings are due October 25.
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.