Before delaying for a month its vote on designating a stretch of the Hazel River as a State Scenic River, the county Board of Supervisors heard some unusual testimony from a Culpeper County landowner last Wednesday night.
Ben and Rita Grace, who own land along the Hazel in Culpeper County, had nothing good to say about the state program, now in its 40th year, that allows local governments to nominate stretches of river in their jurisdictions as “scenic.”
“Although it sounds wonderful,” Rita Grace told the supervisors, “the scenic river program draws visitors to the area, without any corresponding law enforcement effort, and landowners have to deal with trash and trespassing and worse, including drug use. We have prosecuted 34 people” for trespassing, Grace added.
She and her husband, whose letter sent earlier to the board called the largely honorific river designation “a blatant and evil land grab,” also cited a 2005 opinion by the Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney that added validity to claims of those who, like the Graces, own property included in a 1722 “King’s Grant” that specifically deeds ownership of the riverbed to landowners.
Others in the audience — Hal and Beverly Hunter, longtime proponents of the Scenic River program; Hazel River landowner Jeff Smith; Barney O’Meara; the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Don Loock and the Rappahannock Historical Society’s John Tole — spoke in support of the scenic designation. Last year, Rappahannock’s supervisors so designated the Hughes and Jordan rivers as “scenic.”
“We’ve seen no increase in traffic along the rivers in Rappahannock,” Smith said, and turned to the Graces. “But it sounds like you guys have a very tough situation in Culpeper. Like you, I’m not interested in the government getting its tentacles on anything more than they have to, but nevertheless, Jane and I strongly support the scenic designation.”
“It’s a simple honorific,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t think it makes a difference one way or the other.”
Supervisor Bryant Lee said: “We’re not designating the part of the Hazel in Culpeper County, just Rappahannock.” The designation under consideration is from the Culpeper County line, where the Hughes joins the Hazel, west to where the Hazel crosses F.T. Valley Road.
“I have heard no complaints from anyone in the county on the Hughes or Jordan rivers,” he said. “If you got four-wheels coming through your property, that’s trespassing — whether it’s a scenic river or not.”
Though the program offers no restrictions on property owners’ use or access to the river, the scenic designation does put decision-making about dams across the rivers in the General Assembly’s hands.
“It’s not just an honorary designation,” said Supervisor Ron Frazier, “because as soon as we approve it, we’re told that this law about impeding the flow [building a dam] goes into effect.”
After Frazier spoke, Supervisor Chris Parrish suggested the board wait until “we can collect all the information we need, especially about King’s Grants and riparian rights,” before deciding on the designation. They voted unanimously to delay the matter until August.
Jail building expansion
In other action at the supervisors’ afternoon meeting Wednesday, there was a brief discussion about plans to expand the county jail office. County Administrator John McCarthy said that the town of Washington’s Architectural Review Board has approved the work, which he said will cost roughly $90,000 — but which will be paid for by proceeds of the Sheriff’s Office’s unique-in-the-region work release program.
Income from the program from the past several years, and the coming year, McCarthy said, should more than offset the cost.
Also, he said, jail inmates will provide some of the labor — although general foundation work will be bid out. The county will be providing upfront money to fund the work. The expansion will be a wing, in the same red-brick, metal-roof design as the county clerk’s building, which will extend at a right angle from the end of the jail building closest to Gay Street.
The new space will be used for office space and evidence storage, McCarthy said, and would be necessary whether or not the county was a part of the regional jail project soon to be started in Warren County, which it will share with Warren and Shenandoah counties.
Work on the jail expansion will begin within a month; the $125 million regional jail — or $60 million, after the state pays its share — is scheduled to break ground later this year north of Front Royal and open by October of 2014. Rappahannock will hold approximately a 6 percent share of that $60 million debt.
Boone arrives with boon
Also Wednesday afternoon, Aldridge A. Boone, Rappahannock County’s new superintendent of schools, told the county board of supervisors that he is “looking forward to maintaining a positive relationship with the board of supervisors.”
He got that relationship off on the right foot by informing the county supervisors that the school district was retuning $51,672 in unused funds left at the end of the fiscal year to the county’s general fund. The board of supervisors annually must approve the school system budget; any surplus funds must also, by law, be returned to the county government.
Boone, formerly superintendent of the Appomattox County school system, was hired by the Rappahannock County Board of Education in March to replace Robert Chappell, who retired at the end of the 2009-2010 school year last month. Boone began his duties on July 1.
A brief discussion followed when Lee asked about the status of ongoing repairs to the school system’s auxiliary gym, which is getting a heating and air conditioning upgrade.
The school board had accompanied its annual return of funds to the county with a request that the money be spent, if the supervisors agreed, on school facility improvments.
McCarthy said that work was about to be completed. He said that approval by the supervisors of a “whole package” of facility improvements for the schools would be sought in the future.
In other business, Supervisors Michael J. Biniek and Roger A. Welch were named the board’s representatives to the Economic Recovery Advisory Committee subcommittee. The subcommittee is charged with following up on the recommendations of a committee that examined ways to bolster the county’s economy in ways that will support its businesses and farms, create jobs and grow tourism. The first meeting of the subcommittee will be July 23, according to McCarthy.
The board also unanimously approved seeking reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funds expended by the county and volunteer fire departments during the winter snowstorms.
McCarthy said the reimbursement is not expected to exceed $15,000 and would cover overtime put in by sheriff’s deputies, gasoline and replacing chain saw blades.
The supervisors noted county farmers are currently dealing with the effects of severe heat. A representative from Virginia Cooperative Extension will be asked to attend the August supervisors meeting and present figures on crop loss.
The board also approved the appointment of David Thornhill to the Agricultural Forestry District’s Advisory Committee replacing his father, Gordon Thornhill. It also reappointed Eugene Leggett to the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority beyond his current term, which expires July 31.The board also heard a presentation from Brian Duncan, executive director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board and Area Agency on Aging (RRCSB-AAA). The social service agency provides services to the elderly, those with substance abuse problems and those with mental health or disability issues. It serves Rappahannock, Fauquier, Culpeper, Orange and Madison counties.
The supervisors approved a resolution acknowledging it participated in the review of the agency’s service plan.
Duncan said the agency is working to minimize waiting time for services, improve outreach to the elderly, look at ways to raise other sources of funding and plan for an expected impact on delivery of services as a result of the federal health care reform law.
Duncan said his agency projects that 289 individuals from Rappahannock County will receive services during fiscal year 2011. The agency will receive $37,794 in local tax funding during that period.
Aileen plant: foreclosure
In closed session, the board voted to begin foreclosure proceedings against M.T. Pusker, LLC, which purchased the former Aileen factory property from the county several years ago but has not made a mortgage payment for four months, McCarthy said.
Though the M.T. Puskar construction company, a separate LLC, is not using the site, McCarthy said, at least three tenants, including Dominion Power, which uses it as a staging site for its power line construction project underway nearby, are still in the building.