FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By Neil Williamson, President
‘Tis the season for Top Ten lists. The Free Enterprise Forum reviewed all the issues we have followed and built our list based on the importance of the story and its future potential impact on the region.
Honorable mentions included:
Without question our favorite 2011 comment came from “Emory” regarding the first TJPDC story above:
“In what way are the local politicians like space aliens?
I’ve never met a space alien, jealous of Mr. Williams in that regard.”
Without further ado here are our top 10 stories from 2011.
10. Fluvanna County Administrator Jay Scudder resigns suddenly. Fluvanna has been through two administrators in as many years.
Field Officer William Des Rochers reports: “According to multiple sources, Scudder alienated the staff almost from the outset of his tenure and never managed to gain their confidence. Supervisors became aware of the problem and also had their own difficulties with the administrator. Some believed as administrator, he was developing his own agenda and was not as supportive of the Board’s policies as he might have been.” Click here for more
9. Greene County Funds Schools Projects. After over several years of discussion and public hearings Greene County approves infrastructure improvements at their schools complex (4-2). Athletic facilities and performing arts center to receive significant facelift.
Field Officer Pauline Hovey reports: “For the nearly 11 years this reporter has lived in Greene County and attended public hearings, this marks the first time 100 percent of public comments favored a proposal. No public hesitancy or negative comments were expressed at the hearing held at the Raymond C. Dingledine III Performing Arts Center at William Monroe High School. From business leaders to coaches, from parents to seniors with no children in the school system, every one of the 25 individuals who addressed the board fully supported the project, many of them expressing concern about the safety and condition of existing facilities”.(January) Click here for more
8. Louisa County gets the worst of the August 23rd earthquake and countless significant aftershocks. After delays, FEMA grants emergency aid.
Field Officer John Haksch reports: On November 4th Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that President Obama, supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has reversed their previous decision to disqualify Louisa residents and businesses from receiving federal aid following the earthquake that rocked the county on August 23rd. The official request by the governor for assistance was made on September 20th, following thorough, weeks-long investigation by FEMA and both professional volunteers and county staff. Click here for more
7. Albemarle County Places 29 Master Plan approved. The Free Enterprise Forum registered its opposition to the plan but it fell on deaf ears
“It is important to note that while we have been an active participant in the Places29 planning process, the Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal critic of Places29 for many years.
While some of the concerns we highlighted have been removed, like the Supertax, others remain. Click here to read more
6. Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) proposed “devolution” moving the responsibility secondary roads to localities.
From VDOT: Virginia is one of only a few states where state government has maintenance, operational, and construction responsibilities for local roads.
In most states, the state transportation agency assumes these responsibilities for interstate and primary routes while local governments assume them for local roads.
Except in Arlington and Henrico counties, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) assumes all maintenance, operational, and construction responsibilities on the secondary roads in the commonwealth’s counties.
In 2001, the General Assembly enacted what is commonly known as the “Devolution Statute.” The statute provides that boards of supervisors in any county that wishes to assume responsibility for any portion of the state secondary system of highways within that county’s boundaries may request the Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner enter into and implement an agreement to do so. This is known as “devolution.”
VDOT Devolution is a huge issue as we move into the 2012 General Assembly.
5. 1-Community Launch. The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission starts its nearly $1 million dollar, three year 1-Community Comprehensive planning project AKA 36 month Planner Employment Plan.
The Free Enterprise Forum blog has raised may concerns with this project:
“On the surface such a planning exercise seems benign, perhaps even appropriate but it’s much more than a simple planning exercise. This may be the first step in changing the priorities in each localities comprehensive plan.
Without being overly dramatic, the Free Enterprise Forum is concerned the “Many Plans, One Community” has predetermined the result of their three year process as if they were programming the destination on their GPS.” To read more click here
4. Cville Human Rights Commission Proposed City of Charlottesville opens up consideration of new bureaucracy with significant investigative and enforcement powers under the banner of “Human Rights”
The Free Enterprise Forum weighed in early with significant concerns with the legally duplicative proposal:
“After reviewing all of the material readily available on this issue, the Free Enterprise Forum fears that moving forward with the politically appointed Human Rights Commission, based on its current construct and goals, will do more harm than good for City economic opportunities across all demographic cohorts.
While we remain very concerned with human rights, we are equally concerned that unnecessary red tape will push more businesses out of not only Charlottesville but the entire region.
If the region loses economic opportunities for the fear of over regulation, the region, and the residents of the region, lose.” to read more click here
3. Meadowcreek Parkway (Albemarle Project) Opens. Albemarle pushes VDOT (and Charlottesville) to open their completed Meadowcreek Parkway Project. While this will technically occur in 2012, it is a 2011 story.
The Free Enterprise Forum called out this issue in early summer under the headline “High Stakes Poker”
“Perhaps the longest poker game on record (43 years), Charlottesville raised the ante by demanding a grade separated interchange be fully funded prior to any of the three independent projects moving forward (the largest in a litany of many conditions). Despite the interchange funding secured through a Senator John Warner federal earmark, City Council currently retains a narrow 3-2 split in favor of construction of the City project (McIntire Extended). There has also been a federal lawsuit filed by a number of city residents.
When the three independent projects will open is still unclear. At this point, Albemarle County seems to have an upper hand with a full constructed, albeit closed, road. The lawsuit is a wild card that may or may not trump Albemarle”
In December Albemarle County requested VDOT open the road. Charlottesville, in an act of true chutzpah placed a number of conditions for the opening of a road that starts in Albemarle County runs through Albemarle County and currently terminates in Albemarle County. VDOT plans to address the conditions Charlottesville set forth and plans to open the Albemarle County project on January 6th click here for more
2. Community Water Supply Plan Moves Slowly Forward. Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) plan to move forward with 30’ height earthen dam is approved by DEQ. The RWSA is positioned to award the dam bid as early as this Wednesday December 28th. Back in March, the Free Enterprise Forum, who is a long time supporter of the Community Water Supply plan wrote:
“One of the more contentious, and expensive, poker games in recent memory. This game required each side to fund preliminary engineering on two very different proposals for expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. At the time, the Free Enterprise Forum opined regardless of who won someone was wasting money because their plan would not be used. In the end, the jointly run Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority selected the County favored plan of an earthen dam but at a lower height than the county wanted.
Recognizing that the lower height was the only way the project would move forward at all, Albemarle agreed to Charlottesville’s demands. In March 2009, Mayor Dave Norris famously said, “We hold all the cards” because the City holds title to the reservoir.”
When one considers the infrastructure Rivanna is planning to replace dates back to 1908 (and South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was built in 1966), one can recognize this issue may have has the greatest generational impact.
Charlottesville Tomorrow has a well written summary of the most recent DEQ action. Click here to read more
1. Western Bypass US 29 Bypass revived, approved and goes out to bid. Albemarle Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) approve funding of the Western US 29 Bypass. Nine vendors qualify to bid on the project.
No story got more readership this year than our work on the US29 Bypass. Starting with a small mention in an April 2011 VDOT Freight Report ending with a 3-2 vote on the MPO and a 12-1 vote on the CTB.
The Free Enterprise Forum has been a vocal advocate for the Bypass. In a widely read editorial in the Daily Progress we opined the Western Bypass may reduce traffic to the levels that would allow the vision of Places 29 to become a reality:
Our stretch of US29 is the most dangerous portion of the entire US29 Corridor. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has reported that 49% of all motor vehicle accidents – 41% of all personal injury accidents – within the Commonwealth of Virginia along US 29 occur in Charlottesville or Albemarle. The current roadway is increasingly unsafe and the US29 Western Bypass will increase safety on our main street dramatically.
Current VDOT data estimates that an average of 57,000 motor vehicles cross US29 at Hydraulic Road every day. VDOT has further estimated between 10%-20% of those vehicles are “thru-traffic” with no intention of stopping in our community. Using the median range (15%) means that more than 8,000 vehicles, many heavy trucks, would be removed. In addition each day as many as 10,000 or more vehicles within our region would bypass ‘Business 29’….
Each year the Federal Government and Virginia collect more than $40 million in motor vehicle taxes in Charlottesville and Albemarle. The last major public road project completed locally is the widening of US29 (mid 1990s). It has been estimated that as a community we have paid $600 million in motor vehicle taxes in the sixteen years since VDOT constructed any new road project here. It’s time our community got some of its infrastructure investment back.
Twenty years from now, citizens will look back on this discussion and not talk about the meritorious Western Bypass but instead wonder, as with the Route 250 Bypass, “How would our community survive without the vitality of ‘Business 29’?”
All of these issues and the local elections, 2011 is headed to the history books but I know I have learned a great deal.
Thank you for reading the blog. The field officers and I work hard to provide you with informed commentary on local issues that impact you.
In 2012, The Free Enterprise Forum is moving into our eighth year. As for most enterprises, 2011 has been a challenge. If you find our work helpful, please consider financially supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. Please click here for our secure server donation page!
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. May you and your families have a Happy 2012.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credits: Pixar, Albemarle County, Fluvanna County, Office of Governor, VDOT