IP leads year’s stories

Published 8:23 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

FRANKLIN — Several important news stories broke in the Western Tidewater community in 2009, most important of them being the impending closure of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill. Here are some of the major events that were reported on during the year by The Tidewater News:

Job losses

It was a bad year, to say the least, for jobs.

International Paper Co. stunned the community on Oct. 22 when it announced that it would close the Franklin paper mill by spring. The news sent shock waves through the region and the state, and elected officials in Richmond and Washington scrambled to come up with a plan to help remedy the loss of about 1,100 well-paying jobs.

It was the second time IP had some bad news for Franklin. On March 31, the company announced that it would close its sawmill by the end of May, eliminating 123 jobs and bringing a sad end to 154 proud years of sawmill history along the banks of the Blackwater River.

Meanwhile, Franklin Equipment Co., a company founded in Franklin in 1962 that built diesel tractors for the timber harvesting industry, declared bankruptcy and closed in January. The closure affected 60 workers.

By the end of the year, the mood in the community was guarded but optimistic as officials among Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties began serious discussions over cooperation and shared services.

December was a particularly good month, as mill workers attended a successful job fair at Paul D. Camp Community College, and were made eligible for federal Transition Adjustment Assistance funds. Meanwhile, the state designated parts of Franklin and Southampton as enterprise zones, and grant money helped the Franklin Business Incubator move forward with plans to finish its build-out.


The Board of Directors for the troubled Southeastern Public Service Authority spent most of the year debating whether or not to sell its assets to private interests. In November the board ultimately decided to sell its waste-to-energy plant in Portsmouth to Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., a company based in Hampton, N.H.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly empowered Gov. Tim Kaine to overhaul the board and appoint a new one by the end of the year, although that still hasn’t happened.

In 2009, SPSA voted to raise tipping fees to $170 per ton, decided to end recycling programs by the end of the year, and its localities backed a plan to guarantee payment of their share of the authority’s debts.


Barack Obama was inaugurated the 44th president of the United States on Jan. 20, and many people from Western Tidewater made the trip to Washington to see the historic event.

But Republican candidates in the major state races, including gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, prevailed on Nov. 3. McDonnell won Isle of Wight and Southampton and cruised to victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds, who barely won in Franklin.

Delegate William K. “Bill” Barlow (D-Smithfield) was re-elected after fending off a strong challenge by Republican Stan Clark for the 64th District seat.

In Isle of Wight, JoAnn Hall was elected the first female member of the Board of Supervisors, besting James Brown for the Hardy District seat.

Voters in Southampton County narrowly approved a referendum giving their county board the authority to levy a meals tax. The proposal passed on its first attempt by just 71 votes, or one-and-a-half percent of the votes cast. The final vote count was 2307-2236.

Ed Moyler

Former Franklin Attorney J. Edward Moyler Jr. shocked the community in April when he surrendered his law license and admitted that he took more than $4 million from clients’ estates.

The 79-year-old — who now lives in Williamsburg and is reportedly in declining health — was indicted on nine state counts of embezzlement in May, and agreed to enter guilty pleas to six of the charges in November. But Moyler’s legal woes mounted in December when a federal grand jury indicted him on two counts of false declarations in a bankruptcy case and one count of making a false oath in a bankruptcy proceeding.

Moyler is to be sentenced on the six state charges in Southampton County Circuit Court at 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 7. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.


Several new faces arrived at the Franklin City Public Schools system in 2009. The school board hired Dr. Michelle Rich Belle as superintendent in March, and two new principals — Rodney Berry at J.P. King Middle School and Lawrence Whiting at Franklin High School — in June.

Meanwhile, the Southampton County School Board hired Christopher Tsitsera and James Battle as the new principal and assistant principal, respectively, for Riverdale Elementary School.

The Franklin City Council appointed Will Councill, Glenn Hopkins and Edna King to the school board in August, giving the board an African-American majority for the first time in the city’s history.

All public schools in Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties became fully accredited by the state Department of Education following their students’ achievement on the Standards of Learning tests in the spring.

Riverdale bus accident

Jameer Khamarie Woodley, a 4-year-old pre-kindergarten student, was struck and killed by a school bus behind Riverdale on Jan. 9. Subsequent investigations by the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office and Southampton County Schools revealed that the driver of the school bus did not see Jameer.

As a result of the accident, the division changed the procedure for unloading students from buses at all of its schools beginning Feb. 4. Students are now unloaded every morning at the curb, one bus at a time.


A hot button issue the previous two years, the U.S. Navy’s plans to construct an Outlying Landing Field was largely dormant in 2009, although the Navy announced in August that it would delay the release of an environmental impact statement until it decides where to station its new fighter plane, the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter.

The Navy held informational meetings with the public in April and May.

Boykins trash dispute

The Town of Boykins took 12 people to court in June, including the vice mayor, for not paying the municipality’s mandatory trash collection fees. But a judge ruled on June 23 that the fee — $9 per month or $100 per year — was illegal because the town didn’t hold a public hearing before making the fee mandatory in 2007.

After the setback in court, the town decided on June 29 to appeal, but reversed course on July 27 and decided instead to work with a Richmond law firm to rewrite the trash ordinance.

A civil, but spirited, public hearing on the revised ordinance was held on Sept. 23, and the town council adopted it on Oct. 13.

The town spent about $6,000 on legal fees over the dispute.

Boykins celebrated its 125-year anniversary on Nov. 7.