Southampton supervisors make resolution on 460 project

Published 3:55 pm Tuesday, January 28, 2014

COURTLAND—The Southampton County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Monday on the following resolution: “That the board takes a position to ensure that if the proposed Route 460 road project goes forward, to ensure that it’s done in an environmentally responsible way, and that VDOT gives more consideration to its impact on the lives of Southampton County residents.”

This was put forward by Barry Porter of the Franklin District after some lengthy discussion went back and forth concerning what should be the county’s official position on the project.

The matter was kicked off during citizens’ comment period by Jeff Turner, the executive director of the Riverkeeper Project for the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers. He reminded the board of a letter he sent to each member last month, which expressed his concerns about the impact the proposed road could have on wetlands. That’s been one of the issues that’s called the project into question by many people.

“We oppose that 500 acres are going to be destroyed for this boondoggle of a road,” said Turner. “We could have used that $1.4 million for widening and repairing the current 460.”

He called on the board to make a stand.

“I think the public needs to know. I think everybody needs at some point a resolution,” said Turner.

Soon afterward, Philip Rinehart, design project manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation, gave the board an update on the road project. During his presentation, Rinehart said the project is not suspended, and added as an example that a test embankment is being done in Wakefield to measure how the soil would settle.

Ronnie West of the Berlin/Ivor District, who was earlier reelected vice chairman of the board, told Rinehart he was concerned about the damage the road could do to the environment and people’s lives.

“I want to know how VDOT will compensate for the environment and damages,” said West.

Dr. Alan Edwards of the Jerusalem District also questioned the reliability of aerial maps initially used in studies for the road.

Rinehart said people are still in the field verifying accuracy.

Further, the project is a collaborative effort, he said, adding that VDOT first looks for ways to avoid negative effects, second to minimize and third to mitigate.

West replied that he’s “gravely concerned about the Blackwater watershed. You’re changing a way of life,” he said, and added he’s also fears that maintenance of the present 460 will be abandoned and people will be forced to use the toll road.

“Our intent is not to take 460 away,” said Rinehart.

Porter said he appreciates everyone wanting to be environmentally responsible, but the current 460 can’t handle the traffic that will continue to come from the Port of Virginia.

Edwards added a concern about how drinking water could be affected, and Glenn Updike of the Newsoms District said the toll road would kill the little towns along the current 460.

“VDOT has not been open to us as they should,” said West. “We’ve heard so much adverse effects. We’re concerned about transparency.”

Bruce Phillips of the Capron District asked Rinehart about long would it take for an accurate inventory of the environmental impact.

Phillips later told The Tidewater News that he wants a continued dialogue both about the environment impact in the county as well how the cul-du-sacking of roads would rescue services getting to residents. He also echoed West’s concerns about the road could cut off access to churches and farms.

Carl Faison of the Boykins District said he shares everyone’s worries about the environment, “but if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

When Edwards made a motion for the board to official oppose the project, Porter countered, “We don’t have the answers yet. It’s foolish to oppose it now.”

“We’re stuck, Barry. We’ve got to make a stand,” said Edwards.

“No, you make a stand when it happens,” replied Porter.

“We should have taken a stand a long time a long,” added Updike.

“We haven’t seen a complete study. I don’t know enough to oppose it. I don’t have all the facts,” said Porter. “I know I don’t oppose it on economic grounds.”

Phillips weighed in with Porter, saying that opposition could remove the county from any say-so.

“We need to stay involved,” said Phillips.

“It’s premature to come out in opposition now,” added Faison.

Dallas Jones of the Drewryville District, who was earlier re-elected board chairman, also weighed in with Porter, Phillips and Faison.

After West said he felt the county had been disregarded and “left out of the loop,” Porter made the aforementioned motion. Edwards agreed with that resolution and withdrew his proposal.