Isle of Wight County year in review

Published 11:33 am Saturday, January 2, 2016

Route 460 project

The year 2015 was certainly not without its surprises, and none more startling than the proposed Route 460 project.

In the past few years, residents along the route from Suffolk through Isle of Wight and Southampton counties had been voicing their concerns on the plan to create a toll road to the south of the existing 460. Many feared they would be displaced, property values would be negatively affected and the path would cut into valuable farmland.

Soon after Gov. Terry McAuliffe took office, he suspended contract spending. Jump to March 14, 2014, when State Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne announced that an order was made to stop work. Layne said at the time that it was a temporary suspension of contract and permit work after private partners 460 Mobility Partners issued a stop-work order. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also withheld giving permits because the project could have endangered hundreds of acres of wetlands.

At the time, $300 million had been spent on the estimated $1.4 billion project.

In mid-January, the interested parties presented a new proposal for 460, which would would have a non-tolled road going from Suffolk to Zuni for 17 miles; a bridge going over a swamp would also be replaced.

Officials from Windsor and the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors and staff were initially taken aback by the new proposal. Concerns then and now have focused on the egress and ingress of vehicles, particularly where the town and the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park are concerned.

Ultimately, the supervisors voted on a resolution to support the Preferred Alternative because, as several of them essentially told the public, it was better to have a say in the matter than none at all.

In mid-April of 2015, the state sought to end the 2012 contract signed with 460 Mobility Partners. A settlement was ultimately reached on July 2, with $46 million returned to taxpayers, and cancel an $103 million claim from the company.

Public hearings in Suffolk and Windsor during the spring allowed residents to see the proposed plan, which would bypass the town on the north.

This past November, the Army Corps announced a comment period effective from Nov. 20 to Jan. 5, which would allow people to write in the questions and concerns about the permit filed for the project.

Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson, who has opposed the project for a number of reasons, called on the Corps to extend the period for 60 days. Last week, the Corps said it would grant an additional 15 days. Reviewing enlarged maps, she also perceives that the changes have been made regarding promised entrances and exits at 460. It appeared to her that the 258 and intermodal park accommodations are gone.

In a phone conversation on Tuesday, VDOT Environmental Project Manager Angel Deem said that she would not characterize what the mayor interpreted as a change.

“The department is committed to studying access at four locations: the 58 interchange at the eastern end of the corridor [meaning Suffolk]; where the proposed 460 and existing 460 intersect on the east and west of windsor; and the fourth at 258. … the one at the east end is actually closer to the intermodal park,” Deem said. She added that access to the proposed 460 would still be at three of the four locations with the 258 interchange ruled out.

Firefighters fought County for control.

When people weren’t talking about the proposed alternative to Route 460 last year, they were likely discussing the conflict that the Windsor and Carrollton fire stations were having with Isle of Wight County government.

As far back as 2008, the WVFD had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to how the operations, equipment and facility of WVFD would be conducted.

Jump to early May 2014, that’s when proposed Vehicle Lease and Facility Use agreements were offered to all stations, including rescue units. The vehicle portion was later dropped by the Board of Supervisors. But according to Dale Scott, captain of the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department, the BOS also said funds would be withheld from any station that didn’t sign by the end of the fiscal year, June 30. But the two holdout stations essentially wanted a greater say-so in how their facilities would be run on a daily basis, and would come on board.

Sticking points including reducing the agreement from 20 years to one year with a five-year renewal; second, consistency across the board for grass-cutting at the locations; third, a dispersement of funds; and fourth, designated language such as who’s to be station chief.

The WVFD and CVFD went so far as to hire attorney Woodrow Cross to negotiate compromise agreements. In January, the stations even offered revised agreements, but only then-Supervisor Byron “Buzz” Bailey would support them.

In March, the five other fire and rescue posts came to agree and sign the County’s revised facilities use agreement. Members of WVFD and CVFD felt they were being punished for not signing with the County by not paying for insurance, utilities, etc.

Back-and-forth sessions with the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors included a suggestion in the spring that if the two agencies signed a six-month plan, the bills would be paid. Further, representatives would powwow with Emergency Services Coordinator Jeff Terwilliger and come up with a new and permanent plan. This had been forth by then-Supervisor Delores “Dee Dee” Darden.

Later in June, the Petition for Payment of Contributions was filed by a new attorney, Joseph Latchum Jr. from Newport News. Both departments made claims for money they believe was owed to them by the County government. That matter was tabled by the board, and action was not required until early September.

Darden explained then that the FUA is for the maintenance of buildings and to establish a code of behavior. She proceeded to read a list of concerns that apparently inspired the deal, such as response time, late reports, no background checks for training and two incidents of sexual harassment.

“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got equity and a safe county to live and work in,” Darden said. “We are very concerned. We need to move forward as a county. We are responsible to you the citizens.”

County Administrator Anne Seward also said the FUA is on her and that the deal is for the protection of the people in Isle of Wight.

On Sept. 17, the parties involved finally reached an agreement. Funds were presented on Sept. 25. Scott told Windsor Council, for example, that “The Memorandum of Understanding as a whole remains in place with two or three provisions. The biggest changes are in the 20-year agreement. There’s a one year initial term with five three-year terms, rather than a 20-year lock.”

During the last BOS meeting of the calendar year, the WVFD and CVFD essentially asked for compensation for the expenses they endured during the conflict, but the matter was tabled as an issue for the new board to handle.

Voters make their point at polls.

As if the proposed Route 460 and firefighters issue with Isle of Wight government weren’t enough, many, many county residents were deeply involved in preventing ISLE 2040 from coming to fruition. The goal of the County staff’s plan was to prepare for predicted growth throughout the county. But people weren’t buying it, and said so vehemently in letters to the newspaper, civic meetings and, of course at the supervisors’ meetings. Ultimately, the board agreed to drop the matter. Voters on Election Day apparently still felt their frustration over this as well as the other two matters, and got themselves three new leaders.

Windsor District’s Delores “Dee Dee” Darden lost to challenger Joel Acree, a member of the Carrollton Volunteer Department. Newport’s Byron “Buzz” Bailey and Smithfield’s Al Casteen had earlier announced they weren’t running for reelection.

Soon after the election, Darden told the paper, “I thought it was going to be close race and I thought it would be a lot closer than it was. I guess people were ready for a change.”

She wasn’t the only person to leave County government. In the November meeting, Administrator Anne Seward gave her notice that Dec. 31 would be her last day.

Chairman Rex Alphin made the statement: “Given the fact that several of the new Board members campaigned on, have met and conveyed their desire to take the Board in a new direction, the current Board and Ms. Seward felt it was in the best interests of the county.”

Also exiting were Charles Meek, assistant administrator, who is going to Suffolk, and Mark Furlo, the Parks and Rec director, heading to Portsmouth.

Windsor gets its own paper.

On March 28, Windsor Weekly was launched. It’s the cooperative effort of The Tidewater News and The Suffolk News-Herald.