Southampton County year in review

Published 11:51 am Saturday, January 2, 2016

Is the wood product industry sustainable in Western Tidewater?

Is the wood product industry sustainable in Western Tidewater?

Newsoms disbands police department; Former Newsoms police chief files $1.32M lawsuit

Following a two-hour closed session of the Newsoms Town Council, members of the board unanimously decided to dissolve the town’s police department on Oct. 8, place Police Chief Jeffrey McKenney on paid administrative leave until the aforementioned date, terminate the employment of Lt. Jerry Studer with cause and accept the resignation of former mayor Kenneth Wayne Cooke.

With those in the gallery waiting for an explanation regarding the decisions, several members of the council remained silent at the urging of Town Attorney Tim Drewry. Vice Mayor Harvey Porter and councilman Joseph Stewart addressed the citizens, however, with the former reading a prepared statement.

“We have been faced with a difficult decision,” Porter said. “I hope this will put to rest some of the rampant stuff that’s been traveling the streets and the newspapers and all that. I ask for your support as we move forward to the future and I certainly am open to any suggestions you all may have.”

On Aug. 18, McKenney’s employment with the town was effectively terminated in a letter written by then-mayor Cooke. In said letter, Cooke insinuated that police chief had falsified his time sheets and referenced concerns raised by Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke regarding a 2012 grand jury indictment in which McKenney was charged with one felony count of obtaining money under false pretenses while employed by the Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Department. That charge was ultimately dismissed, but the Commonwealth’s Attorney told the former mayor that he would no longer consider McKenney a credible witness.

Mayor Cooke then gave McKenney the option resigning with four weeks of severance pay to supplement his search for other employment or be relieved of his duties as chief of police. McKenney was then terminated when he did not respond to the mayor’s request, and Lt. Jerry Studer was appointed interim chief.

When McKenney’s attorney, Jack Randall, stated at an emergency called meeting on Aug. 20 that the mayor had no authority to fire his client, town council reinstated the police chief. This apparently prompted Cooke to resign from his post as mayor. Nearly a month past before the board ultimately decided to disband the police department.

McKenney then filed a lawsuit in the Southampton County Circuit Court on Nov. 14, suing former Mayor Cooke, Vice Mayor Porter and the Town of Newsoms in the amount of $1.329 million for defamation, three counts of tortuous interference with a contractual relationship and lost wages.


Is the wood product industry sustainable in Western Tidewater?

A centuries-old practice in Southampton County and the city of Franklin, the logging industry has been vital to Western Tidewater since its inception in the early 1800s. What started with a small lumber mill located on the eastern bank of the Blackwater River developed into a thriving pulp and paper business that offered thousands of jobs to local residents during its height.

Because the company was successful for more than a century, there was never a question of whether or not the logging industry was sustainable in the region.

That question was asked, however, when Enviva — one of the world’s largest manufacturer of processed biomass — built a facility in Southampton County in 2013. In the year-plus since the facility was built on Rose Valley Road, logging practices have become more prominent throughout the county than it ever has been in its history.

There are roughly 246,000 acres of privately owned, harvestable timber in Southampton County, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry’s 2014 census.

Eric Roper, area forester for the Blackwater work area, said that in the four years prior to Enviva’s arrival, an annual average of 7,416 acres were harvested across the county and used by Franklin Lumber and International Paper. That number increased by more than 1,200 acres in the company’s first full year in the area.

Senior forester Scott Bachman of the Blackwater work area explained that trees can be reharvested in as little as 15 years.

“If it’s managed well, it’ll grow in densely and can be harvested every 15 years,” he said. “If left to grow naturally, it’s about 50 or 60 years until they’re a marketable product.”

If you start the 15-year reforestation and reharvesting cycle today, as Backman mentioned, under the assumption that all landowners replant and use the five-year annual average of harvested trees as a benchmark moving forward, the number of acres that will remain in Southampton County in 2030 will be roughly 131,595 acres. Nearly half of the county’s acreage will disappear before those trees can be reharvested for the first time. From there on, the practice is sustainable, as roughly 7,627 acres are harvested and 7,627 acres are replanted each year.

Bachman also said that a more generous replanting and reharvesting cycle is 20 to 25 years. Using that number, the total acres remaining in the county in 2035 (20 years) would be 93,460; and 55,325 acres in 2040 (25 years). Again, the practice is sustainable from there, but Southampton County would see massive deforestation prior to that date.

Based on a natural growth process, projections show that it would take only 33 years for every tree in Southampton County to disappear, falling quite short of the 60-year cycle that Quaranda said hardwood trees need.

Quite simply, the landowner plants the trees and sells it to the highest bidding logging company; the logging company sells the timber to the highest bidders, based on the parts or kind of trees; and the company produces what it can out of what it receives. If the landowner chooses to replant, then the cycle continues. Likewise, if he is financially unable to replant or chooses natural regeneration. This leaves the question: If not every landowner chooses to replant, is the industry sustainable?


Owner, local residents discuss Camp

Parkway project

Since the Southampton County Board of Supervisors adopted in June the 2015-2025 Comprehensive Plan, residents have openly questioned the intentions of those involved with the development of a parcel of property on Camp Parkway. County personnel and the owner of the land have tried to iron out the details surrounding the probable development, but uncertainty remains.

“This is an opportunity to build the tax base for the county and take that tax burden off of the residents, while also providing new local jobs,” said property owner Ed Fiscella.

No businesses have stated its intentions to move to the property if it is modified from A-1 agricultural and R-1 residential to M-1 light industrial, but the county wants to have the property shovel-ready to avoid going through the months-long rezoning process whenever a business may want to start building.

“I’m against a big construction development, but I think one of the things that concerns us the most is that they haven’t really been specific with what it’s going to be,” Clinton said. “It’s just vague, and it seems like there is not a real definite plan … What’s going in all of those buildings? What kind of businesses are going in there? How many people are we talking about that are going to work there? There’s nothing too specific. All I keep hearing is that it’s going to be a well-landscaped development with berms.”

Other residents of Camp Parkway and members of the High Street Methodist Church have echoed those concerns, while organizations such as the Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. and the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce have come out in support of the development.

“This site is also a win for the City of Franklin due to its location in a revenue-sharing area,” FSEDI President and CEO Amanda Jarrett said. “Any future industrial park or business park, no matter the location, is a part of the bigger picture for Franklin and Southampton. It is a project that will help future generations. It has the potential to increase tax revenue and employment opportunities for our local community allowing us to maintain our quality of life.”


Offenders grow crops at Southampton prison farm

The image of a prison farm is typically that of several rows of prisoners in black- and white-striped uniforms tending the fields under the watchful eye of guards with guns in the dry, summer heat. Historically and theatrically, there is a truth to that perception. But at Deerfield Agricultural Center, also known as the Southampton Prison Farm, the purpose of the the agribusiness program is to provide jobs for non-violent offenders and train them so that they can find employment upon release from prison.

“One, it gives the offender some kind of trade or skill while promoting good work ethics, and two, it reduces food cost for the prison system,” said John “Kenny” Raiford. Agribusiness Operations Director for the Virginia Department of Corrections.

The operation sits on more than 2,630 acres of land, and produces an average of 650 acres of crops per year. Hundreds of cattle roam the 330 acres of pasture, and a commercial pig farm houses 120 farrow-to-finish sows, a number of which recently gave birth.

Two hundred offenders — 120 female and 80 male — work in various jobs throughout the premises. The men work in the fields, livestock facilities, tractor shop, greenhouses, carpentry shop, pallet shop, grist mill or sawmill, while the women work in the flash-freeze facility. There, the produce that isn’t used at Deerfield is frozen and shipped elsewhere in the system.

“The prison is very important to the local economy,” Raiford said. “There are over 500 state employees working at the Deerfield Complex, and the prison utilizes numerous small businesses in Southampton and surrounding counties for goods and services.”


Body found in Southampton County identified as A.J. Hadsell

An investigation into the whereabouts of a college student who had been missing for more than a month led authorities to find her body outside an abandoned home on Smith’s Ferry Road on April 9. Anjelica “A.J.” Hadsell, a freshman at Longwood University in Farmville, was home on spring when she disappeared on March 2.

More than 60 personnel from the Norfolk Police Department, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Virginia State Police, Hampton Police K-9, Virginia Department of Corrections K-9 and Southampton County Sheriff’s Office were called to the location just one mile from the North Carolina state line.

Norfolk Police spokeswoman Welinda Wray announced that the medial examiner positively identified Hadsell on day later.

“Chief of Police Michael Goldsmith and the dedicated members of the Norfolk Police Department express their deepest sympathies to the Hadsell family and thank the many federal, state, and local agencies that have assisted throughout the course of this investigation,” Wray said.