Whispering Pines to Whisper Its Last

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By Linda Cicoira — The former Whispering Pines Motel, in ruins from being neglected and set afire during an infamous arson spree, is going to be demolished at last. Well, at least there is an approved plan for the dangerous, abandoned, and deteriorating buildings that are filled with rotting mattresses, mold, and trash. A date for its demise is expected to be set next week.

Accomack supervisors voted Wednesday to give Allen Clark Jr. Inc., of Atlantic, the $185,260 job of hauling away the dangerous remains of the once-booming landmark. Supervisor Billy Joe Tarr was absent from the session due to illness. The rest of the members were in favor of the move, which included an assessment of $10,910 for the abatement of asbestos.

Three other companies bid on the project. Harry C. White House Movers, of Pocomoke, Md., wanted $660,000; Brittingham Bulldozing and Excavating, of New Church, bid $399,500; and Macsons Demolition & Environmental Services, of Norfolk, asked for $248,316. 

A lien will be put on the property, which belongs to Whispering Pines Inc., of Dillsburg, Pa., for any money that can’t be recovered. The old motel was auctioned in 2012 for $28,000 in an attempt to collect around $35,000 in back real estate taxes. The sale fell through when it was realized that the company and its president, Dusan Bratic, had filed for bankruptcy. In December, a judge decided to allow the county to move forward despite the filing.

A Virginia Economic Development Partnership grant of $50,000 will help fund the project. Nearly $118,460 in derelict building funds, set aside for such projects, will also be used. The rest will come from the current county budget. 

“Although we hope to recoup costs expended, unfortunately, it is likely that the county will have to absorb a portion of the costs, and recoup expenses from future tax revenue generated by the future development of the property,” according to a memo written by Deputy County Administrator Rich Morrison. “The property will be flat,” he said at the session. Trees and some concrete are not part of the demolition. “A sewage lagoon, that is secured by a fence,” will also be left, Morrison reported.

NASA Report

Acting Director Dave Pierce, of NASA Wallops Flight Facility, was introduced to the supervisors and reported that the agency is anticipating an “amazing” year. He also acknowledged the goal of making reductions. “Companies are consolidating … administration directed us to do the same … to work more closely with the Greenbelt office.”

“Wallops is crucial to the future of the agency over the next 20 years … We know that our budget is solid for this year… and for the years to come,” Pierce said. “We want to work with our community to be as involved and as transparent as possible.”

The director said there will be 23 sounding rockets, 16 balloon flights, two Antares missions, a Minotaur launch, aircraft missions, a launch competition to help grown small launch vehicle providers, and more in 2019.

He thanked local chambers of commerce, chicken plants, churches, and others for supporting NASA employees during the shutdown. Pierce noted that NASA was recognized as the best place to work in the federal government “and we believe Wallops is best of that.”

Pierce got his start through an internship while in high school and wants to inspire students to work in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) job. “We can look forward to partnering with you to have internships and work in the schools.” Quoting a recent ODU study, Pierce said, NASA brings $820 million in direct economic impacts to the community, $284 million in indirect impacts, and $265 million in induced impacts. 

County Budget Approved

The supervisors also voted to approve their 2019-20 budget of $58.2 million with no increases in real estate or personal property tax rates. The total spending package involves 1.2 percent more money than is in the current budget or an increase of $674,010. 

There was a $5 per ton increase in the tipping fee, to $80. About 57 percent of the total funds, or $32.9 million, would come from general property taxes. The majority of the funds, about $18.1 million, or 31.2 percent, are earmarked for county schools.

Delinquent Tax List

A complete list of unpaid real estate tax bills is available on the county website at https://www.boarddocs.com/va/coa/Board.nsf/files/BAFVHV6E8CB3/$file/Accomack%20County%20Real%20Estate%20Delinquent%20Account%20List%20as%20of%2020190313.pdf 

It includes penalties and interest. The debtors are provided alphabetically on 158 pages and exclude those owing less than $5. County Administrator Mike Mason said the list totals more than $3 million.

Litter Plan

A new initiative that pairs guarded prisoners with county workers to collect roadside litter has begun, Mason reported. The idea was the brainstorm of Capt. Todd Wessells, of the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office, who volunteered nonviolent prisoners with less than 90 days left on their sentence for the task. It takes three people to operate the county’s litter vacuum truck – a driver, a hose operator, and an additional laborer to collect items too large/heavy to be vacuumed. 

The driver will continue to be a county employee. But the other two workers will be prisoners under the guard of an armed deputy. Mason said the plan was approved by the county’s liability coverage provider and agreed to by Sheriff Todd Godwin. “Standard operating guidelines have also been drafted (and are) designed to safeguard county staff.”

Prisoners are already involved in trash collection on the weekends. Wessells wants to up the job to four times a week with two runs for litter during the week.

Supervisor Reneta Major said she saw Godwin’s work crew recently on Shellbridge Road. “Trash is everywhere,” she said. “It sickens me to see so much trash. Especially when it is so close to a convenience center. I noticed the Waste Watcher group doing litter pickup as well.”

Melfa Area Apartments

The supervisors also approved a conditional use permit for Accomack Properties Inc. as recommended by the county planning commission. The permit will allow three apartment buildings with a total of 45 units within the residential zone. Permits are required for more than 25 dwelling units. The property is on Dogwood Road near Lankford Highway. Before the project could begin, the company would have to acquire property from the state police nearby so a traffic light and adequate turn lanes could be constructed.

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