By Stefanie Jackson – Some Cheriton citizens don’t want a fire training school in their town, but for the past eight years, their wishes have continually gone up in smoke.
The Pacific Atlantic Professional Academy (PAPA) is directed by Lee Goldman, of Norfolk, who also directs the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA).
PAPA has operated in Cheriton since 2011, on land leased from the town, behind the Cheriton Volunteer Fire Department.
Locals sometimes call the fire school the “maritime academy” because maritime firefighting training and Coast Guard training are among the programs offered by the nonprofit.
Since 2011, several citizens have complained on numerous occasions to the town council about the smoke generated by the outdoor firefighting training exercises.
Complaints about the smoke have ranged from ruining laundry hung outside to triggering asthma attacks.
A majority of the complaints were made by a couple whose home on Sunnyside Road is adjacent to the fire department.
The outdoor training exercises occur no more than once or twice a week, for no longer than 30 minutes at a time, former fire chief Eddie Stockton explained at a town council meeting last year.
But locals have persisted in their objections.
Granville Hogg, a resident of the Cheriton area, raised concerns about PAPA before the Northampton board of supervisors in September.
He said he heard that the school is moving to a new location in Cheriton on Route 13.
“I look at this from the standpoint that if I were riding up Route 13, that the smoke might attract my attention, probably away from my driving skills,” Hogg said.
He was also concerned that the rumored new location is near a daycare center.
Spencer Murray, chairman of the board of supervisors, said he was unable to determine the board’s position on the matter because it had not been presented to the board for a vote.
Director of Planning and Zoning Susan McGhee noted that a school is a by-right land use in Northampton County.
Hogg suggested holding the outdoor training exercises either at the county landfill, where the wind would blow smoke over the marsh, or at the Eastern Shore Regional Fire Training Center in Melfa.
Stockton has indicated that conducting the fire training in Cheriton is more convenient for his crew than traveling to Melfa.
“I hear your concerns, but … I can’t tell that school where to conduct their training,” Murray told Hogg.
“Just because of the fact that it says it’s a school doesn’t necessarily mean that it may not be dealing with biohazard materials,” Hogg said.
Supervisor Dave Fauber, who represents Cheriton’s voting district, drives by the school several times a day, he said. He observes the outdoor training only about twice a month and doesn’t believe the practice is harmful.
But he admitted that “if we give these people a hard enough time, I guarantee you, MAMA’s going to leave.”
“They’re going to get out of this county, because … no place is the right place for them, and they’re going to leave. And I think that would be unfortunate, because it’s good organization,” Fauber said.
Murray recommended that Hogg contact the school directly about his concerns.
“At this point, I don’t know that there’s anything this board can do about it,” Murray said.
PAPA’s lease of town-owned property is typically renewed annually, in November. The school pays more than $500 per month for the lease.
PAPA also pays the Cheriton Volunteer Fire Department $1,200 per month to use its facility.
At the Oct. 23 Cheriton town council meeting, Mayor Larry LeMond reported that Goldman requested to renew her lease, but only through Jan. 30, 2020.
A motion was made to renew the lease for the requested period at the current price, and it was seconded and passed unanimously.