By Carol Vaughn —
Chris Isdell, of the VDOT Accomac Residency, at the Accomack County Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday answered questions about recent serious crashes on Route 13.
“There have been so many fatalities that have been happening in both counties. … As far as safety, is there anything that we have overlooked?” said Supervisor Reneta Major.
Isdell said of the many recommendations made in a 2016 safety study, some have been addressed.
Improvements made include installing traffic signals at the industrial park and in Temperanceville; high visibility backplates for traffic signals; additional signage; flashing warning signs; and refreshed striping, among others.
Additionally, some highway crossovers were closed or modified, but funding is needed to complete the work and make other recommended improvements.
“So a lot of those things were done but not everything was done,” Isdell said.
Accomack has submitted Smart Scale applications for some projects.
VDOT is currently doing a study of the highway from Taylor Road in Tasley to Walmart in Onley.
“That is an area that has a high cluster of incidents,” Isdell said.
When a fatal crash happens, an internal investigation is conducted by VDOT traffic engineers, field technicians, and himself, he said.
“We’ve had six this first part of the year alone, which is very high,” he said, noting the fatality rate in Virginia as a whole this year has been higher than in the past.
The four crashes, resulting in six fatalities, on Route 13 since January have been investigated “and we have findings from that,” Isdell said.
VDOT staff also look at the police report when a fatal crash happens, including looking at causes listed by the police, he said.
Major said Hampton Roads as a whole has had 26 vehicular fatalities so far this year, noting, “And six came from us.”
Supervisor Donald L. Hart Jr., Accomack-Northampton Transportation District chairman, asked Isdell to start sending a VDOT representative to monthly ANTDC meetings. He said the same request has been made of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commission.
“We are trying to incorporate everybody,” Hart said.
David Pierce, NASA Wallops Flight Facility Director, reported to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors on the three- to five-year outlook for the facility.
Pierce said, “Over the past year, the NASA Wallops team kept going forward,” despite the pandemic. He thanked the board of supervisors for its support throughout the pandemic.
“Wallops is thriving and its future is bright,” Pierce said, noting in 2021 Wallops supported 27 launches with 100% success.
For 2022, 39 sounding rocket missions are in the works, along with balloon missions, orbital launches, and “an unprecedented schedule of activities on Wallops’ main base and UAS (unmanned aerial system) runways,” he said.
“All the while the Wallops staff is working with our students at Eastern Shore Community College and our high schools to inspire students to become future explorers and to inspire them to take on jobs at Wallops,” he said.
“We’re laser-focused on developing the launch range of the future,” including developing the NASA autonomous flight termination unit, which when completed this year will be delivered to private industry, Pierce said.
Wallops is working closely with Virginia Space to facilitate access to space for commercial enterprises.
“Wallops will continue to aggressively support the new commercial launch industry on Delmarva” and is seeking to promote associated manufacturing jobs, he said.
With the coming of Rocket Lab, Wallops envisions monthly launches to low-Earth orbit from in the future — likely more than 20 launches a year by 2025 and 20 to 30 a year by the end of the decade.
Rail Trail Update
The board approved a resolution supporting the Eastern Shore of Virginia Rail Trail and approving the submission of grant applications for the trail, after Supervisor Ron Wolff gave an update about the project.
Wolff talked about his family’s ties to the railroad, saying in 1902 his grandfather immigrated from Liverpool to Philadelphia by boat and then came to Pocomoke City, Md., by rail.
“Let us make history again as we move forward with a rails to trails program to replace the existing railroad,” he said.
The proposed trail passes through 12 towns and will provide economic and tourism opportunities, according to Wolff.
The Accomack-Northampton Transportation District Commission in January adopted a resolution creating the Eastern Shore Rail Trail Foundation, a nonprofit corporation charged with heading up planning and design for a trail along around 50 miles of railroad right-of-way between Cape Charles and Hallwood.
Wolff is chairman of the foundation, whose directors include two Accomack supervisors, two Northampton supervisors, and four community members.
The foundation asked each county for $50,000 this year as seed money.
The state budget includes $233 million for rail trails around Virginia, but the Eastern Shore trail was not specifically funded, according to Wolff.
However, a rail trail commission was created at the state level, which could help the project in the future.
There are dozens of rail trails throughout Virginia, Wolff said, noting, “It has really become kind of big business in the commonwealth.”
“The Eastern Shore Rail Trail is shovel ready and with funding, we hope, could be completed in three to five years,” Wolff said.
The foundation’s vision is that VDOT will build and maintain the trail, he said.
Some existing trails are funded privately, but most are funded and maintained through VDOT, setting a precedent, Wolff said.
Library Construction Agreement
The board approved a memorandum of understanding with the contractor and the surety company involved in construction of the new public library in Parksley.
The agreement extends the completion date to July 29.
It requires extensive monitoring of the construction site by the president of RH Contracting and by a consultant engaged by the surety.
The agreement also requires the contractor to pay the county $225,000 in liquidated damages, with a potential credit of $1,500 for each day the project is completed before July 29, up to $15,000, among other terms.
The board’s vote authorized Mason to execute the agreement.
The agreement was negotiated after the contractor did not complete construction by Jan. 28, the date given in the contract.
The $5.3 million, 20,837-square-foot facility will be the regional headquarters for the Eastern Shore Public Library system as well as home to the new Eastern Shore of Virginia Heritage Center.
It is at 24313 Bennett St., at the site of a former Fresh Pride grocery store.
The library project includes renovating and adding on to the former store.
Delays and supply chain issues, including pandemic-related problems, have plagued the library project, pushing back the completion date.
Ground was broken in October 2019 on the building, which will replace the 11,000-square-foot library in Accomac, which dates to 1965.
Travel Trailer Ordinance
The board voted to not approve an ordinance amendment that would have changed rules for living in travel trailers.
The board at its Feb. 16 meeting sent the proposed ordinance back to the Department of Planning for possible changes, after Supervisor Harrison Phillips asked about the possibility of permitting RVs for temporary habitation on property automatically when a building permit is issued for home construction, without requiring a special use permit.
Three people spoke at a public hearing in January about the ordinance, which would have limited use of travel trailers for habitation on a construction site to one year unless the Board of Zoning Appeals approved an extension, with a special use permit required.
Planning staff last fall, at the request of the BZA, began work on amendments to the ordinance to limit extended living in travel trailers.
Used Vehicle Values Up, Tax Adjustment Considered
A review of over 30,000 used vehicle and motorcycle values showed an average increase of 22.37% and 8.27%, respectively.
The increase is substantially higher than what was used to forecast the county’s 2023 personal property tax revenue (7.5%).
Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason said he will propose the board consider decreasing the personal property tax rate for automobiles, passenger trucks, and motorcycles as a temporary measure to provide tax relief due to the unprecedented increase. The amount of the decrease depends on the final version of legislation in the General Assembly allowing for the action, but could be a 33-cent reduction per $100 value in the tax rate for that class of vehicles.
Additionally, federal funding for the 9-1-1 communications system means the county will have money to put toward other uses in the 2023 budget. Mason said staff will give the board more detailed information after the budget public hearing.
Wetlands Fee Increase Proposed
The board voted to schedule a public hearing about the Wetland Board’s recommendation to increase the in-lieu fee for vegetated wetlands and enact an in-lieu fee for non-vegetated wetlands.
Virginia, as a Chesapeake Bay Program partner, in 2000 committed to achieve no net loss of existing wetlands. The Wetlands Board complies as closely as possible to that objective.
Establishing a fee for non-vegetated wetlands and increasing the fee for vegetated wetlands helps applicants compensate for wetlands losses where they are unavoidable.
The fees are used to create wetlands to replace those lost.
The recommendation is to increase the fee for vegetated wetlands from $12 to $18 per square foot, which reflects the true cost to the county, and to impose a fee for non-vegetated wetlands of $18 per square foot.
County Administrator’s Report
Mason asked the board to be thinking about regional, shovel-ready projects to consider submitting for the next round of federal community project funding.
Rep. Elaine Luria announced last week that funding was included in the federal spending bill for three Shore projects: $8.2 million to replace the entire public safety radio communications system on the Shore; $2.5 million to design and build 2.3 miles of the Southern Tip Trail; and $500,000 for New Road Community Development Group of Exmore, Inc., to redevelop a nine-acre site into a mixed-use, residential community.
Input Sought on ARPA Money Use
The board scheduled a town hall meeting Thursday, May 5, at 6 p.m. at Metompkin Elementary School to get public input on possible uses of the second round of federal funds, $3.1 million, coming to the county in May as result of the American Rescue Plan Act.
Sawmill Park Features Named For Community Leaders
The board voted to name the ballfield at Sawmill Park in Accomac the “Tony Robinson Washington Jr. and Earline Page Washington Ballfield” and the pavilion at the park the “William ‘Bill’ Allen Sr. Pavilion, after the board of supervisors approved the names.