By Carol Vaughn —
Rep. Elaine Luria was on the Eastern Shore Monday for a daylong series of events celebrating more than $11.2 million in federal grants awarded for three Eastern Shore projects.
In March, Luria announced more than $18.5 million in awards for seven community projects across the congressional district.
Luria’s first stop Monday was at the Eastern Shore of Virginia 9-1-1 Center in Accomac.
Federal community project funding of $8.2 million will help pay for critically needed upgrades to the public safety radio communication system on the Shore.
“This is the place where all the 911 calls, whether it’s a voice call or a text call — they all come here and then we take care of it from there,” transferring the calls to the appropriate agencies for response, said Jeff Flournoy, Eastern Shore of Virginia 911 director, who kicked off the event in Accomac.
The award was the single largest community project amount awarded in the entire country this year, Luria said.
Luria thanked first responders at the event “for the things you do every day to help keep the community safe.”
The community project funding, formerly known as earmarks, returned to Congress this year for the first time in more than a decade, Luria said, adding, “The first thing we did was reach out across the community and try to find the places that had the most need and that could make the most impact.
“This project was an easy decision. When you find out that the 911 system on the Shore was patchy, there were areas it didn’t cover, it wasn’t up to date and modern, it didn’t have digital location services — all of the things that when people pick up the phone and call 911, they expect to get someone on the other end who can help them … and connect them to the people who are going to come and protect their safety. … That call has to get to somebody, and so making this investment was truly a no-brainer.”
Accomack County Supervisor Ron Wolff, who serves on the Eastern Shore of Virginia 911 Commission, compared getting the award to making the winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in a baseball game.
“We’ve been working on this project at the 911 Commission since 2019. We’ve worked hard to try to prepare to get this ready and as we were kind of getting into the last hour, I had a conversation with Mike Mason, the county administrator from Accomack County. We heard about this grant funding, and I said, ‘Mike, this might be a great opportunity for us.
“…This was like the bottom of the ninth and we needed a walk-off home run. So we contacted Congresswoman Luria’s office and we pitched the idea of trying to get money for this grant — and lo and behold, we called in a pinch hitter, Congresswoman Luria; she stepped up to the plate. It was a pitch that was right down the center. She swung for the fence and it was a home run. It was a game winning home run, $8.2 million for a regional project.”
The project “affects every citizen on the Eastern Shore,” Wolff said, calling the award “a great win for the Eastern Shore.”
Northampton County Administrator Charles Kolakowski said the award “will greatly improve the capabilities for our emergency responders” and will free up money to be used for other needs in the region.
Mason thanked Luria and her staff for their work to get federal funding for the communications system. He recalled results of a 2019 study, which found the current public safety communications infrastructure and operations in the region was “inefficient at best and in a worst-case scenario, life threatening.”
“Ever since then, we have been trying to solve this problem,” he said.
Mason said in his 31 years with Accomack County, “I have never, ever received as much independent support from the congresswoman or any federal legislator, and her staff as we received on this project — and it really, really makes a difference here and will make a difference going forward.”
Sen. Lynwood Lewis thanked Luria, saying, “There is no more fundamental service for government than providing for the public safety … and so this tremendous amount of money, $8.2 million, for something as basic to supporting these (public safety) folks as a system of reliable and effective communications is just tremendous for life here on the Eastern Shore.”
The public safety systems currently in use on the Shore use different frequencies that are deficient with coverage and have interoperability issues.
Once implemented, the new regional system will provide public safety-grade, reliable, mission-critical voice and data communications for first responders.
Both Accomack and Northampton counties were ready to take on debt this year to make the needed upgrades. With the federal award, the financial burden on both counties has been significantly reduced, although the price has risen to $9.5 million since application was made for the federal funding, meaning the counties will need to cover the additional costs.
Proposals are being reviewed now and the hope is a contractor will be chosen by May or June, with work on the system starting later this summer. It likely will take around two years for the new system to be fully in place, according to county officials