At its final meeting of 2016 (December 12), the Front Royal Town Council bid adieu to two retiring members, Mayor Tim Darr and Councilman Bret Hrbek, and continued its internal debate about exactly who it is that the EDA has contracted to become the bringer of economic re-development to the former Avtex Superfund site.
Between the fond farewells and philosophical impasse over the mystery company ITFederal, Council also concluded the year by:
- unanimously voting to become an official sponsor of the five-year-old Memorial Day event that acknowledges, not only the human sacrifice of war service, but of canine service as well;
- by a 4-2 margin, Hrbek and Meza dissenting, authorizing purchase of a new rear-loading garbage truck at a price of $175,935 to be paid over four years by an internal, interest-free loan from the Water Enterprise Fund;
- unanimously authorized over $39-million in funding to be carried over into the FY-2017 Budget for multi-year projects. As pointed out by Gene Tewalt, over $25-million of that amount is attributed to State-mandated upgrades to the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Plant; and almost $9-million to construction of Leach’s Run Parkway;
- authorized a deadline of December 28 for applications to fill the Council seat that will be vacated by Hollis Tharpe’s ascendance to Mayor. Council heard from one citizen, Tina Smith, who urged them to appoint the fourth place finisher in the November Election, Mike McCool, of National Media Services (and publisher of this online news site).
But all the “Reality Show” drama that has become the standard for American politics in 2016 was reserved for the fond farewells and not-so-fond majority-minority of one debate over the ability of ITFederal to achieve what it has promised in the way of investment ($40-million) and jobs (400 to 600) to this community. That debate centered over Council’s second Resolution of Support of ITFederal LLC in two years.
The first was approved on November 23, 2015, at the request of First Bank & Trust before the bank would authorize a $10-million construction loan with which the Town’s “bridge loan” to ITFederal through the EDA was paid back around the turn of last year.
This one was suggested to appease ITFederal CEO Truc “Curt” Tran after Hrbek conveyed the message that Tran was considering pulling out of that promised investment on 30 acres at the Avtex/Royal Phoenix site. However, Tran might find it hard to walk away from what was essentially a $2-million gift of that 30 acres for development. After several months of negotiations, the EDA agreed to sell the 30 acres valued at $67,000 per acre, to ITFederal for one dollar.
That gift, which EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald asserts there are local precedents for including Toray in the North Corridor, was made in an attempt to jump start commercial redevelopment at the Avtex site. For about four decades the site housed the largest private-sector employer in Town, successively American Viscose, FMC Corporation and finally the Avtex synthetic fibers manufacturing plant. However, the 467-acre site has been dormant economically over a quarter century of federally-overseen environmental cleanup and remediation.
At Council’s November 28 meeting, Hrbek said Tran had been offended by the nature or tone of questions posed about him and his company, most prominently at Council’s meeting of October 24. As reported here in our Egger-and-Hrbek-inspired ”Perfect Storm of Silence” mini-series, in late October Egger questioned McDonald about:
- Tran’s purchase of the 70-plus-acre Millennium Lotus property off Happy Creek Road and business plans for that property;
- his involvement in the EB-5 Visa Immigrant Investor Program’s “America Commonwealth Regional Center, LLC located at Tyson’s Corner;
- and what she said were past issues with some businesses under the auspices of that program failing to live up to promised economic development.
Egger suggested seeking assurances from Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte, credited by McDonald with bringing Tran and ITFederal to the EDA as “an economic development opportunity”, for assurances about the economic viability of the company.
Prior to Monday’s vote Egger re-asserted her enthusiasm for the promise of ITFederal and said there was a lot in the Resolution she liked. Prominent among things to like was acknowledgement of ITFederal’s commitment to contribute $150,000 to the West Main Street Extension, seen as a key access road to the planned Royal Phoenix Business Park. McDonald noted to this reporter that commitment was integral to Council’s decision not to seek about $4,000 per month in interest on the two, one-month extensions of its September 2015 construction “bridge loan”.
However, Egger questioned one paragraph included in the Resolution of Support related to her earlier queries. That graph states, “Whereas, the EDA has factual evidence that ITFederal has been the recipient of awards of substantial federal contracts, which is one reason why Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte has strongly promoted ITFederal’s location in the Town of Front Royal;”
Egger asked if that “factual evidence” was available to Council.
Hrbek replied that McDonald had seen it.
Egger asked if the EDA Executive Director was in possession of that evidence so that it could be shown to Council in order to verify the contention that the evidence of those large government contracts does, in fact, exist. Discussion indicated she is not; but Egger’s subsequent amendment to delete the paragraph died without a second.
However, having admitted the alleged “factual evidence” was NOT in the EDA’s possession, Hrbek offered an amendment to reword the paragraph in question to state, “… the EDA has reviewed the evidence that ITFederal has been the recipient” of those large federal contracts. Hrbek’s amendment to his original motion to approve the Resolution passed unanimously.
But Egger continued to oppose the blanket endorsement without more facts. Citing the veil of secrecy over basic facts concerning the financial basis upon which ITFederal can achieve what has been promised, Egger cast the lone dissenting vote to this year’s Resolution of Support of ITFederal and its plan to build at, develop, and populate a 30-acre parcel at the Royal Phoenix Business Park.