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EDA ends year on positive note; and says goodbye to Sealock

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The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority ended 2016 on an upbeat after a year of frustration revolving around delays to Avtex site re-development.

At the EDA’s final meeting of 2016, Executive Director Jennifer McDonald told her Board, First, that the State Commonwealth Transportation Board had approved the Town of Front Royal’s application for Industrial Access funding for the West Main Street extension that could be worth as much as $500,000 in unmatched state funding for one of the primary access roads to the Royal Phoenix Business Park;

And Secondly, that a new Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Project Manager had given the okay for walking trails through the Conservancy Park section of the property.

Jennifer McDonald, gray sweater, cheers her board up with some positive news to close the year – at the top of the list is positive movement at Royal Phoenix; an expected road-ready Leach’s Run Parkway by April; and Town permitting approval of the EDA’s Workforce Housing Project. Photos/Roger Bianchini

During earlier monthly reports McDonald had already informed both the Front Royal Town Council and Warren County Board of Supervisors that final authorization of the first property sale to a commercial client, Information Technologies Solutions contractor ITFederal, had been authorized by the Department of Justice on September 23, 2016.

That authorization, which according to EPA officials required approval by all involved Avtex Superfund stakeholders, including the EPA/DoJ, the Town of Front Royal, Warren County, the EDA, and former owner and mandated cleanup partner FMC Corporation, was required to remove the ITFed parcel from a $2,060,000 lien on the property.  That lien is designed to provide some compensation to the feds and FMC for the millions of dollars in cleanup and remediation costs spent by both over a quarter century of work at the site.  The feds alone spent over $24-million there.

As first reported at Royal Examiner, the EDA request to remove the 30-acre ITFederal parcel from the lien to facilitate a one-dollar sale price was sent by then-EDA and Warren County attorney Blair Mitchell to the EPA on September 18, 2015.  Unfortunately for time considerations, long-time EPA Superfund Project Manager Kate Lose retired, leaving a vacuum of EPA leadership concerning the Avtex Superfund site just as the EDA request was made.  But with Fed sale approval and State road funding authorization now in place, along with a new Superfund Project Manager, things appear to be taking a positive turn.

Even State DEQ approval of a stormwater management plan vilified by outgoing Town Councilman Bret Hrbek as a primary delaying factor on November 28, was received over a year BEFORE Hrbek made his recent allegations of possible partisan hanky panky by the Democratic Governor’s Office.  According to a document provided to us by McDonald, DEQ verified the necessary permitting was in place under guidelines established in July 2014, on November 16, 2015.  The EDA-ITFederal sale negotiation wasn’t completed until September 2015.

McDonald has predicted ITFederal will start breaking ground this spring on the first of as many as eight buildings shown in their site plan.  Exactly what kind of businesses may occupy the bulk of space in those buildings remains a matter of unresolved contention on the Town Council.  BUT I guess the majority thought process is as they said in the baseball fable “Field of Dreams” – “Build it and they will come” … whoever “THEY” may be.

Other business

Despite low temperatures delaying the laying of the Leach’s Run Parkway road surface, McDonald said contractors remained confident the key north-south connector road on the Town’s east side would be ready for traffic by April.  The project deadline is June 24, 2017.

She also reported positive movement on the EDA’s Workforce Housing Project designed to provide 36 rental units in three buildings off an extension of Royal Lane on Front Royal’s south side.  The Front Royal Town Council gave final approval to a Special Exception Request for the extension of a dead-end cul d’sac road enabling the project on November 14.  Only Bébhinn Egger opposed the permitting, citing authorization of the construction project without attaching what her colleagues agreed were necessary road improvements to dead-end Royal Lane.  Royal Lane will require an extension to reach the currently landlocked property donated to the EDA in return for tax credits to the former owners.  Royal Lane already funnels traffic from nine single-family homes, 99 apartments and two commercial buildings onto John Marshall Highway.

EDA Board member Greg Drescher, who is also Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, noted that 65 percent of new teachers hired by the system did not live in the county.  The primary rationale for EDA development and management of an apartment complex is the need for affordable housing for young professionals, most commonly cited as teachers and law enforcement officers.

McDonald also reported that the Railroad Workers Brotherhood located off Shenandoah Shores Road near the Happy Creek Commercial Park was seeking an exemption from parking requirements attached to a planned expansion of that facility.  She noted the RR Brotherhood would have to buy additional land for the expansion if they did not receive the permitting exemption from the Town.  McDonald said the building now houses office space essentially for one person.

EDA Board Chair Patty Wines presents Bill Sealock with a plaque of appreciation for his 5 years of service on the EDA Board of Directors. Sealock resigned the EDA Board to take the Front Royal Town Council seat he won in November. Photo/Roger Bianchini

The EDA Board and staff also bid farewell to Bill Sealock.  Sealock is resigning to take the seat on the Front Royal Town Council he won in the November Election.  Sealock was presented with a plaque and acknowledgement of his five years on the EDA Board. – “I’ll miss you all, we’ve had a good run,” he told his colleagues.  He added that as a Town Councilman he would not contribute to “silly fights with the County – it ought to be cooperative for both,” he said of the attitude he will take to Town Hall.

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The key to fraud — printed right on your checks

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In a business checking account, a small charge of $10 to $20 might not generate too much concern or suspicion.

But, beware, small amounts coming out of your checking account can be a fraud, and all the criminal needs to know are printed right on your check.

Automated Clearing House (ACH) fraud is a common way to steal. The criminal only needs your account number and the bank routing number. It is like check fraud only much easier since the funds come right out of your bank account without the need for paper.

Be aware that any time you type in your checking account and routing number online you are offering a bad actor all he or she needs to steal from you, either in small amounts over time, or by gutting your account entirely.

Criminals get your checking account information through phony websites, phishing schemes, spoofed emails from entities such as the IRS, and even work at home schemes.

Or, if you send them a check. That’s all it takes.

Such fraudulent ACH transactions can be labeled many things, including “Bank Card draft” or “Bank payment” and seem legitimate at a glance.

Consumers have 60 days to alert their banks and recover funds, but businesses may only have one day to do the same. The key is daily monitoring of the account, reviewing all the credits and debits to detect fraud immediately.

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Management Message idea: You can use in whole or as an idea starter – It’s time to change the tone

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In July, we celebrate this country’s independence and the birth of what was to become the United States.

In July 2020, sadly, we don’t feel so united.

We have had extreme, collective disappointments, tragedy, and stresses in the last few years. We have also had successes, change for the better, and some hopeful signs for the future.

Everywhere we turn, people are angry, and all too anxious to point fingers. Anger is everywhere from supermarkets to living rooms to the street. For every success one person points to, another claims it was corrupt. For every corruption, others claim it was a success.

The sad thing is that some points of everyone’s opinion are valid. But anger makes it very difficult to focus on solutions and agreement.

In this era, perhaps we can never agree, but we can tone down the rhetoric. That’s important because no matter how angry we are, there are things worth saving in our nation.

Inflammatory, sweeping accusations against one person, groups of people, or every person don’t help the general tone. It doesn’t help to accuse everyone, but yourself, of evil intentions. Just like you, most people don’t think their intentions are evil at all. We might remember that.

Let’s avoid name-calling to insult those with whom we disagree.

Turn off, log off, conversations that have become vicious. Don’t be part of the problem.

Take a moment to hear others.

Let others speak.

When you speak, try to speak with charity.

This month, take time to remember that, right or wrong, idealists founded this country in hope of building something better than existed previously. You can argue they didn’t succeed, as many have, but at least they tried to build, not destroy.

Let’s be joyful builders. Let us thrive together aware of our disagreements, but in unity to seek solutions.

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Innovative plant disease detection

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A tool that may enable farmers to instantaneously detect plant diseases in the field is being developed by a team of researchers from North Carolina State University. Here’s how it works.

Disease signatures
When plants “breathe,” they release volatile organic compounds, better known as VOCs. However, when a plant is sick, the composition of those VOCs changes. Each disease causes different changes in the VOCs emitted during plant respiration. This means that it’s possible to associate VOC changes to specific diseases, an idea that led researchers to develop a device that can analyze plant VOCs and identify disease.

Portable disease detector

Currently, plant disease detection relies on molecular tests that take hours to perform. These tests have to be run in a laboratory setting, adding transport time to an already slow process. In contrast, the VOC device developed by researchers plugs into a smartphone and can analyze the VOCs released by a plant suspected of being sick on the spot. The whole process takes a mere 15 minutes.

For now, the detector can differentiate between 10 plants VOCs and effectively diagnose four diseases. This is a promising development that could provide farmers with an affordable and fast way to detect plant diseases before they harm crop yields.

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Industrial waste gets second life as fertilizer

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Spent microbial mass (SMB), a plentiful and nutrient-rich waste material composed of bacteria, fungi, and plant cells, is being reviewed as a fertilizer. Recently, researchers examined how its application affected cornfields by comparing one treated with SMB to one that received normal fertilizer.

A plentiful alternative to fertilizers
The main question when evaluating a potential fertilizer is how effective it is. In the case of SMB, researchers found that fields treated with it and those treated with normal fertilizer had similar crop yields. One difference that stood out, however, was that SMB needed to be applied more often. Nevertheless, this isn’t a major concern. Industrial biotechnology produces a lot of SMB, so supply is unlikely to be a problem.

Lower environmental impact

One advantage of SMB over traditional fertilizers is that soil treated with the waste material shows much higher concentrations of carbon and organic matter. This isn’t the case for soil that’s been treated with regular fertilizer year after year. In fact, the overuse of fertilizers has been shown to deplete soil resources, making it increasingly difficult to meet production goals.

While more research is required, it seems that SMB could have a positive impact on food production and the planet.

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Wounding plants could make produce healthier

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Proponents of organic farming contend that organic fruits and vegetables, which are exposed to more stress than produce farmed with the help of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, are healthier. Specifically, there’s been substantial debate around the idea that exposure to insect bites induces a stress response that causes plants to produce more antioxidants and makes them healthier and more nutritious. A recent study suggests this may be true.

An international team of scientists observed strawberry plants that were exposed to different types and levels of wounding to the leaves a few days before harvest. They found that plants that had been wounded in ways that mimicked insect bites produced more antioxidants than those that hadn’t been wounded.

This discovery could spur the development of new techniques for the produce industry, which is constantly trying to grow more nutritious food. Manipulating plant metabolism without the use of environmentally harmful pesticides and fertilizers is a step in the right direction.

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3 advantages of crop diversification

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Crop diversification is the agricultural practice of cultivating a variety of crop types. This offers many benefits and could provide solutions to some of the key problems modern farmers face. Here are three advantages offered by crop diversification.

1. It helps farmers make ends meet
As crop prices become less stable and growing conditions become more difficult, many farmers struggle to ensure their financial security. However, farmers can reduce economic uncertainty by cultivating more than one type of crop. Furthermore, diversification lets farmers take advantage of niche markets in their region (such as by cultivating heirloom varieties to sell at local farmers’ markets).

2. It makes crops more resistant

The traditional way to grow crops is to plant a single cultivar in a given area. However, this results in entire fields that are susceptible to the same hazard, be it a pest or disease. Diversifying crops means that no one pest or disease can destroy a farm’s entire harvest.

3. It lessens the environmental impact
Crop diversification makes farms more environmentally friendly. This is because planting a variety of crops makes the soil healthier, which in turn reduces the need to use excessive amounts of fertilizer. In addition, diversification ensures that crops are more resistant to disease and therefore require fewer pesticides.

Lastly, farmers who plant different kinds of crops are able to tap into their regional markets and contribute to strengthening their local economies. This helps farms thrive and provides them with greater financial security.

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