The Men of Calvary are holding their annual yard sale Friday, September 10, & Saturday, September 11, at the church. Come find a deal and help support our mission and ministries!
Parental notification in Loudoun schools and more Va. headlines
• Fresh off a hard-fought election win, Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger wants to fill a new “battleground” leadership position for the U.S. House Democrats. “We have a front-row seat to the concerns of swing voters and voters from various backgrounds and political viewpoints.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
• The Loudoun County School Board approved a policy requiring parental notification for sexually explicit reading assignments.—Washington Post
• Warrenton’s interim town manager says the town Planning Commission violated state law when it chose to indefinitely delay a vote on a plan for an Amazon data center instead of voting it up or down.—Prince William Times
• Officials say they have no leads in the theft of a lynching memorial that was recently put up in Wise County.—Bristol Now
• “The race is on to save a popular gamebird in Virginia.”—WFXR
by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury
Happy Creek riparian planting with Front Royal’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee
On Saturday, November 19, with leadership and oversight from Front Royal’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC), local community groups and volunteers came together to help plant a 200 meter section of Happy Creek’s riparian buffer, between South Street and Short Street. More than 30 volunteers participated in the planting, including representatives from the Tree Stewards, Beautification Committee, Izaak Walton League, Piedmont Environmental Council, as well as community members. Volunteers planted more than 450 whips (young seedlings) of seven different varieties of native, flowering, riparian shrub species. Species included: Red Chokeberry, Black Chokeberry, Witchhazel, Winterberry, Northern Bayberry, Elderberry, and Arrowwood Viburnum. Species and planting densities were approved by the DEQ.
As part of ongoing restoration efforts for Happy Creek, this section of the riparian buffer had been designated a high-priority area in which an abundance of invasive and undesirable vegetation had begun to establish. In early November the Department of Public Works removed the undesirable vegetation, clearing the way for a full-scale riparian planting. Jim Osborn, Chair of ESAC and the Town’s Environmental Specialist, explains more: “We were excited to create such a positive community event centered around helping restore an important section of our local watershed. Happy Creek is an invaluable asset, landmark, and resource for our Town, and we need to be the good stewards it deserves.”
Volunteers kept warm through the chilly morning hours with coffee, muffins, and good comradery. Those that hadn’t planted before were given lessons by ESAC and Tree Steward members. While many were actively shoveling out holes in the stream bank, members of the FR-WC Anti-Litter Council and the Izaak Walton League used the time to help remove litter from the stream and its banks. Additionally, a set of volunteers helped prune several existing Sycamore trees that naturally recruited over the past couple of years. “Sycamores are a beautiful native tree whose foliage and bark offer an aesthetic appeal throughout all four seasons,” says Melody Hotek, President of the Tree Stewards. “They are also the look and feel of our beloved Shenandoah River, and so having them adorn Happy Creek is a perfect fit.”
Justin Proctor, ESAC member and local conservation biologist, reminds us the value of planting native. “Planting natives is a win-win across the board. These plants are adapted to handle our local climate and soils, they help build back our beneficial insects and pollinators, they provide food for wildlife including native and migratory birds, and their deep root systems stabilize river banks and help clean out pollutants.”
Taylor Clatterbuck, ESAC student representative, is excited about Spring. “I can’t wait to see all of these riparian shrubs leaf out and start blooming next year. Every time I walk, cycle, or drive by, I will be able to look out over something that I can be proud of.”
All watersheds need good, ongoing stewardship, and Happy Creek is no exception. Stay tuned for additional watershed projects in 2023.
Virginia regulators to consider changes to menhaden fishing regulations
Virginia regulators will consider changes to commercial menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay following recreational anglers’ requests to end the fishery.
Among the changes, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission will take up are new regulations creating a no-fishing buffer one nautical mile wide around Virginia shorelines and Virginia Beach and a half-nautical mile wide around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Another proposal would expand the days around holidays when fishing is prohibited.
The proposals follow repeated requests from the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association to stop menhaden fishing in the Bay, including a petition of 11,000 signatures that was presented to the office of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year.
“The proposed regulations are a good start, but much more is needed,” said VSSA President Steve Atkinson. However, he said, “The Youngkin administration, for whatever reason, was not willing to do what our petition asked them to do, which was to move the fishery out of the bay until science can show that it is not causing harm.”
Reedville-based Omega Protein, the lone player in the Bay’s menhaden reduction fishery, which processes catches into fishmeal or fish oil, says the new regulations take away available fishing grounds that include uninhabited areas. Taking operations completely out of the Bay into less safe conditions in the ocean would ultimately force the company to stop operating.
“It’s death by 1,000 cuts,” said Omega Protein spokesperson Ben Landry.
Legislators are also getting involved in the issue. Earlier this month, Republican Del. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, pre-filed legislation for the 2023 General Assembly session seeking a two-year moratorium on menhaden reduction fishing “in any territorial sea or inland waters of the Commonwealth” while the state studies the impacts of the fishery. A separate bill would also allow the VMRC to make changes to fishery regulations outside the October to December window that state law currently allows; a protection Omega sought when the commission took over management of the fishery from the General Assembly in 2020.
The regulatory proposals come after two net spills by the company over the summer, one of which washed thousands of menhaden ashore in Northampton County.
With the new one-mile buffers, Omega Protein will have to deploy its nets in deeper waters, which will decrease the likelihood that they will get snagged on the Bay or ocean floor, explained Pat Geer, chief of the fisheries management division at VMRC. Fewer days for fishing around holidays are also intended to prevent fish spills from reaching the coastline during high-tourism days.
The regulations are a happy balance between what the recreational anglers want and the fishing operations want, Geer said.
“That’s what our job is,” Geer said. “To do this as the best benefit to everybody.”
A complete removal of menhaden fishing operations from the Bay isn’t being proposed because there is no evidence that menhaden are being overfished, Geer said.
Anglers have argued overfishing of menhaden in the Bay has led to the depletion of the striped bass population there.
Geer noted that recent coastwide stock assessments of striped bass by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission show that the population is on track to recover following quota reductions and time for spawning stock to replenish. The same commission, which oversees fisheries on the East Coast, also increased the coastwide quota limits for menhaden this month because of data showing the population is healthy.
But those assessments don’t provide specific numbers for striped bass and menhaden populations within the Chesapeake Bay. The ASMFC has imposed a 51,000-ton limit on menhaden catches within the Bay, but a larger study of the population there would likely take years to conduct, said Geer.
Not enough, but also too much
Atkinson of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association said while he is pleased the VMRC is taking some action, the one-mile buffer is not enough to conserve menhaden. A two-mile buffer would be more protective, he said.
While striped bass populations are recovering, Atkinson said Virginia should be “extra careful in the Bay” to make sure there is enough forage fish.
Landry said that Omega already follows a one-mile buffer around the Eastern Shore and a three-mile buffer around Virginia Beach. A reduction in days to fish around holidays also “takes food out of the mouth of our fishermen,” he said.
Landry added that the Youngkin administration granted a meeting with Omega Protein to discuss the proposed regulations after decisions on them had already been made, and not in “real-time.” He said the Youngkin administration had relied on data that said Omega Protein caught 6% of its hauls within one mile of shoreline despite National Marine Fisheries Service data showing 15% of the catch was within that buffer.
Data used to determine the percentage of fishing nets that would be displaced by the one-mile buffer are from Captain’s Daily Fishing Reports, documentation from the VMRC shows.
“It just seems that this is a concerted effort by wealthy recreational fishermen, and it’s harming blue-collar commercial watermen in Virginia,” Landry said. “It’s really sad.”
Youngkin Press Secretary Macaulay Porter said the governor has made the Bay one of his top priorities.
“Since day one, the Administration and VMRC have been engaged with all stakeholders from Virginia’s commercial and recreational fishing sectors about these issues and the importance of ensuring commonsense solutions for protecting and cleaning up the Bay,” Porter said. “We will continue to look for solutions that protect the health of the Bay and all of Virginia’s economic activities that rely on the Bay.”
Anderson said his bill to halt reduction fishing in the Bay for two years while the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality studies its environmental impacts is intended to address a lack of scientific information.
“We have to have metrics to see what’s going on,” Anderson said. “If I’m wrong, then Omega will never have to hear from me again.”
The delegate also wants to expand VMRC’s ability to change regulations outside the end of the year to allow the oversight body to take action following emergencies such as net spills.
“No other wildlife management (plan) says you can create regulations only three months out of the year,” Anderson said.
While supporting the legislation’s goals, Atkinson noted that bills have a difficult journey to pass and argued the VMRC has the authority to issue a moratorium on the fishery.
Landry noted that the three-month window for changing regulations was part of a deal negotiated under the administration of former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to allow the business to make any adjustments in advance of its fishing season.
The VMRC will meet Tuesday in Fort Monroe.
by Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury
Waltz’s town manager contract unanimously approved at special meeting Wednesday, Nov. 30
Two days after failing to heed the call of Councilman Skip Rogers to “immediately” expedite a contract offer to former Front Royal Town Manager Joe Waltz to return to that position after a three-year absence to a “dream job” in energy management with a municipal cooperative in Ohio, the Front Royal Town Council revisited that request. And at a 6 p.m. Special Meeting announced shortly after noon, Wednesday, November 30, for that evening for the sole purpose of appointing a town manager, council unanimously confirmed the hire of Waltz to his old job.
Seconds into the meeting, Mayor Chris Holloway called for a motion, to which Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell responded: “Mr. Mayor, I move that council appoint Joseph E. Waltz as town manager for the Town of Front Royal and authorize the mayor to execute the town manager agreement dated November 30, 2022, on behalf of the town.” That motion was quickly seconded by Councilwoman Letasha Thompson and approved by a 6-0 roll-call vote. – Well, it would have been 7-0 if Rogers’ “double yes” vote hadn’t run afoul of Council Clerk Tina Presley, who noted “double votes” were not a viable option on her voting tally sheet.
Following the prescribed six-member vote of approval of the lone agenda item, Mayor Holloway adjourned the meeting at the 1-minute-26-second mark amidst applause, and congratulatory acknowledgments directed Waltz’s way. Following the adjournment, Royal Examiner asked Waltz about his three-year path out of and back to Front Royal.
“Yea, I went to Ohio and spent the last three years in Ohio, and I retired from there. And I moved back here, was doing some energy-related work for another company. But honestly, when I came back to the community in October and found the town was still looking for a town manager,” Waltz said, the professional pull back to this community was strong. “It’s another opportunity, and I’m excited to be back. When I left here, I left on good standings. I left because I was following a lifelong dream (in the energy management field). So yea, but my heart was always here in Front Royal,” Waltz said.
Of the apparent stall in finalizing a contract indicated by the gap between his announced return on November 9, originally envisioned to be ratified by November 21st, and the achieved ratification on the final day of November, Waltz observed, “I mean, we were just negotiating, you know, and that’s a process – it just takes time.”
Amidst photo taking of congratulatory handshakes, we asked the mayor and vice-mayor about resolution of the Waltz return after, as Councilman Rogers noted two days earlier, a period of some instability at the town manager’s position over the past three years following Waltz’s leaving to pursue a job in his first field of energy management.
“I’m glad to have him back, and so’s everybody else. I think Joe’ll be great,” Mayor Holloway said. Having just observed Waltz’s potential first assignment was to be sitting in on the 7 p.m. Town Planning Commission Special Meeting scheduled for the same Town Hall second-floor meeting room in which his hiring had just been finalized, the mayor added – “Hey, he signs a contract today, and he’s back to work tonight. Can’t beat that, he’s earning his money already.”
“I’m really happy about working with Joe,” Vice-Mayor Cockrell said, adding, “I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from citizens who reached out to me when they heard that Joe was potentially coming on board. We were happy, but to know that citizens were happy and all the employees were happy – that’s a win-win for me.”
Having overheard a portion of Waltz’s discussion with this reporter about his first tenure here, Cockrell observed, “I love the fact that you said you brought Kahle (Magalis, town police chief) on board, and Robbie (Boyer, public works director) was somebody you appointed. That’s two major departments here, so that’s great. And probably some of the other people right now who are now in supervisory roles you worked with when you were here. Because the majority of people, other than planning and zoning, everybody else, the departments, a lot of the people they were moved up through the department to get the positions where they are, so that’s a good sign.”
“We have a great staff here, we always did,” Waltz injected of the Town personnel he has interacted with.
And according to the mayor’s timetable, in about 55 minutes, he would apparently be getting to know some of those planning and zoning department personnel he would soon be establishing a relationship with.
Fascinating facts about snowy owls
Have you ever seen a snowy owl? It’s one of the largest members of the owl family. Here are some interesting facts about this majestic bird:
• It’s sometimes called a polar owl or Arctic owl
• It mainly eats lemmings, hares, and ducks
• It’s about 1.5 feet tall and has a wingspan of nearly five feet
• Unlike most owls, it hunts during the day and night
• It has thickly feathered legs that keep it warm in temperatures as low as -58 F
• It has rigid feather disks around its eyes that reflect sound waves to its ears to help it find prey in the dark
• It likes to survey its territory and spends a lot of time perched in high places
• Adult male snowy owls are almost entirely white, while females have brown spots
Snowy owls prefer to live in open areas with few trees. Consequently, they’re typically spotted in marshes, grasslands, and fields.
The exact number of snowy owls in the wild is unknown. However, it’s estimated that fewer than 30,000 adults remain in North America and fewer than 200,000 globally.
U.S. House votes to avert calamitous rail strike, but Senate prospects murky
The U.S. House moved Wednesday to avoid an economically disastrous nationwide rail strike, voting to codify an agreement that members of some unions had already rejected and separately add paid sick leave that workers had demanded.
The two-track approach allows Democrats to avert a strike that could cost the U.S. economy up to $2 billion per day while also acknowledging they sympathized with union members’ request for more sick leave.
Prospects in the Senate, where progressive stalwart Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and other members of the Democratic caucus have asked that sick leave be added to any deal imposed by Congress, remained murky Wednesday.
As the House votes closed Wednesday, Sanders was on the Senate floor urging support for the sick leave proposal.
“I hope very much that in a bipartisan way, we can do the right thing and tell the rail workers and tell every worker in America that the United States Congress is prepared to stand with them and not just the people on top who are doing extraordinarily well,” he said.
Several Republicans have also signaled their support for adding sick leave, but it’s unclear if there are the 10 Republicans needed to approve that measure.
The congressional action comes after President Joe Biden convened a panel of arbitrators to secure a deal between railroads and union leaders in September. That deal provided a 24% increase in total compensation to rail workers but did not affect sick leave policies that unions said were unworkable.
Four of the 12 rail unions declined to endorse the deal. They are legally able to strike on Dec. 9, though rail service is likely to be affected if a work stoppage is not avoided by the week’s end. Thousands of businesses would feel the impact in the weeks before the holidays.
Democrats say they must act
Biden, who fashioned himself “a proud pro-labor president,” said this week he would have preferred not to wade into the dispute but that the economic consequences necessitated federal action.
“I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” he said. “But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”
House Democrats took similar positions this week, appearing reluctant to approve a deal that unions had rejected but doing so anyway to avoid economic catastrophe.
“Congress has the authority to act,” U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat who is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Wednesday. “Not because we want to, but we have to avoid a work stoppage. And we have to recognize that the tentative agreement falls well short of what is necessary for paid leave for rail workers.”
Republicans took the opportunity to blast Biden for failing to avert the rail shutdown with the September negotiation. Congress shouldn’t have to be involved, they said.
“Congress should be a last resort,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa, said. “Biden and this administration need to be more engaged in this. This is not our business. We shouldn’t be negotiating union contracts.”
U.S. Rep. Bob Good, a Republican from Virginia, tweeted early Wednesday afternoon before the House vote: “Republicans should not provide any votes for the Biden railroad bill. Doing so gives Democrats the chance to amend the deal and make it worse.”
Wednesday’s 290-137 House vote to approve the tentative agreement — without added sick time — was bipartisan, with only eight Democrats voting against it and more than one-third of Republicans voting to approve it.
All of Virginia’s House delegation and Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith voted for the bill. Good, as well as Republican Reps. Ben Cline and Rob Wittman voted against it.
The vote to add the sick leave provision passed 221-207, mostly along party lines, with three Republicans — Don Bacon of Nebraska, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and John Katko of New York — joining all House Democrats in voting to approve.
Avoiding a rail shutdown should be the priority, House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking Republican Sam Graves of Missouri said, not mollifying union members.
He said that Congress stepping in to override private negotiations and the recommendation of a neutral mediation board undermined future collective bargaining.
“It’s nothing more than a political stunt,” Graves said. “It’s pandering … Today, my colleagues are acting very recklessly and are setting a terrible precedent.”
U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, the New Jersey Democrat who chairs the panel’s rail subcommittee, responded that the proposal would only right the wrong of rail workers’ insufficient paid sick leave.
“This is not pandering,” Payne responded. “This is seeing a situation and addressing it.”
Uncertainty in Senate
After House passage, the measure will move to the Senate, where it’s unclear if the tentative agreement, the resolution with added sick time, or neither would pass.
The chamber will likely vote either Thursday or Friday.
Colorado’s John Hickenlooper was among the Senate Democrats joining Sanders in calling for seven days of added sick leave — the same amount required of federal contractors —to be included in a congressional resolution.
“Railroad companies are holding the American economy hostage over 56 annual hours of sick leave,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “Just seven days. We can keep our economy humming, our supply chains open, AND treat workers with dignity. Any bill should include the SEVEN days of sick leave rail workers have asked for.”
Several Republicans gave varying levels of support to the prospect of adding sick leave to a bill. Ten would be needed to pass such a bill if every Democrat voted in favor. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III, considered the caucus’ most conservative member, has not said how he would vote on the sick leave proposal.
Ernst said her party was “debating this heavily.”
But since Congress is involved, she said she would base her vote on the views of union members — not necessarily their leaders. Union leaders negotiated the September agreement that lacked all the sick time members sought.
Florida Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott said they wouldn’t vote for the tentative agreement that was opposed by workers.
Leaders of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, a major transportation union, on Wednesday morning prior to the vote endorsed the bill to add seven days of sick leave.
“Right now, every Member of Congress has an opportunity to be a champion of the working class,” TTD President Greg Regan and Secretary-Treasurer Shari Semelsberger said in a statement. “We implore these elected leaders to stand with essential workers who are the backbone of our nation’s supply chain. We urge the House and the Senate to vote in favor of guaranteeing seven days of paid sick leave to rail workers.”
In a statement, Biden thanked the House for passing its bill and called on the Senate to follow suit “immediately.”
“Without action this week, disruptions to our auto supply chains, our ability to move food to tables, and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin,” he said. “The Senate must move quickly and send a bill to my desk for my signature immediately.”
$2 billion per day
The Association of American Railroads, the leading rail service providers trade group, estimated that a nationwide shutdown would mean daily losses of $2 billion for the U.S. economy.
According to a September AAR report, tens of thousands of businesses depend on rail to deliver goods, with 75,000 carloads beginning shipping every day.
The report said that other industries would not be able to replace rail transport. It would take 467,000 additional long-haul trucks to replace rail carriers.
There was unanimity among elected officials in Washington that a shutdown would be calamitous.
In a statement Monday, Biden called on Congress to approve the tentative agreement “to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.”
“A shutdown is unacceptable,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at Monday’s press briefing. “It will hurt families, communities across the country. It will hurt jobs. It will hurt farms. It will hurt businesses.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also called Monday evening for Congress to adopt the agreement to prevent “a rail shutdown that would have devastating impacts on our economy.”
Democrats and Republicans in the House noted that a shutdown would worsen inflation, driving up energy and other costs.
And because of the complexity of the supply chain, any stoppage in service could take much longer to unfurl, Ed Mortimer, a former vice president for transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview.
“Any type of disruption — it could only last a week, but it could take a month or two to get back to whatever normal was,” he said.
Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.
by Jacob Fischler, Virginia Mercury