When Royal Examiner received a publication request to advertise a federal agency re-licensing request for a project titled “Warren Hydroelectric Plant” along the Shenandoah River some alarm bells went off as to exactly what was being requested to be re-licensed. – Was someone planning to construct an electrical generating facility on a river bank of the already stressed Shenandoah for a project that had been floundering since an initial permit was granted, perhaps years earlier? Would fundamental changes in the river’s usage by surrounding municipalities, available capacities, and potential threats to the river’s already at times fragile health be properly explored?
Initial inquiries to the Warren County government and its Economic Development Authority were met with the same lack of detail on exactly what was referenced in the re-licensing application of PE Hydro Generation LLC, a Limited Liability Company with a Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland address. So, it seemed Royal Examiner’s efforts paralleled county staff’s in seeking answers to exactly what was being proposed for re-licensing here. Our email to the listed PE Hydro contact person was replied to by another official who traced the re-licensing back, first 30 years to 1993; and then another seven decades to the 1920s.
“The Project was constructed in the 1920s and the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license was issued in 1993 for a 30-year term. Since the license expires December 31, 2023, PE Hydro initiated a process to re-license the Project in accordance with FERC’s regulations in 2018 (additional information on the FERC relicensing process can be found at ferc.gov/licensing). The impacts of the Project were analyzed in the Draft and Final License Applications. Attached is a figure that shows the existing Project boundary, the existing dam and hydro station are located downstream of Front Royal, VA. PE Hydro is not proposing any new structures or changes to the existing operation of the Project,” Director of Licensing and Compliance for parent company Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, Joyce A. Foster informed us.
We first ran this reply by WC EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne, who replied it matched the information his board had received. We then called County Administrator Ed Daley seeking additional detail on the dam’s location and function. Daley referred us to Joe Petty, now temporarily pulling double duty as the County’s new in-house EDA director along with his old job as county planning director. Petty was extremely helpful in guiding this reporter through the FERC website to the details we were seeking in a 161-page PDF, with the added advice that what we were after was on several pages within the first 20 pages, give or take, of the lengthy licensing PDF.
This is what we found on page 18:
“PE Hydro Generation LLC … is a subsidiary of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC … “PROJECT FACILITIES 2.1 – Existing Project Facilities
“The existing project consists of: (1) a 15-foot-high, 483- foot-long reinforced concrete dam impounding a small reservoir with a storage capacity of 900 acre-feet; (2) an 82-foot-long by 30-foot-wide powerhouse adjacent to the north end of the dam containing 3 generating units with a total installed capacity of 750 kW; (3) transmission facilities consisting of the 2.4- kilovolt (kv) Project generator leads; a 3-phase, 2.4/34.5-kV transformer; and an 14,784-foot-long, 34.5 kV transmission line1; and other appurtenances. Power is connected to the electrical distribution grid through a substation step up 2400 V/34.5 kV transformer. Power is then sold to PJM. Since 1924 the Project has operated manually in a run-of river mode. An operator visits the station daily to check on the operation; otherwise the station is unmanned.”
Ms. Foster of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy added some detail, telling Royal Examiner that PJM (acronym for “Pennsylvania, Jersey, Maryland”) Interconnection LLC is “a regional transmission organization (RTO), that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity. As an RTO, PJM operates a wholesale electricity market that spans all or part of Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.”
Petty told this reporter that his understanding was that the only potential physical change was work on an “eel ladder” to facilitate the seasonal migratory habits of eels inhabiting the Shenandoah River. That observation rang a bell with this reporter, who recalls conversation about the addition of an eel ladder or bridge to the dam several years ago. Again, Ms. Foster of Eagle Creek was helpful in this regard. “The May-October upstream eel ladder is installed in the spring and removed in the fall annually. I believe there was an issue with high flows and some damage to it a few years ago, maybe 3 or 4 years ago but it was in place in 2020 and 2021. The year-round fishway has been in place for many years,” she added of environmental accommodations attached to the project.
So, if the river’s fish and eels are happy with the project as presented, what could we humans have to worry about from an electrical generating operation in place on the Shenandoah River in Warren County since 1924, coming due for another 30-year operational licensing? Little to none, it would seem. – And we’re betting info on any refurbishing of the dam originally placed nearly a century ago is lurking in those 161 pages of the Warren Hydroelectric Project re-licensing summary, or other related documents on the FERC website. We’ll let you know when we find them – or maybe we should just bother Ms. Foster again, or not. She, like Petty, has been very helpful. And we promised her that “eel ladder” question would be our last – at least for today.
Warren County owed over $1.5 million in delinquent personal property and real estate taxes
“Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” That oft-used phrase was penned by Benjamin Franklin in 1789, and it holds true today.
Taxes are something almost every citizen deals with. Taxes fund our government and the services it provides. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, residents pay federal income taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes, among others.
Warren County is tasked with collecting both real estate and personal property taxes biannually. Most citizens get their payments in on time, though not everyone complies. Warren County Treasurer Jamie Spiker said in a recent interview that the COVID pandemic proved hard on many, and because of that, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended its practice of placing holds on vehicle registration renewals of drivers that were delinquent on tax payments. Municipalities also stopped other collection efforts, such as placing liens on taxpayer bank accounts and on employers’ paychecks to tax-delinquent employees.”
Spiker said DMV holds will begin again in the Spring of 2023, noting that bank and employer liens were reinstated earlier this year. “Some accounts are hard to collect on if they are not employed in Virginia; they registered their vehicles in another state or in another name,” Spiker continued.
Regarding the delinquent personal property tax list, Spiker said, “Without giving actual information on specific accounts, some of the delinquents listed [on the delinquent personal property list] are either making payments, have Warrant in Debts, and/or DMV holds.“ She said some of those on the list have actually paid their back taxes since the list was produced on Oct. 3. Because of the additional monthly interest added to past-due accounts, Spiker said some balances on delinquent accounts that are making payments do not reflect much change.
As of Oct. 3, Warren County was owed over $266,000 in back personal property taxes, according to the Warren County Delinquent Personal Property database. The County has over $1.3 million in Real Estate taxes that remained uncollected as of that date. Warren County maintains a database that lists the unpaid amount for each real estate parcel by owner name and another list for delinquent personal property tax, also displayed by name.
As for real estate taxes, those accounts that are past due since 2019 were turned over to collection firms in 2022. The local firm Pond Law Group collects on past-due accounts whose last names begin with A-L. Richmond-based Taxing Authority Consulting Services (TACS) collects delinquent accounts whose last names begin with M-Z.
Ms. Spiker explained that once the collection firm gets a past-due file, real estate owners are contacted and asked for payment. Taxpayers have the option of paying fully at once or arranging a payment plan. If neither of those options is worked out, the firms begin the process that leads to a sale of the property to pay back taxes.
Tax auctions were not held in 2020 due to COVID, Spiker said, though they were restarted in 2021. There was one auction in 2021 and one in 2022. Moving forward, Warren County will have at least four delinquent property auctions annually, with each firm committed to having two per year.
Despite over a million dollars in real estate revenue remaining uncollected, Spike says she would love to have a collections person in the Treasurer’s office, something that has been requested for almost every budget year, though such a collections position has never been approved.
Spiker said of having an in-house collector, “I feel like the position would pay for itself.” The salary for such a position could range from $35,000-$60,000, depending on qualifications. She says if the position is not approved in the next budget year, she would pursue other options, such as hiring a part-time employee or switch to an agency that handles personal property as well as real estate collections.
With delinquent taxes for real estate alone north of $1.3 million, can the Warren County Board of Supervisors afford not to add a collections position?
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Pileated Woodpecker
This female Pileated woodpecker came into care this week after a suspected vehicle collision.
She was having difficulty breathing due to bleeding in the lungs and she was suffering from head trauma. After 24 hours on oxygen support, this bird improved in demeanor and breathing.
Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpecker species in North America, with females reaching over 14oz in weight, 19 inches long, with a wingspan of 30 inches!
The majority of their diet is made up of insects, typically found in dead trees. Pileated woodpeckers leave rectangular holes in the trees that other birds later use as nests.
Woodpeckers have special and fascinating anatomy—they have extremely strong, chisel-like beaks designed for high-impact drilling.
Also, their tongues are incredibly long (almost a third of their body length) with barbed edges to help the reach deep into drilled holes to pull out tasty insects!
Check out this video, which shows the patient boring holes into a dead log in search of wood-boring insects, like grubs and ants.
This illustration by Denise Takahashi depicts a great example of a woodpecker’s hyoid apparatus, the cartilage and bone that support the tongue. In woodpeckers, the hyoid curves all the way around the back of the skull so they have plenty of room to store their long tongues!
We are happy to report that after a week in pre-release caging, this patient fully recovered and was released!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.
Buckle up and travel safely this Thanksgiving
For many Virginians, gathering with family and friends is the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Some will even travel long distances to share in these wonderful family moments. Just as important as it is to make sure those pies and casseroles make it to the dinner table safely, motorists also need to make their own safety a priority. Virginia State Police is reminding all drivers and passengers of all ages to buckle up this holiday weekend. Preliminary data show that 54% of those who have died in traffic crashes this year were not wearing a seatbelt or safety restraint.*
“The fact that more than half of those who have lost their lives in traffic crashes this year were not wearing a seatbelt is a tragic and inexcusable reality for Virginia,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Your family wants you to arrive safely, and clicking a seatbelt can help that happen. Virginia State Police and your loved ones want you to arrive at your destination safely – ditch distractions, comply with posted speed limits, never drive buzzed or drunk, and, again, always buckle up.”
To further prevent traffic deaths and injuries during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Virginia State Police will once again be participating in Operation C.A.R.E. – Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort. As part of the state-sponsored national program, state police will be increasing its visibility and traffic enforcement efforts during the five-day statistical counting period that begins at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, and concludes at midnight Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.
The 2021 Thanksgiving Operation C.A.R.E. initiative resulted in troopers citing 5,127 speeders and 1,565 reckless drivers statewide. Virginia troopers charged 65 drivers for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or drugs and cited 477 drivers for failing to buckle up themselves and/or juvenile passengers.
There were five traffic fatalities during the 2021 five-day Thanksgiving statistical counting period and 12 traffic fatalities during the same period in 2020.
This year, the Thanksgiving Holiday C.A.R.E. initiative falls within the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign. This enforcement and the educational initiative aim to further emphasize the lifesaving value of seat belts for every person in a vehicle.
With increased patrols, Virginia State Police also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, drivers are required to pass the emergency vehicle cautiously. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.
*Source: Virginia Highway Safety Office, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The percentage of crashes in vehicles equipped with safety restraints.
WCPS begins addressing instructional materials with sexually explicit content
Local school boards across the state have until January 1, 2023, to adopt either model policies from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) that ensure parents are notified about instructional materials with sexually explicit content or their own policies, which “may be more comprehensive.”
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) is working on its policy and procedure for notifying parents when instructional materials being used in the classroom have sexually explicit content and will specifically update Policy IIA-R of the Instruction section of the WCPS Policy Manual.
During the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, November 16 work session, WCPS staff discussed Policy IIA-R and adding language to it that’s consistent with the VDOE’s “Model Policies Concerning Instructional Materials with Sexually Explicit Content.”
VDOE’s 10-page document details the policies the department developed as required by Senate Bill 656, which was enacted by the 2022 Virginia General Assembly, and became effective on August 4.
VDOE’s model policies say that parents will be notified at least 30 days in advance if any instructional materials with sexually explicit content will be used in their child’s classroom. Parents at that time can review the materials. The state policy says that school principals must maintain current lists by grade and subject of sexually explicit instructional materials on school websites.
Additionally, VDOE’s model policies note that provisions in the new state law “shall not be construed as requiring or providing for the censoring of books in public elementary and secondary schools, or the designation of instructional material as sexually explicit based solely upon the sexual orientation of the characters contained therein.”
School boards also should adopt policies “which empower parents to exercise their right to decide whether the use of sexually explicit content in instructional materials is appropriate for their child,” according to VDOE’s model policies.
The draft WCPS policy, which the school division’s attorney helped craft, closely follows VDOE’s model policies. For example, WCPS plans to use the same definitions for sexually explicit content, parent(s), and instructional material(s).
WCPS policy also coincides with VDOE model policies that say that at least 30 days prior to the use of any instructional materials with sexually explicit content, principals shall provide written notice to parents that “specifically identifies the instructional materials with sexually explicit content; informs parents of their right to review such instructional materials; and informs parents of their right to have their child use, in a non-punitive manner, alternative, instructional materials that do not include sexually explicit content.”
WCPS policy also says that principals shall provide online access for parental review of instructional materials that include sexually explicit content “unless not technically feasible or prohibited by copyright protection. Schools shall also have available at the school for parent review all instructional materials that include sexually explicit content.”
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and WCPS Assistant Superintendents Heather Bragg and George “Buck” Smith asked for input from School Board members on the proposed WCPS policy and procedure.
“Let’s just make this as easy for parents as humanely possible,” said School Board member Melanie Salins about copyrighted materials that parents may want to review.
Ballenger said he’ll check with the school district’s attorney about what is allowable under copyright law regarding access to instructional materials with sexually explicit content, and what potential liability might exist for WCPS.
Ballenger also told board members that he has asked Bragg and Smith to put a committee together that will consist of an administrator, counselor, librarian, and teacher from each elementary, middle, and high school level. The committee members will discuss the process WCPS needs to have in place regarding notifying parents about any instructional material with sexually explicit content, he said.
Ballenger also said that WCPS staff might unintentionally “miss some things” when it posts online the list of instructional materials with sexually explicit content. To help minimize any oversights, the school district’s policy and procedure will include how a parent — who comes across such material that isn’t already listed on the WCPS website — might then bring it to the attention of WCPS staff for evaluation and action.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence (above) asked if the WCPS procedure would differ from a challenge that a parent might make to a book that he or she objects to and wants to be removed from a school. And she asked if the new procedure would just address how a parent would alert WCPS staff to potential sexually explicit content in instructional material that might need to be listed online.
Yes, said Ballenger, this policy is different than the challenge policy, and he pointed out that just because instructional material with sexually explicit content is listed online, that “doesn’t keep us from not using it.”
Bragg explained further that if WCPS staff happened to omit from the online list an instructional material containing sexually explicit content, a parent could bring it to their attention, then WCPS would decide if the instructional material meets the definition of having sexually explicit content. If it does, then the material will be listed online.
However, that material’s use would still be allowed in the classroom following the 30-day notice. Bragg said that if a parent doesn’t want his or her child exposed to it, “then we would have to find an alternative assignment or supplement material for that student.”
And if a parent still didn’t want the material being used at all, the parent could take it a step further and, under the WCPS challenge policy, request that the use of that instructional material be removed. “So, it’s kind of a little bit multi-stepped as to how far the parent wants to go,” Bragg said.
“I think the goal should be that the perception has to be open and to do whatever we have to do to get information to parents,” said School Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi.
Ballenger said WCPS plans to “have a comprehensive list online” for parents to review. Bragg added that WCPS has no intention or reason to hide anything from parents.
Once something is identified and put on the list, “we want to be able to do whatever we can to give access,” Ballenger said. “We’ll work through whatever we need to work through.”
No action was taken on the work session item, which will be discussed again at a future School Board meeting.
To view the state’s model policies, go to: https://townhall.virginia.gov/L/GetFile.cfm?File=C:%5CTownHall%5Cdocroot%5CGuidanceDocs_Proposed%5C201%5CGDoc_DOE_6205_20220615.pdf.
To view the proposed WCPS policy, go to: https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/warren/Board.nsf/files/CL2QNS69325E/$file/Policy%20IIA_revised_10_28_22.pdf.
In other discussions…
Regarding other work session topics, Smith provided the first reading of the proposed 2023-2024 school calendar; the second reading and discussion will be on December 7, and the recommendation for approval will be during the first January 2023 school board meeting.
Highlights of the calendar include:
- August 9, 2023 – First Day of School;
- September 14, 2023 – Parent-Teacher Conference;
- November 20 – 24, 2023 – Fall Break;
- December 22, 2023 – January 3, 2024 – Winter Break for students;
- December 22, 2023 – January 1, 2024 – Winter Break for WCPS staff;
- March 29 – April 5, 2024 – Spring Break; and
- May 23, 2024 – Last Day of School.
Among other work session items, the School Board also discussed the 2023 School Board meeting dates and times and received updates on grounds maintenance, the recent Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) Delegate Assembly meeting, and the school district’s contract for hiring substitute employees.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for November 21 – December 2, 2022
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
*NEW* Mile marker 1 to 3, eastbound and westbound – Single lane and shoulder closures for inspection of Route 842 and Route 637 overpass bridges, November 23, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
*NEW* Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight left lane closures for equipment unloading and barrier installation, November 20 – December 1 nights from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Possible shoulder closures for utility work between Route 616 (Messick Road/Richardson Road) and Stoney Point Way, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through November 30.
No lane closures were reported.
Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information about Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Warren County School Board approves instructor rate for Right Turn Program
The Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, November 16 work session, approved an instructor’s fee for a specific Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) drugs and alcohol education program and established a per-day rate for a certified substitute assistant principal.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins voted unanimously to approve the rates for both the Right Turn Program instructor and the certified substitute assistant principal position.
Specifically, the board approved adding a $150 per module instructor’s fee for the Right Turn Program, which is designed to educate students and their parents on the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
The Right Turn Program also explores the importance of goal setting and decision making, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith, who presented the item to the School Board for action.
“Students who are assigned to this program have received suspensions for drugs or alcohol School Board policy violations,” Smith explained, noting that WCPS previously contracted the service with a third-party vendor that is currently unable to provide it any longer.
“It is now being requested to in-house the instruction for this program and that the previously paid rate per module of $150 be approved for inclusion on the miscellaneous salary scale,” said Smith.
The complete program consists of six modules that are taught once per week — beginning at 6 p.m. at Diversified Minds — to classes of 8-10 students and their parents or guardians. Smith said WCPS had faced challenges with some previous instructors being unable to teach during the allotted time.
Students receive completion certificates that become part of their behavior file. Cohorts of the program run consecutively, he said, adding that the program “goes deeper” than what is covered in a health class, and the instructor facilitates dialogue and conversation related to the modules.
Participation in the Right Turn Program is a requirement when a student violates drugs or alcohol policy, said Smith.
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger told the School Board that the class has filled up, but no one has taught it. “We need to have a set teacher when we require that the course be taken,” Ballenger said. “It’s not fair to the families when they show up, and there’s no one there to teach the class.”
When questioned by board members about instructor qualifications for the program, Smith answered that the instructor could be someone trained in counseling, but the person does not have to be a certified counselor. Nevertheless, he added that WCPS plans to fill the position with someone with a background in counseling.
The School Board also unanimously approved establishing a $275 per day rate for a certified substitute assistant principal.
WCPS Personnel Director Shane Goodwin explained that WCPS has a board-approved established rate for a certified substitute principal set at $350 per day, but no certified substitute assistant principal rate exists for the school division.
“In order to meet the needs of our schools during an interim time period, we ask that the board establish a certified substitute assistant principal rate set at $275 per day,” Goodwin said prior to the board’s 5-0 vote to approve it.
In another action, the School Board approved the $28,465 purchase of Mastery Connect, which WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Heather Bragg described as the assessment platform that WCPS uses to administer benchmark assessments.
“Mastery Connect is a competency-based learning platform that helps teachers identify students’ levels of understanding, target students for intervention, and inform instruction,” Bragg told board members, who approved WCPS’s purchase of the platform for the 2022-2023 school year.
The last board-approved action item also was presented by Bragg, who asked board members to pass a motion that WCPS accept the Virginia Tiered Systems of Support (VTSS) Grant Award in the amount of $24,000 for 2022-2023 and that WCPS request an increase in appropriations in the instructional category from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
The VTTS Grant Award provides WCPS with funding to support the implementation of division initiatives related to academic achievement, attendance, positive behavior, and family/community engagement, said Bragg.
VTSS is a collective of organizations funded and led by the Virginia Department of Education to support school divisions with implementing and sustaining data-driven, evidence-based decision-making practices to meet the needs of all students. WCPS has partnered with VTSS and received a yearly grant award for over a decade.