On a cloudy but pleasantly warm Saturday afternoon, November 21st, approximately 100 people over a two-hour period gathered on the banks of Happy Creek near the Prospect Street Bridge to protest the continuation of planned Town floodwater management and stormwater disposal work between Prospect and South Streets on the Town of Front Royal’s southside.
In addition to a protest of the plan to install large rocks known as “riprap” in place of cleared vegetation along the bank and a naturally formed level shelf at the creek’s edge that helps disburse and absorb floodwater, the gathering was utilized by the sponsoring “Save Happy Creek Coalition” of nine environmentally friendly local and regional organizations as an informational meeting explaining problems with the Town’s plan (See the full list of the “Save Happy Creek Coalition” at story’s end).
The essential problem is that the plan to clear most or all vegetation from the 1300-foot stretch of Happy Creek’s bank and shelf between Prospect and South Streets to be replaced by large rocks, flies in the face of all contemporary “riparian buffer” stream management theory, Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf told one of three informational groupings of about 25 people per current Coronavirus Phase 3 pandemic social gathering guidelines. The other two groupings of 25 got the same message from Tree Steward representatives.
Fortunately, one current Town official, Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, was present to hear the explanation of fundamental issues with the Town’s plan in the Shenandoah Riverkeeper’s group. Following Frondorf’s presentation, Sealock engaged him in conversation about an optimum method of dealing with the erosion and other problems the town government is trying to address with the work. And from Royal Examiner’s videotaping of that conversation, albeit against a backdrop of obtrusive Commerce Avenue traffic noise, and a subsequent interview with Sealock by this reporter, it would seem that what appeared to be the lone town representative at Saturday’s event and Save Happy Creek Coalition representatives found common ground.
That common ground is that the Town’s plan needs to be revisited and readjusted, and re-permitted if necessary, to correct its flaws. Frondorf agreed with Sealock that some riprap rocks would prove beneficial in certain sections of Happy Creek’s bank in proximity to bridges where trees are not recommended within 100 feet; or where prominent erosion was occurring. And Sealock appeared to agree with Frondorf that blanket replacement of vegetation with riprap rocks the length of the project was not an optimum way to proceed.
In fact, during Frondorf’s presentation, he theorized that town officials responsible for moving the project forward may have simply misread the environmental guidelines for the project they were undertaking. We talked to him later about that possible misunderstanding.
“ ‘Where needed’ is what those guidelines say about the installation of riprap,” he pointed out, adding, “And there is no money in the SUP (Special Use Permit) for (recommended) re-vegetation … I don’t know if it was the Town or the Department of Public Works or whoever, but they took the first paragraph of the Supplemental Environmental Project that talked about riprap and just made a mistake in reading it and determined they were going to do the entirety of it that way. And the SUP says ‘where needed’ … if it’s needed, by all means, put it there” – but not the length of the project,” Frondorf said of the use of riprap.
Of Vice-Mayor Sealock’s presence and willingness to listen, learn and trade ideas, the Riverkeeper said, “I thought that was very promising. I was very appreciative that he was here and in a learning mode; and that he was open to what we were doing here.”
And as to what was happening on the bank of Happy Creek Saturday afternoon, Frondorf said he hoped, not only the vice mayor but all those present would work to gain the full council and town staff’s ear. “If half the people option to act, write a note, drop an email, to send a letter, to tell their friend, I think the town council will sit up and take notice that we can stop this. I mean right now it’s a ticking time bomb,” the Riverkeeper said of the Town’s existing project.
“I’ve spoken with the enforcement officer at DEQ (Virginia Department of Environmental Quality) and he said that as long as all the parties come together and agree that there needs to be amendments, that, that can happen. So, I’m hopeful for that. And we’re not asking the Town (to spend) vast sums of money. We’re just simply asking that it be rewritten to protect the stream, protect the immediate, nearby residents …”
What’s happening to my neighborhood?!?
One nearby area resident who spoke with us observed that the Front Street neighborhood facing Happy Creek and the Shenandoah Greenway Trail paralleling it, were given no advance notice of the work or the extent of what was being planned by the Town.
“I came out and asked the town workers what they were doing – I said, ‘What are you guys doing, why are you cutting all the trees down?!?’ And he said, ‘We don’t even really know.’ So they were just doing what they were told to be doing and ripped it all out anyway,” Stephanie Leypoldt told Royal Examiner.
We asked Leypoldt her hopes in the wake of what she had heard that afternoon in the Shenandoah Riverkeeper’s group.
“I hope they stop what the Town’s doing because the riprap rock to me, is just not pretty,” and potentially pretty dangerous to her kids she pointed out. “I moved away from Sterling to come to the country, so it would be country-like. And so they’re taking all the trees out to make it Sterling again. That makes me upset because we walk on the trail every day and with the trees gone, it’ll be really hot with no shade. My kids like to go to the creek to get crawfish, and they can’t do that if it’s all a rock quarry,” she observed of the treacherous riprap landscape currently planned for the length of the stretch of creek in front of her neighborhood.
“I’ve lived here 17 years and not once has it ever, well once it filled up,” Leypoldt said of Happy Creek reaching its bank. “But 17 years is a long time. I’m just upset because it’s very, very loud now … with the traffic,” she said indicating her now the unobstructed view of Commerce Avenue and nearby commercial business endeavors across the town’s major commercial traffic thoroughfare.
And speaking of that thoroughfare, a number of passing motorists could be heard giving honks of apparent support of the messages being displayed on that side of the creek.
As to an endgame, Leypoldt told Royal Examiner, “I hope all the people in all these organizations can make a difference. I thought we are the people and the government tries to protect us. So, if you’re going behind our back, not in the best interest of the people then you’re just doing it in your own personal interest. It’s nature,” she said pointing to what is left of Happy Creek’s natural riparian buffer, adding, “That’s the whole reason I moved out here … and when they take it away, it just makes me want to move.”
Organizers encouraged those present and others concerned to contact their town councilmen about those concerns. They also suggested a presence at Monday evening’s Front Royal Town Council Meeting of November 23. While not sure an opportunity to speak on the Happy Creek work topic would be available – it should be at the initial public comments/concerns portion of the meeting – their presence on the issue would be beneficial in illustrating the level of public concern about the project’s planned direction and the need to revisit and alter that plan, Save Happy Creek Coalition leadership believes.
Save Happy Creek Coalition: Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, Beautification of Front Royal Committee, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, Front Royal/Warren County Appalachian Trail Community, Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards, Izaak Walton League, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Sustainability Matters – and our affiliate, the Garden Club of Warren County
Randolph-Macon Academy 7th grader wins Mathcounts Chapter Invitational, 2nd place
Randolph-Macon Academy (RMA) student Angelina Vincent, a seventh grader, won second place for the Mathcounts Chapter this year. This will be the second time that Angelina has participated, where she advanced to the state competition in Richmond, Virginia, twice!
Angelina credits her family, the RMA students and faculty, and mentor Coach Mackey for all of their support. When asked for parting words, she shared, “Continue to take intellectual risk, and go beyond your comfort zone. Failure is a part of life, and it is important to learn and grow from it.”
Outside of school, Angelina is an avid runner, swimmer and volleyball player. Prior to RMA, Angelina was a student at Stanford Online High School last semester. She is very happy to return to RMA and see all of her teachers and friends again.
Physical therapist assistant program will be offered at Luray-Page County Center this fall
LFCC is excited to announce a new degree being offered at the Luray-Page County Center this fall – Associate of Applied Science, Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA), pending accreditation in coming weeks.
Applications are being accepted from now until May 15. The college is hosting a virtual information session on the degree at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 27.
Physical therapist assistants provide hands-on care and treatment under the direction of a physical therapist, who conducts the patient evaluation and writes the treatment plan.
“There are four times the number of assistants needed as there are physical therapists,” says Dr. Rekha Parameswaran, the PTA program’s site coordinator and a doctor of physical therapy. “It is a challenging degree program, but leads to a very rewarding and lucrative career in healthcare.”
The median salary for PTAs is more than $60,000 a year. PTAs work with patients of all ages in hospitals, long-term care facilities, patients’ homes, outpatient clinics and schools.
The college is partnering with Germanna Community College to offer the PTA degree. Lectures will be distance taught from GCC with Dr. Parameswaran serving as a hands-on instructor with LFCC students the entire time. She will also lead labs for the students multiple times a week at Page Memorial Hospital.
Among the classes students will take are anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, psychological aspects of therapy, musculoskeletal structure and function, therapeutic procedures, medical reporting and pathological conditions.
The number of jobs for PTAs is expected to increase by 26 percent between 2018 and 2028. Medicare will start providing PTAs to at-home patients, said LFCC Director of Health Professions Kristina Simpson.
“There is definitely a push for getting more PTAs on the ground,” Director Simpson said. “Page Memorial Hospital has indicated there is a need for physical rehabilitation in this region.”
While PTAs can go right into the workforce upon receiving their associate degree, to become a physical therapist requires seven years of higher education, according to Dr. Parameswaran, and up to 10 years to reach the doctoral level.
Students’ degrees will be awarded by GCC, which is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). LFCC’s program is currently awaiting approval by CAPTE in spring 2021.
For more information about the program and to get a link to the April 27th information session, visit lfcc.edu/PTA.
June opening of downtown spay/neuter clinic announced; Humane Society of Warren County sets financial records despite pandemic
The Humane Society of Warren County (HSWC) will open its new downtown clinic in early June, ahead, way ahead, of its original schedule, it was announced at the organization’s annual meeting Tuesday, April 13.
With re-modeling construction well underway at its 840-B John Marshall Highway location on the town’s southeast side headed toward Linden, and hiring Martinsburg, West Virginia veterinarian Dr. Alicia Pownall that same afternoon, HSWC Executive Director Meghan Bowers said the clinic should be a “go” by June, offering low cost spay/neuter services for local dog and cat owners with difficulty affording the procedures.
“I’m aiming at June 1, but it may be a little later,” Bowers said in a telephone interview Wednesday. She said Pownall was currently working at the Inwood Animal Center, W. Va., and was a 2019 graduate in veterinary medicine from Mississippi State University. Other staff members would include a veterinary technician and office manager.
At an initial cost of $125,000 the Linda R. Lorber Campus Clinic is named for a principal donor. Linda Lorber came to live in Front Royal in 2004, “departing for the beach (in Delaware)” eight years later with her now 29-year-old cat Louie. She jump-started the fundraising for the clinic with a $70,000 donation, explaining that as a pet owner – she also owned a dog named Grizzle while living in Front Royal – she realized there were many pet lovers who found it difficult to pay the animals’ upkeep and that the clinic would help those out who needed it.
Bowers also sees the clinic as being vital in the HSWC’s efforts to curtail the numbers of stray and feral cats, an increasing problem in Warren County.
At the meeting, Treasurer Michelle Kosiorek reported “a fantastic year,” marked by a record gross income of $865,355 and expenses amounting to $670,851, carrying forward a net income of $194,503.
Detailing the past year’s income – the total includes a $352,000 grant from Warren County – HSWC president Ellen Aders said corporate sponsorships totaling $71,900 were the “best of all years despite the pandemic” as she read off other major details including grants, mostly from foundations, totaling $126,200; more than $189,000 in mostly individual donations (“Save the Paws Alliance”), and $71,927 from fundraising events such as the recent “Polar Plunge” ($13,116);” Holiday Appeal” ($23,065); “Barks & Bags” ($20,546); and a summer “yard sale” ($6,539).
Other monies to benefit the occupants of the Julia Wagner Animal Shelter came from the HSWC Calendar sales ($1,320); Tales & Ales ($5,899); Paws for a Cause ($1,439); and Yappy Hour donations at ViNoVa restaurant on Main Street amounted to $4,549 during the year. Animal bank collection boxes seen on store and other business counters around town collected $3,295 last year.
Bowers paid tribute to the work of volunteers, singling out Frank Maggiore, and complimenting the work of her “leadership team”, Wagner Shelter Manager Kayla Wines, Office Manager Susan Jeffery; Kennel Manager Marie Butler; Volunteer Coordinator Sue Wagoner; and Tiffany Rothgeb, who handles guest relations.
Between them and shelter staff, 487 adoptions were successfully completed and 22 foster families helped 148 cats and 11 dogs. Also, staff worked two free drive-thru food distributions for 194 pets. At a cost of $11,650, the shelter provided veterinary services for pets suffering maladies from dental care, diabetes, ear and eye surgery, cancer, and a leg amputation.
Eighty-five cats were spayed or neutered in 2020.
Most importantly, HSWC retained its coveted “no kill” status last year!
Also at the annual meeting, board members Katrina Meade, Amy Cavalier and Michelle Kosiorek were re-elected by acclamation.
Four members of cocaine trafficking organization arrested following investigation
Four members of a cocaine trafficking organization were arrested on Thursday, April 15, 2021, following a yearlong investigation by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. Last April, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force identified members of a cocaine trafficking organization operating in Winchester and Frederick County, VA. Through the course of the investigation, task force officers completed numerous controlled purchases of cocaine from multiple suspects within the organization. As a result, approximately 203 grams of cocaine with a street value of $9,100.00 was seized by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force over the last year. On April, 15, 2021, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force obtained and executed search warrants at four of the suspect’s residences located in Winchester and Frederick County, VA. Approximately 308 grams of cocaine with a street value of $14,300.00, 29 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of $1,300.00, 9 firearms, and $5,578.00 in currency was seized from the suspect’s residences.
Samuel Resendiz Hernandez, 24, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute a schedule I/II controlled substance, two counts of distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and conspiracy.
Norberto Bautista Robles, 25, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with two counts of distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, two counts of possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and possession of a firearm by a person wo is not a citizen of the United States.
Charles Arthur Perkins, Jr, 68, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute a schedule I/ll controlled substance, possession of a firearm while in possession of a schedule I/ll controlled substance, and conspiracy.
Rafael Velazquez-Bautista, 25, of Winchester, VA, was arrested and charged with distribution of a schedule I/ll controlled substance.
Additional charges against the suspects and other co-conspirators are forthcoming. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force was assisted by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Winchester Police Department, Virginia State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during Thursday’s operation.
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is comprised of law enforcement personnel from Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Departments, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Departments and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office. The Northwest Virginia Drug and Gang Task Force is a HIDTA funded initiative.
Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards break with Town
On Wednesday, the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards issued a press release announcing a break in the 24-year relationship with the Town of Front Royal municipal government and documenting the string of events leading to that organizational decision. Following is that press release in its entirety:
Wednesday, April 14, 2021, Front Royal, VA – In a March 24 press release announcing its 2021 Tree City USA award, the Town of Front Royal quotes Dan Lambe, President of the Arbor Day Foundation: “Residents of Front Royal should be proud to live in a community that makes the planting and care of trees a priority.” As their partnership with the Town of Front Royal disintegrates, Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards beg to disagree.
Over 24 years, the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards forged an enduring partnership with the Town of Front Royal. Guided by the Town’s staff horticulturalist, Tree Stewards planted, pruned, and maintained the “urban canopy” – i.e., trees located on publicly owned parks, easements, and building grounds. Each year, the Tree Stewards donated 1400-1800 hours of free labor, supplementing a Public Works Department short on horticultural expertise and seasonal manpower. Even in the face of COVID disruption, Tree Stewards managed to contribute 900 volunteer hours to the Town in 2020. Today this partnership of nearly a quarter century lies in ruins.
The Town’s horticulturalist retired in December 2019, a position that has since remained vacant. With that vacancy a critical link was severed in the partnership, weakening communication between the Town, the Tree Stewards, and a third partner, the Beautification of Front Royal Committee, a community service organization representing the county’s garden clubs.
As stated by Tree Stewards President Melody Hotek, “Beginning in October 2020, channelization of Happy Creek and destruction of the volunteer-maintained riparian buffer along Front Street have communicated a lack of regard for our 24-year partnership. In violation of Town Code, the decision to eliminate a successful community-led model project was made without input from the Town’s Urban Forestry Advisory Commission (UFAC). Ultimately, this oversight resulted in the mass resignation of the UFAC board in December.”
Hoping to turn over a new leaf upon the arrival of newly appointed Town Manager Steven Hicks in December, Ms. Hotek and Lisa Schwartz, President of the Beautification of Front Royal Committee met with Mr. Hicks in January to bid him welcome and review their organizations’ history of community service to the Town. At that time, Mr. Hicks requested the Tree Stewards’ assistance with the Town’s renewal application for Tree City USA, traditionally completed by the now-defunct UFAC board. (It is due to the Tree Stewards’ efforts that the Virginia Department of Forestry first awarded Front Royal its Tree City USA status in 2000.)
In January, despite documented destruction of more than 300 trees along Front Street, and numerous permit violations during the channelization process, Front Royal’s Tree City USA status was renewed.
Ms. Hotek subsequently contacted Mr. Hicks about preparation for the Town’s Arbor Day event, annually planned and co-hosted by the Tree Stewards since 2000. Mr. Hicks then informed Ms. Hotek that the newly created Town-County Tourism Council had been tasked with the celebration and that he would contact her shortly to follow up. There was no follow-up call. Instead, an Arbor Day press release from the Town was issued on March 24, 2020 including event details determined without Tree Stewards participation.
In response to perceived disregard for their work, the Tree Steward membership has voted to forego its partnership with the Town for the coming year. This includes maintenance of the Town’s Happy Creek Arboretum, managed by the Tree Stewards for twenty years.
Ms. Hotek summarizes, “Had the Town followed its own precedents and Code, as well as the requirements of its permits, this impasse could have been avoided. In addition, town crews could have benefited from training and supervision by a qualified contractor or consultant, learning the specialized skills required for work in sensitive aquatic environments.
“The Tree Stewards sincerely grieve the loss of this relationship and remain hopeful that a more productive tone may be restored. In the meantime, we encourage the Town to hire a horticulturalist, replant the buffer zone along Happy Creek, reinstate a knowledgeable Urban Forestry Advisory Commission tree board, and seek the services of qualified professionals before proceeding with future projects in order to prevent further environmental damage to the town, its natural and scenic resources, and its citizens.”
(From a release by the Front Royal/Warren County Tree Stewards)
LFCC offering cybersecurity engineering associate degree
An innovative, lucrative career pathway is now available for LFCC students with their eyes on the future and a knack for math.
The cybersecurity engineering degree is designed to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program, with some students going for more advanced degrees.
“It’s unique to be able to offer an associate degree in cybersecurity engineering,” said IT Professor Henry Coffman. Dr. Coffman is the manager of LFCC’s cybersecurity program, which is a National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security-designated Center of Academic Excellence.
He cited the Mars Rover project as a development that relied heavily on cybersecurity engineering through every phase of the process.
“The careers in this field are futurist-type jobs,” said Dr. Coffman.
Another unique aspect of LFCC’s cybersecurity engineering program is if the student maintains an A or B grade in the required calculus classes, they can co-enroll in cybersecurity engineering classes taught by faculty at George Mason University. They will still be paying LFCC tuition rates.
Not only will this save students money, but it also means they won’t have to re-apply to the program, according to Dr. Coffman.
The degree is designed to seamlessly transfer into GMU’s cybersecurity engineering bachelor degree program, although graduates can transfer to other universities. GMU has an accelerated master’s degree for the field, as well.
Because this new degree is highly specialized, Dr. Coffman and his counterpart at GMU will serve as advisors to students in the program.
“They’re going into a degree pathway that will serve as a good career move for the job market,” Dr. Coffman said. “I think they will have a great opportunity to be hired by a major employer possibly even before they graduate with their bachelor’s degree.”
The threat cyber-terrorism poses to industrial and municipal financial networks, utility systems and communication networks make this field especially relevant.
Learn more about the program at lfcc.edu/cyberengineering.