Over the past few weeks, Royal Examiner received a number of citizen inquiries about what appeared to be “clearcutting” work along the banks of Happy Creek between Commerce Avenue and Front Street. This stretch of the creek parallels the Royal Shenandoah Greenway from the Prospect Street Bridge to South Street in the Town of Front Royal.
In response to these inquiries, Royal Examiner attempted to contact the Town’s Public Works Director Robbie Boyer on Thursday, November 5. Information provided to Royal Examiner included two permits, one from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, dated October 7, 2020, generically addressed to a Town Post Office Box, and a second addressed to Boyer from the US Army Corps of Engineers, dated October 29, 2010, several days after the project was already underway.
The first permit stated, “Permittee is hereby authorized to clear vegetation and sediment accumulation and to restore (emphasis added) and stabilize 1,300 linear feet of Happy Creek between East Prospect and South Streets in the Town of Front Royal, Virginia, and Warren County. All activities authorized herein shall be accomplished in conformance with ‘the plans and drawings dated and revised August 25, 2020, which’ are attached and made a part of this permit.”
Jay Woodward, Environmental Engineer with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission confirmed in an email dated November 5, 2020, “Please keep in mind VMRC jurisdiction is limited to the submerged lands below the elevation of Ordinary High Water in Happy Creek itself, not the banks and floodplain above (emphasis added).”
The concern expressed to Royal Examiner by interested citizens was how “clearcutting” shrubs and small trees from a creek bank contribute to stabilizing that bank? It would certainly seem counter-intuitive that clearing established vegetation from Happy Creek’s banks would stabilize those banks.
While awaiting a call back from Boyer we gave Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick a try as 5 o’clock approached. After leaving a message we heard back from Tederick after business hours late Thursday afternoon. Tederick explained Boyer had been in meetings with him much of the afternoon. Tederick confirmed that Public Works was doing the Happy Creek stabilization and stormwater management project and urged patience from citizens alarmed by the initial appearance of the creek bank in the early stages of the project. He reiterated the plan not to remove trees with a trunk circumference greater than 4 inches and disputed the term “clearcutting” being applied to the work.
“I understand the sentiment,” Tederick said of citizen concern over the project’s initial appearance. “But we got a DEQ Consent Order and obtained all the same permits and are following the same procedures we did on Eighth Street near Bing Crosby Stadium. We were asked to extend the work on Happy Creek to South Street. People are seeing the initial stage – it’s not clearcutting.”
But in addition to clearing fallen trees and other debris out of the creek bed, vegetation is being cleared above the water level to be replaced by “rip-rap” or large stones that will help address past flooding issues on East Main and Water Streets near the creek to the north of Prospect Street – “It will be beautiful,” Tederick assured us, though adding that no replanting was planned where vegetation has been removed.
A divergent opinion
Royal Examiner also spoke with someone we know to have expertise in such matters, local Tree Steward official, past Town Urban Forestry Commission member, and Urban Forester/Environmental Scientist David Means. Means was aware of the work and expressed the opinion that what was being done along Happy Creek’s banks in town did appear contrary to established creek or riverbank stabilization principals.
He cited recommendations from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ regarding riparian buffers, stating, “We recommend avoidance of (removing) as much established native vegetation, including trees, as possible as they provide streambank stabilization, stream shading, and leaf litter which are important aspects of aquatic habitat.”
Means also said that measurements taken at the work site indicated stumps from more than 100 trees exceeding a diameter of four inches. – “Trees up to 13 inches in diameter have been cut down, exposing the greenway to the noise and views of busy Commerce Avenue,” Means asserted, adding, “These include trees donated by individuals and organizations to commemorate Arbor Day and enabling the Town to qualify for ‘Tree City USA’ status.
Of earlier Town work on the creek Means observed, “Between 2007 and 2010, the Town received two state grants to meet these specifications, one for installation of rock structures to reduce the velocity of the water, limit erosion, and create trout habitat. Native trees and shrubs were planted as well to create the shade and cool waters required by trout. The second grant, from the Department of Forestry, underwrote removal of invasive species from the riparian buffer zone.”
As for the current work, Means said he reviewed the Town’s permits and application materials, finding several deficiencies. “The application lacked a site-specific erosion and sediment control plan, specifications for the proposed work, a tree preservation plan, and restoration plan. All the application says is that the work will be done, with no specifics on materials, or method of installation – the detail is missing. The permit addresses ‘Happy Creek Streambank and Channel Restoration’ but work in progress is geared toward stormwater management and flood control, in which case the plan should have included an engineer’s calculations based on two-and 10-year storm events, upstream impervious surfaces, flow and velocity calculations supporting the intended design.”
Recommendations from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources regarding riparian buffers appear to be ignored in the Town’s work and plans, most pointedly, “restoring original streambed and streambank contours, revegetating barren areas with native vegetation, and implementing strict erosion and sediment control measures. We recommend that instream work be designed and performed in a manner that minimizes impacts upon natural streamflow and movement of resident aquatic species … To minimize harm to the aquatic environment and its residents … We (VDWR) recommend adherence to erosion and sediment controls during ground disturbance. We recommend use of native species for all plantings. We recommend alternatives to the creation of a hardened shoreline as such areas can prohibit access to aquatic habitats along stream margins” (emphasis added)”.
However, by the interim town manager’s own admission, there is no planned replanting and a “hardened shoreline” is exactly the intended endgame.
In providing rationale for the work, Tederick referenced flooding in the Water-East Main Street area in the late 1990s. Means believes the proposed design would possibly exacerbate flooding problems, increasing velocity and volume to impact property downstream, particularly at the creek’s intersection with East Main, Stonewall, and Prospect Streets. Noting more recent federal moves prohibiting most floodplain construction, Means questioned the wisdom of past permitting in the creek’s floodplain on Water Street and nearby.
Means held a Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Inspectors Certificate for nine years while employed by a design/build engineering company in Northern Virginia. Based on his observations of Happy Creek’s banks over a period of years, “Prior to this project, the banks appeared to be naturally stable, due to vegetation that actually reduced velocity and associated streambank erosion,” he reasoned.
On Friday, November 6, the Tree Stewards met with several interested parties to discuss concerns with the work. Invitees included the Urban Forestry Advisory Commission, Beautification of Front Royal Committee, Shenandoah Valley Alliance, and Appalachian Trail Community network. A joint letter of concern will be submitted to the Town, Means indicated.|
On the same day, Means met by phone with County Board of Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe, who reported that County Building Official David Beahm had “shut the project down last Thursday, October 29.” However, Means documented crews continuing to cut trees down as recently as Wednesday, November 3.
According to Tederick, work began in mid-October, apparently between October 19 and 22. Contacted Friday, Tederick said he was unaware of any Stop Order on the project. He said that Beahm had contacted the Town regarding submission of an Erosion and Sediment Control Plan, which the town manager said had been submitted, and that work was continuing as planned.
We were unable to contact Beahm prior to the end of the workweek. Royal Examiner will continue to follow this developing story.
EDA gets McDonald company property as part of settlement agreement
On Wednesday, October 20, Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne verified the EDA’s acquisition of the 41-acre “Happy Creek Road” parcel owned by former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald’s Moveon8 real estate LLC. Acquisition of the undeveloped property assessed at just over a million dollars according to county court records is part of the $9-million-dollar no-fault settlement agreement reached between the EDA, McDonald, and the Harrisonburg Bankruptcy Court handling McDonald’s 2020 bankruptcy filing. The EDA will now be able to market the property as a developable EDA asset. It is located near the intersection of Happy Creek Road and Leach Run Parkway.
Browne said that in addition to receiving full value on the Happy Creek parcel, the EDA was in line to receive a percentage of the sale price of other McDonald assets distributed through the bankruptcy court proceeding. Exactly how close those percentages might get the EDA to the $9-million-dollar settlement figure remains to be seen. It was not immediately clear as to whether the EDA will have an outright full value claim to any other McDonald-held properties or assets.
McDonald is the central figure in the EDA financial scandal that began unravelling in mid-to-late 2018. She resigned in December 2018 under mounting pressure from her board of directors. She has been accused in civil and criminal court of utilizing her EDA position to misdirect EDA assets to her and others personal benefit. Western District of Virginia federal authorities have taken over the criminal side of the EDA case after a state special prosecutor’s office in Harrisonburg dropped criminal charges against McDonald and as many as 23 co-defendants due to speedy trial concerns as it wrestled with the volume of evidentiary material – estimated at 800,000 to over a million pages at the time. With charges against some defendants originating with the county commonwealth attorney’s office that initially handled the criminal investigation during Brian Madden’s tenure heading the department, failure to meet speedy trial timelines could have led to defense motions for dismissal of criminal charges against the defendants.
On August 31, 2021, federal prosecutors made their initial move, handing down a 34-count indictment against McDonald. Of those 34 counts, 16 were for money laundering, 10 for bank fraud, 7 for wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft regarding someone identified as “T.T.” – ITFederal principal Truc Tran perhaps?
Joint Tourism Committee soliciting proposals for exclusive retail rights located at the Front Royal Visitor’s Center
The Front Royal & Warren County Joint Tourism Committee is soliciting proposals for exclusive retail rights located at the Front Royal Visitor’s Center. The proposal must include and respond to the following scope of services.
- The retailer will provide a merchandise for sale local to Front Royal and Warren County within a 35-mile radius. Merchandise should include local artists’ and photographer’s works, food items, branded material and other unique items to the Front Royal and Warren County area.
- The retail selection will include curated items exclusive to Front Royal and Warren County. The vendor must be willing to work with the Tourism Committee, and its contractor operating the Visitor’s Center, on merchandise selection. The Tourism representatives will have the right to approve or disapprove of merchandise to be incorporated for sale in the retail location to ensure quality product.
- The vendor will provide a cashless payment method at the vendor’s expense.
- The vendor will provide training to the Front Royal Visitor Center employees on the system and provide seven day a week support when necessary.
- The Front Royal Tourism Committee nor the employees of the Front Royal Visitor Center will be responsible for merchandise set up, inventory, or monitoring stock.
- The vendor will maintain the merchandise in an aesthetically pleasing manner neat and updated on a weekly basis.
- The vendor will provide a monthly report to the Tourism Committee representative on the sale of merchandise and provide suggestions for each season.
- The merchandise will reflect seasonal changes.
- The vendor will carry all necessary insurance and provide a current Warren County business license.
All potential vendors must address all the requirements as outlined including the time frame to begin the retail operation at the Visitors’ Center. A business plan for the merchandising must also be included. Bidders will be required to present their business plan and proposal to representatives of the Joint Tourism Committee.
Respondents are expected to organize their proposal to include:
- Operating model and requirements in response to scope above
- Proposed financial model i.e., lease for square footage or percentage of sales
- Relevant experience
- A minimum of three references
- 1 year with an option of a 2-year renewal.
- Awarded contractor must be operational at the beginning of the contract start date of 10/18/21.
- RFP released: 10/1/21
- Proposals due: 11/12/21
- Interview date: 11/22/21
- Contract begins: 12/1/21
- Contract Initial Term Complete: 12/31/22
- Potential Contract Term Extension through: 12/31/24
Front Royal ready for Fall tourists
The Town of Front Royal has hired three employees to staff the downtown Visitors Center.
Thousands of tourists travel to the area every fall for leaf viewing. The increased number of Visitor Center staff will play a key role in bolstering the Town’s continued effort to welcome tourists and assist them with experiencing the many attractions along with enjoying the fall foliage.
The Visitors Center averages over 150 visitors daily and over 200 each day on the weekends. “Welcoming visitors and letting them know about all the area attractions, lodging, outdoor adventures, arts, and cultural programming, fine food and drink grow the economy,” said Mayor Chris Holloway. “Front Royal and Warren County are committed to increasing visitation beyond a day visit.”
Visitor Center staff are responsible for many customer experience activities, including being ambassadors, providing tourists with information that enhances their visit, and encouraging tourists to return to Front Royal.
Tourism is a major economic driver for Front Royal and Warren County and its hospitality businesses. Visit www.DiscoverFrontRoyal.com for the many things to do.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Southern Flying Squirrel
The most common rodent you never see:
Southern flying squirrels are quite common across Virginia, but since they’re nocturnal and much smaller than Eastern Gray Squirrels, people rarely see them and often have no idea they even exist!
Unfortunately, cats are quite skilled at finding these nocturnal tree squirrels. Approximately 60% of our adult flying squirrel patients, including this one, come the Center as confirmed cat attack victims.
This patient is very lucky. He had minimal wounds and is doing well on pain medications and antibiotics.
In general, only about 30% of cat attacked patients survive to release. We have already received over 480 confirmed cat attack patients so far in 2021. We hope that this flyer will be in that minority!
Though feral cats are estimated to cause two thirds of cat-related wildlife deaths, the patients we see are almost always from owned cats when they bring animals to their owners, or when the finder interrupts a neighbor’s cat with an animal.
Please help our native wildlife by keeping cats indoors, or leashed/in an enclosed space when outside.
Cats cannot change their instincts, but as the species that domesticated them, it is our moral responsibility to do everything we can to keep cats safe and healthy, as well as protect the health of humans and wildlife from the dangers outdoor cats pose.
Despite the name, flying squirrels do not actually fly. They have a fold of skin between their front and back legs that allows them to glide between trees. Their long, flat tail steers them in flight like a rudder. Some can cover more than 150 feet in a single glide!
To donate to Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, click here.
Show your support for the Warren County High School Band with their annual Fruit Sale Fundraiser
The Warren County High School Band has started our annual fruit sales, and we’re looking forward to another great year of sales!
We are offering 3 Whole and Half Box offerings of single types of fruit, and 2 mix box options for those who want variety. Here are the fruit options:
- Navel Oranges, Hamlin Juice Oranges, Pink Grapefruit
- Whole Boxes and Half Boxes: $40 for 40 lbs., or $30 for 20 lbs.
- Mix Fruit Box 1
- Navel Oranges/Grapefruit/Mandarin Oranges: 6 of Each, Total of 18 pieces of fruit – $30
- Mix Fruit Box 2
- Navel Oranges/Grapefruit/Apples: 6 of Each, Total of 18 pieces of fruit – $30
How to Pre-Order Fruit:
(PRE-ORDER Deadline: November 7th, 2021)
You may order online and pre-pay with a credit card or check. There is usually a $1 dollar fee for this, but it saves later on with convenience and for those looking to limit personal contact with others.
Second, you may pre-order with me or with any student in the band and then simply pay when you pick up the fruit. We will accept cash, check, and credit cards on site.
- Pre-Order with a WCHS Band Student.
- Pre-Order with me through email: email@example.com
- Pre-Order and pay online, and you may select a student to give credit to: order online
Pick up dates:
As of now, we do not have a firm date, but it will be a 1 day pick up sometime in the second week of December. We will email out to let customers know a week ahead of time the firm date. Our hours will be from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.
We hope you hear from a student to pre-order your fruit, but if you do not, please contact me through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the heading “Fruit Order” and I will enter your order.
Thank you for supporting the Warren County High School Band program.
Director of Bands
Warren County High School
Reaching Out Now partners with Warren County and Skyline High Schools to host Senior Planning Night
With the 2021-2022 school year in full swing, Reaching Out Now is partnering with Warren County and Skyline High Schools to host a Senior Planning Night! The event will be held at Warren County High School on November 18, 2021, from 5:30pm – 8:00pm, in the gymnasium and auditorium.
Senior Planning Night will cover important dates to guide senior year, decisions to make before graduation, financial planning, application processes, provide an opportunity to meet with college reps from around the state, and much more. Dinner will be provided! All Seniors and parents are invited and encouraged to attend. Interested Juniors may also attend to begin preparing for their Senior year.
Mr. Knesh, Principal of Warren County High School stated, “We look forward to sharing food and friendship while learning about navigating the college application process. We are also thrilled to give out two scholarships to seniors this evening to give them a head start towards their future college plans.” Mrs. Sperling, Principal of Skyline High School echoed his sentiments sharing “I am grateful for the partnership established between Reaching Out Now, Warren County High School, and Skyline High School. We are excited to jointly host a college planning night… where students and families can learn more about the process of planning for post-secondary education.”
All interested families, please register at: bit.ly/registerSeniorNight