For the second year in a row, a bill that prohibits food vendors from using plastic foam containers is up in the air as the General Assembly hashes out a Senate amendment.
Del. Betsy B. Carr, D-Richmond, introduced House Bill 1902 this year after her bill passed last year with a reenactment clause, which means it must pass two years in a row.
The Senate passed the legislation Friday in a 21-15 vote. The passage came with an amendment proposed by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, that would not exempt nonprofits, state and local government entities, and schools from the ban.
“Why are we going to say styrofoam is bad if it’s used by a small business, but it’s okay if it’s used by a school division,” Petersen said during Friday’s session.
The House rejected the amendment and the Senate voted unanimously to insist on its amendment. There is a conference committee scheduled to work out the legislative differences.
The measure prohibits food vendors such as restaurants, food trucks, and grocery stores from packaging prepared foods in polystyrene containers. The prohibition will not extend to packaging for unprepared foods, including coolers used in food shipments or unprepared food packages, such as raw or uncooked meat, fish, or eggs.
Retail food establishments with 20 or more locations are required to phase out plastic foam containers by July 2023. Other food vendors must stop using these types of takeout containers by July 2025.
The bill is a continuation of Virginia’s lawmakers’ sweeping effort to pass environmental legislation, but the COVID-19 pandemic has opened a discussion on the usefulness of single-use disposable packaging such as polystyrene to limit contamination and facilitate a shift to carry-out business.
The Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, an organization for restaurants and other hospitality industries, opposes the ban.
Robert Melvin, director of government affairs at the association, said the bill is “misguided” and will hurt smaller, local restaurants financially, whose businesses have taken a toll amid the pandemic.
“I don’t know why we would even entertain the idea of going and banning something that helps prevent the spread of disease when we’re fighting a public health epidemic,” Melvin said.
Polystyrene container alternatives can cost as low as one penny apiece, said Elly Boehmer, state director of Environment Virginia, an advocacy affiliate of Environment America. Alternatives can include paper-lined containers or biodegradable products made of molded fiber or bagasse, a pulpy byproduct from sugarcane.
“The more that restaurants start adopting this, the more options there will be and the lower the price will become,” Boehmer said. “So right now, that’s the case where we can find really good cost alternative sustainable products.”
Polystyrene is non-biodegradable and is difficult to recycle, according to Environment Virginia. Boehmer said polystyrene when flattened and shredded can resemble paper, which creates problems in recycling plants.
“It can also impact and contaminate our paper recycling and things that we actually can recycle,” Boehmer said.
Polystyrene can take 500 years to biodegrade and some items never do, making their way to riverways and oceans, according to Environment Virginia.
Expanded polystyrene foam can break down into microparticles, which is harmful to the environment and wildlife and detrimental to human health, Boehmer said. Polystyrene contains styrene, known to be toxic and probably carcinogenic, according to a study published in 2018.
“The toxic chemicals from it can leach into food and drink and then be ingested. And this is especially of issue when the containers are hot,” Boehmer said. “When you get your coffee, that’s when you’re more likely to get a lot of the toxic chemicals from this product.”
Melvin said the switch to non-polystyrene containers will drive up restaurants’ costs in the long run.
“That adds up quickly,” he said, “especially when you’re dealing with large numbers of food containers.”
Food vendors may be granted a one-year exemption from the ban if they demonstrate “undue economic hardship,” such as the inability to afford polystyrene container alternatives, according to the bill. Vendors may be granted further exemptions if they can prove continuing hardship.
Instead of a polystyrene ban, Melvin said there should be more studies on the recyclability of polystyrene, such as advanced recycling.
Advanced recycling, also known as chemical recycling, refers to chemical processes that convert plastics into their original building blocks, for the future development of new plastic products.
Senate Bill 1164, sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr., R-Augusta, seeks to define chemical recycling as a manufacturing industry rather than a solid waste industry. The bill is nearing its third reading in the House after passing the Senate with strong support.
A House bill redefining chemical recycling died after Del. Kenneth R. Plum, D-Reston, requested his bill be stricken from a committee docket.
Opponents of Carr’s bill spoke against the polystyrene container prohibition at a Senate subcommittee meeting. They said recycling polystyrene is economically feasible and is being done across the country. There are plans to build a chemical recycling facility in Cumberland County.
While polystyrene can be processed by chemical recycling, some environmental advocacy groups are wary of the practice. A report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, a group that works to find waste and pollution solutions, concluded chemical recycling will worsen the plastic waste crisis and that local government should focus on reducing plastic pollution by transitioning to zero waste systems.
Carr said her bill is tied to SB 1164, which she said has overwhelming Senate support. However, she said chemical recycling and a polystyrene prohibition can coexist in the commonwealth.
“It is not in conflict with any recycling manufacturing efforts,” Carr said. “There’s ample time for our restaurants to accommodate, with lots of products that are available and affordable.”
By David Tran
Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.
Frederick County, Winchester investigate rash of catalytic converter thefts
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Winchester Police Department are investigating several incidents of catalytic converter thefts from vehicles in the region. The incidents began in January, 2021 and have continued through the end of February, 2021 and have occurred in residential areas, businesses, and churches. The Sheriff’s Office is investigating 7 reported incidents with 19 catalytic converters stolen, and the Winchester P.D. is also investigating 7 incidents with 16 catalytic converters stolen.
It is uncertain if the incidents are related. The incidents in the City have occurred South of Jubal Early Drive within a two-mile radius. In one incident in the City of Winchester, video footage captured a gold minivan occupied by a white male on the night of the theft. Images of that van have been attached to this release. The incidents in Frederick County have been widely scattered, occurring at businesses, mostly, which had multiple vehicles available to the suspect (s).
The removal of catalytic converters takes time and requires the use of a reciprocating saw. They are then sold through third party online markets or taken to scrapyards. The interest in the vehicle part is due to it containing precious metals. The thefts are a nationwide problem.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Investigator J. Bowman at the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office (540) 504-6527 or Detective Thurman at the Winchester Police Department 540-545-4704. Callers can remain anonymous by using the P3 tip app or by calling 540-665-8477.
Area residents voice bus stop, summer school concerns; School Board adds snow make-up days
Two residents asked the Warren County School Board to improve specific supports for students and board members voted unanimously during their Wednesday, March 4 meeting to add three days of instruction to the school calendar to make up for recent snow days.
The School Board also received a new update on the COVID-19 mitigation health plan for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) regarding social-emotional learning and supports.
During the board’s community participation portion of its meeting, Noel Williams of Front Royal, Va., voiced concerns to the School Board about elementary school students who have fallen behind during the ongoing pandemic.
Williams wanted to know how the students would be supported by WCPS to catch up on their education, explaining that she has two grandnephews in second grade and another in first grade who are “doing pretty good in science, but their math and their reading, they are falling behind on. How are we going to catch these kids up in these grade levels?”
Williams said the children also have missed a lot of school due to snow and asked if there was consideration being given to summer school.
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said there will be summer school this year. “We’ve also encouraged parents to continue to work with the principals at each of the schools to bring students in on additional days or on Wednesdays for remediation or extra individual tutoring sessions,” Ballenger told her. “So, we do have plans in place, and we are working toward summer school.”
Another resident, Pernille Brandt of Linden, Va., told School Board members that she and neighbors nearby her Apple Mountain residence recently “got a lovely letter telling us that our bus stop was being moved.”
Brandt decided to drive her car to where the new stop is located and told the board members that her children, a fifth grader, and a high school freshman, would have to walk 3.3 miles to get to it. If they walk another route to the same bus stop — walking under the overpass to 66 and down 55 to Dismal Hollow Road — Brandt said, “it will only take them 48 minutes and it’s two-and-a-half miles.”
“I want you guys to think about keeping our kids safe,” Brandt said. “I’m really surprised how little our kids’ safety matters. There are going to be kids that are walking an hour and 10 minutes to get to the bus. That’s really not okay.”
In response to a query today from the Royal Examiner, Superintendent Ballenger wrote in an email that WCPS has “provided a temporary solution and we are working to find a permanent solution for the students and families of Apple Mountain.”
Ballenger added that as the school division reviews the bus stop, “we must ensure that it is a safe stop and that we are not placing students in danger when loading and unloading the bus.”
Following a lengthy discussion largely centered on inconveniencing families and students during Spring Break, School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members Ralph Rinaldi, Kristen Pence, and James Wells voted unanimously to approve a recommendation by WCPS to revise its 2020-2021 School Calendar and change Monday, April 5;
Friday, April 30; and Friday, June 18, 2021, to school days.
Due to the number of days and the number of hours in the division’s current school calendar, WCPS needed to adjust its calendar to make up for three missed snow days on December 17, February 1, and February 18. All other inclement weather days were scheduled as virtual learning days, said WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration Melody Sheppard.
State policy requires the length of the school year to be 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours and requires the first five days be made up if inclement weather results in the closing of schools. The WCPS 2020-2021 School Calendar did not have built-in days for inclement weather, Sheppard said.
With the calendar update, April 5 will be a virtual school day while the other two dates will be in-person instruction. “There’s really no great solution,” Sheppard said.
School Board members also voted unanimously to approve the purchase of 920 units of the 2020 Virginia Into Literature Comprehensive Student Resource Package with Hardcover Student Edition Prints from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt at a cost of $135,766.93.
The purchase of the package is for grades nine through 12 and will finish K-12 English textbook purchases, said WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox. The purchase also will allow digital access for six years. “Our schedule will allow two students to use the same license in one year, so it is not necessary to purchase a digital license for every student,” Fox added.
Board members also unanimously approved the appointment of K-12 science textbook adoption committees, which are:
Elementary Science Textbook Adoption Committee Members
Science K – Kaitlyn Tharp, Holly Gardner, Amy Plauger, Melissa Hanscome, Jessica Ashwood
Science 1 – Carey Brogan, Felicia Warner, Chris Seiders, Amanda Litwin, Jennifer Reinhard
Science 2 – Cathy Harron, Lori Abbott, Anna Wadas, Katie Mullen, Amber Walker
Science 3 – Kelly Mitchell, Nicole Stevens, Samantha Donaghy, Lauren Vice, Bernadette West
Science 4 – Faith Falkenstein, Tiffany Swanson, Rebecca Hutson Hodge, Amber Ring, Whitney Dinkle, Justyne Louck
Science 5 – Stephanie Gibb, Kaitlyn Tuttle, Eileen Willett, Cheri Morris, Debra Curtis, Sara Kenney, Laurel Gilliom, Julie Besecker, Natalie Fetty
Others – Lisa Rudacille (Director of Elementary Instruction), Justin Maffei (STEM Coordinator), Jennifer Cameron (Dean EWM), Lori Layman (Principal ASR)
Secondary Science Textbook Adoption Committee Members
Science 6 – Cindy Rutherford, Emma Vanderlinden
Life Science – Melissa Lucas, Emma Vanderlinden
Physical Science – Robin Jensen, Jen Davis
Bio 2: Ecology – Brian Cantwell
Earth Science – Jim Kenney, Debbie Cheek, deLyn Alumbaugh
Earth Sci 2: – Astronomy Stephanie Scriva, DeLyn Alumbaugh
Physics – Stephen Rinker, Ken Castor
Others – Alan Fox (Director of Secondary Instruction) and Justin Maffei (STEM Coordinator)
Other notable items
WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch provided the School Board with the division’s updated COVID-19 Mitigation Health Plan Phase III, which was revised this month and does not vary significantly from Phase II of the plan.
Hirsch pointed out that significant resources have been allocated to support the division’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Initiative.
According to the Phase III plan: “Our current SEL teacher will be collaborating with our school social workers and trauma coach to ensure staff and students are supported. This support includes linkage to community-based mental health supports who currently partner with WCPS, as well as direct support to students and staff.
“In addition, out-patient counselors will be available in each middle and high school to meet the additional mental health challenges the pandemic has created,” the plan says. “These supports will begin March 15, 2021. Private Insurance, as well as Medicaid, can be used to access these supports.”
“The social-emotional learning of both students and staff has been impacted by the pandemic” and extra supports are needed, Hirsch told the School Board, adding that out-patient counseling remains available for students with parental consent after March 15. Support is being offered confidentially to meet mental health needs, he said.
A few changes to the pandemic mitigation plan that begins when students return from Spring Break on March 15 is that students will sit one per seat on the school bus unless they are siblings, and face coverings will be worn at all times. If one student per seat cannot be done, an additional face shield or mask may be worn as appropriate, according to the plan.
For elementary schools, the expectation that staff and students wear face coverings when six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained has been removed. The plan states: “Face coverings will be required in classrooms for all grade levels, even while distanced 6-feet apart while recognizing developmentally appropriate protocol and extenuating circumstances. Face coverings should not be placed on young children under the age of two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove facial covering without assistance. In addition to this guidance, face coverings will be encouraged.”
School Board members also received an update from Ted Cole, a representative from Warren County’s financial advisor, Davenport & Company, LLC, on the County’s interest in refinancing part of the existing 2014 Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA) Bonds through the 2021 VPSA Spring Pool.
There is no cost or direct savings to the School Board as the County currently makes the payment for these bonds, Cole said, and while no motion was necessary at the Wednesday meeting, the School Board will be asked to adopt a resolution at its March 17 meeting supporting the refinancing of these bonds. The Warren County Board of Supervisors also will be considering a similar resolution at their March 16 meeting, said Cole.
Additionally, the Skyline High School Wrestling Team received recognition during the meeting for capping off what Ballenger called an “impressive season” during the 2020-2021 Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class 3 State Championship, finishing the season as Northwestern District Class 3, Region 3B Champions, and the Class 3 state runner-up.
The Hawks had three team members win individual state titles and seven others finished in the top 5 and earned all-state honors. The team’s 2nd place finish in the state is the highest any team at Skyline High School has achieved, according to Ballenger.
Bill Cupp, Skyline’s athletic director, introduced wrestlers and Skyline coaches to the board and the student-athletes brought along their trophies. Kyle Symons, the head wrestling coach, said 11 out of 14 starters will return next year.
Following a closed meeting on a personnel issue, the board adjourned a little after 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week – Striped Skunk
“Phew! What is that smell?!” That is the sweet smell of love for our Striped Skunk neighbors. Breeding season for Striped Skunks begins as early as mid-February and goes through April. With hormones raging these little critters tend to get distracted and accidents inevitably happen.
This skunk (pictured) was admitted to our hospital after being hit by a car, most likely on his mission to find love, and was suffering from severe head trauma. Please use extra caution this time of year, especially at dawn and dusk when skunks are more active.
Though they are known for their odor and unpopular den choices, skunks are generally not aggressive and they serve an important role by feeding on many “pests” such as insects and mice.
They are most active at night, and don’t want to spray unless they believe their life is in danger. If you see a skunk, respect it’s space, and slowly exit the area.
If a skunk is behaving oddly or appears ill, or if you believe there are babies in need of help, do not try to handle them yourself. Skunks are considered a high-risk rabies vector species and handling them can result in life-threatening consequences for you and them. Call BRWC at (540) 837-9000 or your local permitted rehabilitator.
Fundraising, community efforts on behalf of slain Town of Stanley police officer
Royal Examiner has been informed by local law enforcement in Front Royal and Warren County of fundraising and community efforts on behalf of the family of Town of Stanley Police Officer Dominic “Nick” Winum. As previously reported in the linked story “Page County police-civilian shooting deaths investigated by State Police”, Winum was slain during a traffic stop in Stanley in Page County on Friday, February 26. A “Go Fund Me” page has been set up for Jedediah Winum at https://gofund.me/ed4467b5.
Also, next weekend, Saturday and Sunday March 6 and 7, from noon to 7 p.m. weather permitting, in Stanley at the Ed Good Park located at 332 East Main Street Stanley, Virginia, “The Grill Sergeant’s Smoke Pit” is offering free meals to law enforcement personnel. All proceeds and tips will be donated to the family of Officer Winum.
Incoming – the Town Pavilion’s indoor restrooms arrive, without keys
The arrival of an important auxiliary building portion of the new Town Pavilion arrived at the Village Commons area in the heart of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District Tuesday morning, March 2. The first clue something was up, was a towering crane pointing toward the heavens – and at a passing airliner that may have had to alter its course slightly to avoid a collision. Just kidding, it wasn’t quite THAT tall.
Town crews on hand, along with five contractors’ personnel were present at least in part to place an enclosed restroom facility adjacent to the pavilion. When the project is completed you can say “goodbye” to those downtown Village Commons’ Johnny Blues.
With the bulk of the Commons-Gazebo area parking lot closed to traffic, a large Midland Equipment flatbed carried the restroom facility into place at the pavilion’s front after the construction site parking lot fencing was removed. The crane jockeyed its huge arm in position to place its hook, eventually sporting multiple hoisting cables, above the building headed for the east side of the pavilion shell.
Being a bathroom facility that will hook into the Town Water-Sewer Utilities, inside access was required by town staff to line up the piping connections. But who had the keys to the locked up for transport building? No one on-site, it turned out. Public Works Director Robbie Boyer was reportedly headed back to departmental headquarters on a key-finding mission. Shortly, word came back to the site that the keys were in McLean, apparently at the building’s source point.
“It’s always something” was the construction, transport, and related crews assessment on the ground. But after an hour-plus delay, things began moving again as one way or another inside access was achieved. An attempt to reach Boyer prior to publication for details on the solution to the inside access problem was unsuccessful.
But here’s a nod to whatever solution was achieved – word on the ground was that the Town would have been charged by the day for equipment required to be maintained on-site to completion of the job. And our guess is that the crane belonging to H&W Construction of Winchester wasn’t coming cheap.
In addition to Town crews, Midland Equipment and H&W Construction on site were Smith-Midland Concrete, Well’s Roofing, and Lantz Construction of Winchester. And following placement of the restroom facility, in addition, to hook up work there, crews were on the pavilion roof and on the base beneath that roof. Stay busy boys, completion of the pavilion project is slated for at least “substantial completion” by the end of March, according to Town Manager Hicks report on Town business to the County EDA Board of Directors last week.
According to corrected figures provided after initial publication by Town Finance Director B. J. Wilson, the total cost of the pavilion project approved by the Town Council on September 8, 2020, was $295,800 with Lantz Construction being the chief contractor. The $225,715 number was the originally discussed cost, Wilson clarified.
The pavilion is seen as an additional, covered, outdoor events facility to augment the Gazebo-Village Commons area at the East Main and Chester Street intersection. And a March-April completion will be JUST in time for the next round of warm weather weekend downtown walking mall street closings, should the newly aligned council elect to revisit that popular COVID-launched concept of outdoor restaurant seating to aid downtown businesses through pandemic-restricted indoor seating restrictions.
And then there is that downtown, outdoor high school prom idea being floated for spring.
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Christendom College conducts emergency operations training exercise with Front Royal and Warren County First Responders
Christendom College hosted a tabletop exercise testing the college’s emergency preparedness on Wednesday, February 24, in coordination with senior leadership from the Town of Front Royal and Warren County. Chief Executives from the town’s Police Department and Fire and Rescue, along with the Warren County Sherriff’s Office and Warren Memorial Hospital, all attended the event, which successfully tested the emergency response coordination between the college and public safety and health agencies.
“We are preparing for something that we hope and pray never happens — nevertheless, if something like this should happen, we want to ensure that we are as prepared as we possibly can be,” said College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell. “All of you, as first responders, please know that you all share our gratitude for all that you do to keep Christendom College safe and for being here today.”
The tabletop exercise was the result of years of work by the college’s Emergency Operations Team and their external crisis consultant management consultant, who helped the college prepare extensively for the exercise on February 24. Over the course of the afternoon, the exercise helped the college and town and county personnel perform an extensive review of what resources are in place for a variety of crisis-level events, from neutralizing threats to assisting victims to effectively communicating during and after a crisis.
The exercise proved to be fruitful not only for testing emergency preparedness, but also for building up relationships between the college and surrounding law enforcement, fire and rescue, and health agencies.
“We applaud the administration at Christendom College for recognizing the need to have emergency planning in place and developing the relationship with public safety partners,” said Front Royal Police Department Chief Kahle Magalis.”They have been very accommodating in providing facilities for us to train our personnel in emergency response over the past several years. Clearly, they have witnessed the complexity of emergency operations and identified key personnel within their staff to form their emergency operations team, as well as their plans to integrate into the emergency response. My hat is off to them for devoting valuable resources to this endeavor.”
Attendees for the event included: Christendom’s President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell and Executive Vice President Mark Rohlena, along with the college’s entire Emergency Operations Team; Front Royal Police Department Chief Kerry Magalis; Warren County Fire and Rescue Fire Chief James Bonzano and Emergency Coordinator Lietutenant Rick Farrall; Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler; Warren Memorial Hospital Safety and Emergency Management Manager Daniel Mulcahy and Emergency Department Clinical Manager Delores Gehr; and Golden Seal Enterprises President and CEO Frank Yurkovich, along with other members of all the above agencies.
Sheriff Butler stated that “the Sheriff’s Office applauds the Emergency Operations Team of Christendom College for taking a strong leadership role for ensuring the safety and education of its students and staff alike. In a world where the unexpected – is to be expected, it takes a concerted and enduring relationship between all agencies to sustain a steady state of preparedness for such events. By training and exercising together we learn best how to support one another, manage expectations and ensure a confident and safe response to all-hazards.”
The tabletop exercise was the latest in a series of exercises conducted on campus in conjunction with Front Royal and Warren County agencies, including mass casualty incident training that was conducted in August of 2020. All of the exercises contribute to ensuring that the college is as well prepared as possible in the event of a crisis.
About Christendom College: Christendom College is a four-year coeducational Roman Catholic Liberal Arts College with undergraduate and graduate programs offered in four locations in Front Royal and Alexandria (Virginia), Donegal (Ireland), and Rome (Italy). Founded in 1977 in response to the devastating blow inflicted on Catholic higher education by the cultural revolution which swept across America in the 1960s, Christendom’s goal is to provide a truly Catholic liberal arts education in fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and thereby to prepare students for their role of restoring all things in Christ.