November 26, 2020: Albemarle Broadband Authority briefed on rural internet expansion projects; a market for recycled glass?

  
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In today’s newsletter:
  • An update on COVID cases in Virginia

  • Five students at Woodbrook Elementary in Albemarle test positive

  • Albemarle Broadband Authority briefed on progress of rural internet expansion

  • Efforts afoot to collect enough glass to attract packaging manufacturer to recycle materials into new products


On this Thanksgiving Day, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in Virginia is almost the same number as today’s report of 2,600 new cases. The seven-day average is 2,588. The trajectory for other indicators is also upward, with a seven-day average of new daily cases per 100,000 population at 30.4 and the total number of new cases  per 100,000 within the last fourteen days is 362.5. 

In the Blue Ridge Health District, there are another 59 cases, with 30 of them reported in Albemarle, and ten in Louisa. The incidence rate of seven days of new daily cases per 100,000 population in Albemarle is 15.1 and the total number of new cases per 100,000 is 166.5. Those numbers for Louisa County are 19.8 and 198.5. 

Elsewhere in the area, Augusta County reports another 51 cases today. Their incidence rate is 35.6 and the total number of new cases per 100,000 within the last 14 days is 409.5. In Culpeper County, there are another 75 cases and their total number of new cases per 100,000 population is 1,055.  

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Five students at Albemarle County’s Woodbrook Elementary have tested positive for COVID-19 and will now isolate at home for the next ten days. That’s according to an email sent to parents and published on Twitter via one of the parents. The county school system entered Stage 3 of its Return to School Plan which returns elementary students on a hybrid basis as well as some older students.  A school dashboard with confirmed COVID-19 cases has not yet been updated, but indicates there has been one student at Albemarle High School who has been infected and one at Baker-Butler Elementary. 

On Tuesday, the school system sent out an email that laid out the conditions required before they will revert back to a virtual model

“If for seven consecutive days in Albemarle County the number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days exceeds 200 and the percentage of diagnostic tests that are positive during the last 14 days exceeds 8%, ACPS will shift to Stage 1 of our Return to School Plan, which is virtual instruction for all students,” reads the email. 

Today, the former metric is at 166.5 and the percent positivity is at 1.46 percent. This is another reminder that percent positivity in the Blue Ridge Health District is skewed downward to the high number of testing at the University of Virginia. 

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This Thanksgiving, there are likely many of us who are seeing our loved ones from afar thanks to the “magic” of teleconferencing. But, many in the rural parts of our community don’t have the bandwidth to participate. The Albemarle Broadband Authority is working on several projects to expand high speed internet to more of the community. One such item comes through the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative, a program of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Mike Culp, Albemarle’s director of information technology, briefed the authority on how the county is using $291,300 in VATI funds allocated to bring service to 838 homes. 

“Eight project areas are under construction so most of the project areas are currently under construction and we’re hearing from many of the residents, some of them who are going up to the folks doing the work and ask them, ‘is this CenturyLink?’ and the answer is yes,” Culp said.

Culp said the goal is to complete these projects by March 5. More information is available in a Frequently Asked Questions list. ABBA is applying for additional projects, but withdrew one specific location due to a request from one of CenturyLink’s competitors. 

“One of our project areas was successfully challenged and we have removed it from the application and that’s the Boonesville area,” Culp said. “That’s the Boonesville area. [Central Virginia Electric Cooperative] has a number of members in the Boonesville area that are off of the White Hall substation and CVEC came in and said ‘we would prefer that you not include that in your application’ so we did.”

Culp said the county would have to encourage CVEC to use its Firefly subsidiary to expand coverage in that area. 

Albemarle is also working on three broadband projects that have been funded through the county’s portion of the federal CARES act.  These are $697,194 toward Shentel for their BEAM  wireless service that could serve up to 2,000 people, $230,245 for CVEC’s Firefly service to serve 62 locations in the Midway area, and a $32,500 contribution for Nelson Cable to extend service in the Scottsville area. (details on page 3)

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors will get a report on the authority at their meeting on January 20. Supervisor Liz Palmer of the Samuel Miller District said she wants to make sure they know what is going on. 

“We have a lot more work to do but sometimes I think that the Board as a whole doesn’t recognize how much has actually gotten done, which is not enough, but I think it’s a reasonable amount,” Palmer said. 

Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to find additional funding to further expand broadband. The authority also talked about upcoming bills in the next General Assembly that might assist localities in providing service. Culp is a member of the 17-member Broadband Advisory Council, which advises Virginia’s governor on the issue. That body meets again on Friday, December 4. 

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As the new year approaches, localities across the Commonwealth are waiting to see if their projects will receive funding in the fourth round of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale process. Albemarle and Charlottesville are in the Culpeper District, and their eight projects are competing with thirty other projects throughout that jurisdiction for funding. You can review the projects in a link in the newsletter. The total cost estimates for all of those projects is $374 million and $349 million is requested. The results will be announced in January. (presentation)

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Though there will certainly not be as many gatherings this Thanksgiving, it is quite likely that there will be plenty of empty glass bottles left over at the conclusion of holiday meals. That’s as good a time as any to give a quick update on efforts to divert those bottles from landfills. Jesse Warren is with UVA Sustainability and a member of the Albemarle Solid Waste Alternatives Advisory Council (SWAAC). 

“Glass is one of the unique things about Central Virginia that we can do something about,” Warren said. 

That something is working with the many producers of wine, beer, and cider in the region to gather up as many of the empties together to make a viable source for new containers. In late October, SWAAC invited Scott DeFife of the Glass Packaging Institute to talk about an idea.

“We could recover significantly more glass from our region than we do now by getting it out of the landfill and single-stream recyclable streams,” Warren said. “If we could get enough glass through this region, then we can potentially attract a bottle manufacturer to come and take that glass and do what they call beneficiate it into a new product.”

Warren said the issue with single-stream recycling is that the glass is too contaminated with other materials to be useful, so it gets used as landfill cover. Instead, SWAAC is encouraging “source separation” where the end user keeps empties separate from other waste. 

Warren said three steps are involved in this process.

“The first one is working with solid waste planning units to get the glass from Fluvanna, Albemarle, Nelson, Madison, Louisa to the Ivy [Material Utilization Center],” Warren said. “[Rivanna Solid Waste Authority] has negotiated a contract with a hauler to allow them to receive this glass with no tipping charge.”

Warren said UVA sends its glass there, and now he is working with localities to assemble more tonnage to go to Ivy. The second step would be coming up with a unified campaign for onsite beverage manufacturers to have dedicated bins that would be picked up by a dedicated hauler for a fee. 

“So to put some context to this, UVA does about 40 tons of glass a year and based on our initial calculations we think we could recover hundreds of tons from the region, so our question to these individual businesses is, where are you, and how much glass do you have?” Warren said. 

Then the question is, how to find a hauler to do the work? Before then, Warren is asking interested parties to answer a survey

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There are no meetings today, and I hope you are spending meaningful time with the people most important to you. 

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