Oct 5, 2021 • 17M

October 5, 2021: Charlottesville City Council approves garden lease, $50,000 for B.U.C.K. Squad; RSWA planning for new paper-sort facility

10-5 is CB code for "Pass it on!"

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Sean Tubbs
Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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In today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out:

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On today’s show:

  • A private vendor will be setting up a community vaccination center at the Big Lots in Seminole Square

  • VDOT’s hired a new engineer to run the Culpeper District that includes our community

  • Planning is underway to replace a machine that helps with paper and cardboard recycling in Albemarle and Charlottesville

  • City Council votes to join a regional tax board and to give $50,000 to a community policing effort

Pandemic update

The Virginia Department of Health reports 1,428 new cases of COVID-19 this morning. Last night, the head of the Blue Ridge Health District had the beginnings of good news to report to City Council. 

“We’re beginning to see a slight downturn in our current infection rate,” said Dr. Denise Bonds. “For the first time last week we did not have any triple-digit days with regards to cases. They were all below 100.”

Dr. Bonds said most of the cases are the delta variant and there are currently no signs of any other new strain. 

There is currently no universal recommendation that vaccinated individuals get booster shots, but they are available for people who had the Pfizer vaccine and who are older than 65 or people with underlying medical conditions. 

“We do ask that you schedule an appointment so we have enough Pfizer on board but they are available everywhere that we are vaccinating,” Bonds said. 

Beginning next week, a new site at Big Lots location in Seminole Square in the location where the University of Virginia was providing vaccines. 

“This is actually a vendor-run vaccination clinic,” Bonds said. “It’s a contract that our central office at [the Virginia Department of Health] has with an emergency response organization called Ashbritt.” 

An official announcement will be forthcoming regarding the new community vaccination center. Later this month on October 14 and October 15, a Food and Drug Administration panel will review data regarding the possibility of boosters for Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. (meeting announcement)

“This will be emergency use authorization again and it will still even if its approved on that date will have to go to the CDC advisory committee,” Dr Bonds said.

Dr. Bonds said the FDA has tentatively scheduled a meeting for October 26 to consider use of the Pfizer vaccine in children under the age of 12. 

A slide from Dr. Bond’s presentation to City Council from October 4, 2021

New VDOT leader for Charlottesville area

When the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board next meets, there will be a new person representing the Virginia Department of Transportation. Sean Nelson will become the new district engineer for VDOT’s Culpeper District, which spans nine counties.

“I am honored to return to Culpeper District as the district engineer and look forward to working with our talented teams and valued community partners,” Nelson is quoted in a September 30 press release. “I was born and raised in Louisa and am now raising my family there. I am proud to come home and am committed to making a difference in this region.”

Nelson’s last post was as the maintenance engineer for VDOT’s Richmond District. In the new job, he will be in charge of “construction, maintenance and operations maintenance, project development and business functions of nearly 10,500 lane miles.” 

VDOT manages road construction projects in all of those counties, including six projects being designed and built under one contract in Albemarle County. However, Charlottesville manages its own construction projects and has been the recipient of multiple projects under Smart Scale. 

Sean Nelson (Source: VDOT)

Last month, Council signaled it would likely forgo $3.25 million in VDOT funds for the first phase of the West Main Streetscape and $4 million for the second phase. Both required a match of local funding, funding which will now be transferred to a $75 million project to renovate Buford Middle School.

This summer, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $10.8 million for the third phase of West Main Street, which requires no match. It is unclear if that phase will move ahead. All of the phases were designed as part of a $2.85 million planning study overseen by Rhodeside & Harwell. 

Construction on the Belmont Bridge finally got underway this summer after many years of planning. There are many other open VDOT projects in Charlottesville that have not gone to construction. 

Council round-up

Last night, Charlottesville City Council voted 4-1 to join a regional board that would administer cigarette taxes generated in outlying counties. Until this year, only cities have been able to levy such a tax, which generated $641,494 for Charlottesville in fiscal year 2020. The city gets $0.55 a pack. 

Mayor Nikuyah Walker voted against the item partially out of a concern it would penalize people who are low-income. 

“I know we discuss it from a public health platform but most people are not going to stop smoking because there’s an increased tax on it,” Walker said. 

The tax board would be administered by the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. David Blount is deputy director.

“And right now we have six counties that have so far agreed to establish this board,” Blount said. “We know of one additional county in our region and even one in our town that is showing some interest in participating.” 

Counties can not charge more than 40 cents a pack. 

Council also agreed to donate $50,000 to the B.U.C.K. Squad for their community policing efforts on a 3 to 2 vote. Councilor Michael Payne joined Mayor Walker in voting against the measure out of concerns raised by the Public Housing Association of Residents and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. 

“The B.U.C.K. Squad program is something really important, that model,” Payne said. “But I would just want to have very clear lockstep assurance that CRHA and PHAR are all on the same page regarding in terms of what they’re doing and not being 100 percent assured of that I’m going to vote no for that reason hoping that partnership can evolve and become successful.”

Council also voted to establish a ground lease for the Botanical Garden of the Piedmont to operate in a section of McIntire Park. The group will be responsible for raising the funds to construct improvements called for in their schematic plan. 

“It’s very important for the nonprofit to obtain a lease so that they can complete their fundraising efforts,” said City Manager Chip Boyles. “The city does not have any funds in the [capital improvement program] for this project and therefore this would not be a project that would go under construction under city management.” 

The vote was 5-0. 

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At the end of their meeting last night, Charlottesville City Council held another lengthy discussion about the termination of Police Chief RaShall Brackney. I may or may not make it back to that item in a future installment of the newsletter. 

In addition to the police chief, Charlottesville continues to have many high-profile vacancies.  

The position for Director of Elections is being advertised through October 15, 2021. Other openings include the director of Parks and Recreation as well as the Director of Public Works. The person who most recently held the latter position is David Brown, who only worked for Charlottesville for a year. Brown was honored by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority at their meeting on September 28. Here’s the chair, Mike Gaffney.

“And what is that old saying? David, we hardly knew ye,” Gaffney said. 

RSWA seeks tonnage increase

Let’s stick with the Rivanna Authorities for a moment. The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority has been experiencing higher volumes of tonnage received at the Ivy Materials Utilization Center. Material is sorted before sent out to other landfills. As a result, the RSWA is asking the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to increase the amount it can transfer each day to 450 tons, up from 300 tons. 

“We believe that by increasing our facility limit to 450 tons per day will not result in a great deal more traffic, but rather allow us to accept the few, large load, customers that are bringing us material from infrequent large projects (like the field turf replacement project or a UVA building demolition project that we’ve seen in the past couple of years,” reads the executive director’s report for the September meeting. 

More solid waste is bring brought to the Ivy Materials Utilization Center

RSWA Solid Waste Director Phil McKalips said that many times his agency does not know material is coming until it shows up. 

“We tend to find out about these projects when they come across the scale, so our ability to impact the planning of a project is usually far down the pipeline by the time we see it,” McKalips said.  

McKalips said the RSWA has received a lot of waste material from the Southwood project in recent weeks. Recently an area where household waste had been discarded over the years was cleared and sent to the Ivy Materials Utilization Center. The increase would help on days when they exceed the 300 ton a day limit. 

“Whoever cleared the site mixed a lot of debris in with the soil so they had to bring it all out to us for disposal,” McKalips said. “We didn’t know that was coming ahead of time and all of a sudden we have 140 tons in a day to deal with.” 

McKalips said this material is not to be confused with areas that may have been contaminated with oil that leaked from storage tanks under trailers. That will be going through a separate process monitored by the DEQ.

RSWA to conduct engineering study on new paper-sort facility
These are some of the strategies in the Albemarle County Climate Action Plan in the Sustainable Materials Management. Take a look at the whole plan here!

Planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions takes many forms. Albemarle County’s Climate Action Plan has a whole chapter on “sustainable materials management” which has multiple strategies to divert items from landfills. Strategy 5.1.3 is to “identify if there is a need to local additional paper/cardboard balers in Albemarle County.” That item is under review by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority and McKalips gave a briefing.

The RSWA operates a facility on Meade Avenue that sorts paper material brought to the Ivy Materials Utilization Center and the McIntire Recycling Center. 

“People put their recyclable materials in there and we take those back to the paper sort facility and we by and large bale all of those products,” McKalips said. “That allows us to save a lot of shipping costs in getting them to our vendors.”

However, there are access issues with the site that have to be addressed. The property on which the facility is located on Meade Avenue is leased from Woolen Mills Self Storage but RSWA can only access it on property leased by Gerdau Metals Recycling. An access agreement has a 90-day termination clause and the bailing equipment is over 20 years old. 

“The thing has been well used and it’s getting near the end of its service life,” McKalips said. 

That’s prompted McKalips to see if there’s another option for the future. For instance, there’s not enough covered storage space to keep the material protected from rain and moisture that would make it unusable for recycling. The RSWA also collects paper material from other private collection sites such as at Kohl’s and Wal-Mart. That creates logistical issues with what to bale and when. 

“So this facility gets a lot of cardboard,” McKalips said. “That cardboard isn’t conducive to pushing that back into a trailer and pulling it out later so we leave it out front and then that’s one of the earliest products to get bailed. Having said that though, we have all [these] materials that need to be pulled back out, driven around the cardboard, and baled.”

So with a future need, McKalips presented three options for the future. The first would renovate and expand on site and would have have a $2 million capital cost. The second would be to skip the local baling facility entirely and ship out to other entities. That would include no capital costs, but increase operating costs of $550,000 in the first year and $300,000 each year after. The third would be to build a new paper sort facility with two bailers.  

“Obviously this is going to be the most expensive option,” McKalips said. “It was looking to be about $4.3 million in the feasibility study.” 

If the third option is pursued, McKalips said the next step is to work with Albemarle and Charlottesville to identify a potential site for the new location. They’ll need about three acres of land. 

Lance Stewart, Albemarle’s Director of Facilities and Environmental Services, said that he is hopeful to be able to work with city government to develop an approach to move forward with a new facility. 

“I think it’s a complex set of issues that hopefully we can come together on,” Stewart said. 

The presentation comes just as Albemarle and Charlottesville are about to start their budget cycle. The RSWA Board reached consensus to direct staff to move forward with the engineering study for a new facility. 

Images from the existing paper sort facility on Meade Avenue 

Thank you for reading! Please send on to someone else you think might be interested, and please let me know if you have any questions!