Duer Says A-NPDC More Interested In Grants Than Solving Problems

By Stefanie Jackson — It could be said Supervisor Robert Duer “shot the messenger” when Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission representative Clara Vaughn brought the Northampton Board of Supervisors a grant opportunity Oct. 9 to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety in the Cape Charles area. Duer implied the agency is more concerned with the size of the administrative fees it collects for overseeing grants than the size of the problems it seeks to solve.

“You’re grant prostitutes,” Duer said. “You’d rather go for 15 percent of $5 million than 15 percent of 300,000 (dollars).” The remarks came at the end of a diatribe over broader issues affecting a wider range of citizens, such as the county’s fractured infrastructure.

Vaughn told supervisors about a grant available through the Virginia Department of Transportation Highway Safety Improvement Plan’s Bike and Pedestrian Safety Program. 

It awards up to $5 million to projects increasing the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in locations with high crash risks. There have been two pedestrian fatalities on Stone Road leading into Cape Charles since about 2014, Vaughn said.

The money could fund Phase 4 of the Southern Tip Bike and Hike Trail that was designed to connect Cape Charles and Cheriton parks and attractions along a 25-mile loop.

The trail would be extended another 3.6 miles, from the Cape Charles marina to the Food Lion shopping center on Route 13.

Safety enhancements would include a paved pathway separating bicycles and pedestrians from motor vehicles on Stone Road and featuring a signalized crossing at Route 13. 

VDOT Accomac Residency Administrator Chris Isdell said the trail crossing is already under consideration in relation to the new traffic light proposed at the intersection of the highway and the south entrance to Food Lion.

Costs would be paid by the state’s Open Container Fund, constituted of fines from drivers caught with open containers of alcohol in their vehicles.

The grant has no local match requirement and would cover all costs from planning and engineering to construction.

But not every supervisor was impressed with the financial proposition.

“I’m not against bike trails, but I think there are a whole lot more needs in our county,” Duer said.

“We’ve got water and sewer we need, we’ve got affordable housing we need, we’ve got to pay our teachers and our law enforcement officers more …  I realize it’s a grant … I just think we have too many needs other than a bike trail now to spend $5 million on. … It’s window dressing and we got a foundation to build.”

Supervisor John Coker reminded Duer that the funds aren’t taxpayer money, but fines. “They made a mistake, and they’re paying for that,” he said. 

Coker also pointed out the purpose of the trail, “to keep people off the street so they don’t get killed by a car.”

Duer did not relent. “I realize that, but for $5 million, we could get every home in Nassawadox connected to sewer.” 

“You have to stand for something,” he continued. “If we’re fine with 50-foot yachts and bike trails, and outhouses with pitcher pumps, then fine, let’s vote it through. I can’t do that.” 

Chairman Spencer Murray said, “The A-NPDC needs to work on getting a solution for Occohannock Neck Road as much as they’re working on bike trails.” He was referring to a small area of Exmore where renters lack indoor plumbing.

Vaughn attempted to assure Duer that the A-NPDC was working on Exmore’s problems, but Duer was not appeased. 

After accusing the agency of prioritizing money over problem-solving, Duer concluded, “That’s why nothing gets done. I’ve said my piece, I’ll shut up.” Vaughn needed supervisors’ approval of the project since the trail will enter Northampton County property, though it will mostly be contained within Cape Charles and the town will own and maintain the trail.

Supervisors approved Cape Charles submitting the grant application in a 3-2 vote, with Duer and Supervisor Oliver Bennett opposed. 

A-NPDC Executive Director Elaine Meil, contacted later for comment about Duer’s remarks, said, “A-NPDC will continue to work with Mr. Duer and other local officials to advance community projects.”

Spaceport Lands New Customer Research Park Gets First Tenant and 30 Jobs

By Linda Cicoira — Rocket Lab, a New Zealand-based enterprise known in the aeronautics world for delivering “small satellites to low Earth orbit at an unprecedented frequency,” will be blasting off its spacecrafts from Wallops Island by next year.

Company representatives made the announcement at a press conference Wednesday and then went off to a groundbreaking ceremony for its new launch pad at the Virginia Space and Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. The endeavor will employ 30 highly skilled workers from the start with the hope of up to 100 eventually, launch a 57-foot-tall Electron rocket monthly, and become the first tenant at the Wallops Research Park. 

The initial project is anticipated to cost $20 million. Gov. Ralph Northam approved a $5 million state grant to help with expenses. Called Launch Complex 2, it will be Rocket Lab’s first launch facility in the United States, will serve government and commercial missions, and will allow the company to continue to expand rocket production at the company’s headquarters in Huntington Beach, Calif.

“Rocket Lab’s selection … is a great win for our growing aerospace industry, and an investment that will generate jobs and increase Virginia’s overall economic competitiveness,” Northam said in a prepared statement.

“Accessing space should be simple, seamless and tailored to our customers’ missions — from idea to orbit,” said CEO Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s founder. “We’re thrilled to expand on our ability to provide rapid, reliable and affordable access to orbit for small satellites. We’ve worked closely with the experienced and welcoming teams from Virginia Space and MARS … to design a pad and processes that will enable an agile and streamlined approach to small satellite launch on U.S. soil,” he added.

“Whatever your payload, whatever your mission, Wallops will take you there,” said Bill Wrobel, director of the Wallops Flight Facility. “Make no mistake, this is a huge momentous day. Wallops has more than 70 years of experience successfully supporting missions using suborbital as well as small and medium-class orbital launch vehicles,” Wrobel continued. “We look forward … to supporting Rocket Lab’s Electron missions and expanding commercial launch operations from Wallops.”

“Rocket Lab will develop a Launch Vehicle Integration and Assembly Facility in the Wallops Research Park to support the simultaneous integration of up to four Electron vehicles,” an announcement stated. “The facility will also contain a control room with connectivity to Launch Complex 2, as well as dedicated customer facilities.”

“There is an incredible synergy between Virginia Space and Rocket Lab and we are proud to support their missions launching from U.S. soil,” said Dale Nash, CEO and executive director of  Virginia Space. “We’d like to thank Rocket Lab for their confidence in our team. Virginia Space and MARS employees are standing ready to do everything we can to ensure successful, safe and timely launch missions.”

Wallops was chosen over Cape Canaveral, Pacific Spaceport Complex and Vandenberg Air Force Base. Rocket Lab will continue to investigate additional launch sites in the U.S. and internationally to provide additional launch flexibility for small satellite customers. The company also maintains agreements with Cape Canaveral and Pacific Spaceport Complex to conduct launches from existing pads as needed.

“Our mission is to open access to space to improve life on Earth,” said Beck. “Rocket Lab has developed the world’s first fully carbon composite orbital launch vehicle, Electron, which is powered by 3D printed, electric pump-fed engines. Electron is a two-stage vehicle capable of delivering payloads of 150 kg to a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit.”

In January 2018, Rocket Lab successfully deployed the company’s first commercial payloads. It marked a significant milestone in eliminating commercial barriers and ushering in a new era of unprecedented access to space. Investors include Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, DCVC (Data Collective), Lockheed Martin, Promus Ventures, and K1W1.

“Wallops Research Park was created to provide an attractive environment for science, technology, and educational enterprises,” said Chairman of the Accomack County Board of Supervisors Robert Crockett. “This is a fantastic opportunity for Accomack County and the intelligence and strong work ethic of the best and brightest of our residents will serve Rocket Lab well in their endeavors.”

“It’s a big win for Accomack County,” said Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason. “Rocket Lab … is the industry leader for small rockets.” Wednesday night, the county board of supervisors gave Mason the authority to sign leases for property in the Wallops Research Park.

Tropical Storm Michael Rips Through Shore

By Stefanie Jackson and Linda Cicoira — Northampton County survived Tropical Storm Michael, but it didn’t come away completely unscathed.

Despite being downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, which typically has wind speeds below 75 mph, gusts reached the triple digits in some parts of Northampton late on Thursday, Oct. 11.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel recorded gusts of up to 110 mph Thursday night.

Increasingly strong winds that persisted throughout the evening triggered a string of traffic restrictions on the bridge-tunnel and eventually, temporary closure just before midnight when winds exceeded 70 mph. It remained closed for seven hours, until 6:53 a.m. Friday, Oct. 12.

No damage to the facility was observed by the bridge-tunnel crew.

The number of calls received by Northampton EMS appeared to correlate to increasing wind speeds.

The Wednesday before the storm hit, EMS had just under 40 calls for either medical emergency or fire rescue service. By Thursday, that number had increased to 55.

But Friday morning was the busiest time for the EMS call center after residents woke up to see what had transpired the night before. On Oct. 12, there were 118 calls for service, most for hazardous conditions such as trees that had fallen across roads or power lines or for electrical equipment fires.

By Saturday, the number of calls for service had dropped back to about 40.

“We were lucky,” said Northampton EMS Director Hollye Carpenter, reporting just one family, in Cape Charles, had been displaced from their home due to a tree limb crashing through the roof. Carpenter received no major damage reports from the county.

Not everyone was so lucky. The storm ripped through Cherrystone Campground, near Cheriton, felled trees, and caused extensive damage to the grounds and cabins.

There were no injuries, but the campground was closed as of Oct. 12. A team of contractors had been called in to clean up the campground. It will re-open this weekend in time for “Scarystone,” the campground’s Halloween celebration.

Cape Charles Town Manager Larry DiRe reported the worst of the storm damage in town was sustained by the Cape Charles Brewing Company warehouse, which had been intended for future expansion of the business on Stone Road.

Owner Mark Marshall met with an insurance adjuster Wednesday and will decide whether to repair or demolish the building.

On Washington Avenue, two sections of fence were down and aluminum siding had blown off a few homes, DiRe said.

But the majority of the damage in town was related to fallen trees. DiRe noted in particular, on Nectarine Street, one tree was completely uprooted and another snapped in half. On Fig Street, two sycamores had fallen.

There were “many close calls” with trees that almost fell onto homes, but for the most part, Cape Charles was “pretty fortunate,” he said.

“We’re very pleased the VDOT crews are out,” DiRe said Wednesday. He wanted to let the Virginia Department of Transportation know the town’s appreciation for making Cape Charles one of the agency’s “immediate priorities.”

In Accomack County, the storm was not nearly as bad. Still, cars and garages got flooded and people remarked on Facebook that tides were comparable to that of Hurricane Sandy.

That was the word from Curt Smith. “The major storm surge, at the mouth of Onancock Creek, (occurred) 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., as southwest winds entered the bay. Water level here at East Point (is) nearly as high as Sandy in 2012.”

Others were seen later in the day drying out their cars with wet vacuums and airing out their garages.

“We had high tides here on Tangier,” one woman wrote. “But the wind shifted about 1:30 a.m. and halted the tide and started taking it out, thus sparing a lot of flooded homes … There were a bunch of small boats sunk this morning and a few homes flooded … but everyone is safe and accounted for so we are blessed! That was a nasty storm system!”

“My friends down the street … lost both of their cars to the high water,” a Harborton woman posted. “No one expected that. Apparently, it came up super fast about 1:30 in the morning and was gone before everyone woke up. Ok, I am grateful that like Sandy, it did not go into the house. But once again the entire A/C ductwork under the house needs to be replaced. I have lost my shirt on this house, along with my pants, shoes, and underwear.”

Despite all this, Accomack County did not make a damage assessment. “No report has been made nor is one planned,” County Administrator Mike Mason said Tuesday. “We did not see the extent of damages that Northampton did.”

FedEx Contractor Said Confrontation With Hogg ‘Like From the Old West

By Linda Cicoira — The FedEx contractor thought he was encountering a man who wanted to learn about a delivery. But the former Northampton supervisor thought he had found another thief on his property.

Kyle Miller, who lives in Chesapeake, Va., was delivering packages with an employee, who lives in Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 23. They were near Cherrystone on the Eastern Shore.

“I got a smile on my face,” Miller said late last week. “Maybe, he is asking us about a package,” he thought when former Supervisor Granville Hogg blocked the delivery van’s path.

Instead, Miller said, the man had a gun and started yelling. “What the hell are you doing here? Who are you?” Miller said Hogg demanded to know. “After I gave him our information and everything, he was looking at us like ‘make a move.’ Like (from) the Old West,” Miller said. “You’re on my f…… property and I can do what I want to do,” Hogg told them, according to Miller.

The contractor said he objects to Hogg’s “insinuation that we were doing something wrong. He was acting like a vigilante.”

Miller said he asked Hogg to put the gun away. But Hogg wouldn’t. “He took both of the IDs into his hand,” Miller said, contrary to Hogg’s claims that he never got close enough to the vehicle to see them.

“I have had several issues in the past,” Hogg wrote to an Eastern Shore Post reporter Wednesday night. “Stolen vehicles, stolen equipment, break-ins, trespassing on oyster grounds, removal of oysters, theft of a house full of antiques. Three or four of these were foiled by me. I either had them on camera, been alerted by a security service that there was an intruder, or observed the persons in the act. The theft of the antiques has not been solved.”

He got trespassing warrants for Miller and his employee, Anthony C. Sivels.

“It is my belief they have been sent to the law enforcement agency … where FedEx is located. This is likely due to the limited information which I had,” which did not include their addresses.

Miller said he did not know why the GPS directed them to Secretairy Road when they were looking for Oyster Cape Road, which they later found out was on the other side of Lankford Highway. “We are numb to the fact that it wasn’t on that street,” Miller said.

Miller said his deliveries were backed up because of the threat of the hurricane and because the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel had several closures around that time.

“There were probably 4,000 packages in the terminal” waiting to be delivered, Miller said. “Close to 200 to 210 packages (in the van) that day. That’s why I had a helper … I don’t want my reputation tarnished … It was Sunday. I wanted to be home drinking a beer, watching football. I didn’t want to be out there. I wanted to be home with my family … I couldn’t allow my truck to come over sooner.”

Miller said Hogg continued to hold on to the gun while they waited between five to 10 minutes for police to arrive.

“It floored me when he said he was in fear of his life,” Miller continued. “He literally came from down the road to block us in. I don’t see how he was in fear of his life.”

Miller said they called 911. When the deputy arrived, he told them that Hogg “and the sheriff are friends. They are buddies.” Miller said the deputy talked to the sheriff who referred the deputy to the commonwealth’s attorney. He was later told Hogg would be charged with a felony.

Instead, Hogg was charged with two counts of brandishing a firearm, which are misdemeanors, according to records filed in Northampton General District Court. The charges were brought by Miller and Sivels.

Northampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Beverly Leatherbury, who also serves as the county attorney, asked to be removed from the case. Accomack Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan was appointed by Judge W. Revell Lewis III of the local county circuit courts. Morgan would not comment on the case when asked about it Tuesday.

In an email, Hogg indicated the men were not in a FedEx vehicle. Instead, they were in a Penske rental truck. He said they were trespassing. The property is posted.

“Based on the conduct I witnessed, out of fear and respect, I have never been close enough to the individuals to read any identification they presented and (that was) the reason the sheriff’s department was notified,” wrote Hogg. “To my knowledge, they did not have a parcel addressed to me or the tenant nor any former tenant … When you see individuals driving recklessly, acting totally out of character, not being able to provide good reason for being on your property, I believe I have good reason to think my life is being threatened.”

Eastern Shore Man Dies Sunday From Gunshot Wounds

By Linda Cicoira — A 21-year-old Cape Charles native died from multiple gunshot wounds early Sunday morning, Alvin Hopson, of the Medical Examiner’s Office in Richmond, Va., reported Wednesday. The incident is being investigated as a homicide.

Sheriff Todd Godwin identified the victim as Hasaan Burton, of Virginia Beach, Va. Another gunshot victim was treated and released from the local hospital but was not identified.

Godwin said at nearly 4:30 a.m. his office received a report the two victims were being taken to Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital from the Exmore area. Upon their arrival, deputies learned Burton had died from his injuries.

Godwin later said the unnamed victim is not being cooperative with authorities in providing information about the incident. Godwin said it is believed the shooting occurred on Lankford Highway in Keller when shots were fired from one car into another. The other victim was the only other person in the vehicle with Burton.

Godwin also said authorities think an argument may have started at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. There were also incidents at the Royal Farms in Princess Anne, Md., and in New Church that may have been related. Videos of the properties are being analyzed by authorities, Godwin said.

No other information was released and no arrests have been made. The Burton family has declined to comment. Burton’s Facebook page said he was a 2015 graduate of Landstown High School in Virginia Beach.

A spokesperson for the Eastern Shore of Virginia 9-1-1 Center reported that Northampton EMS and Accomack Public Safety responded to the call. Sprint vehicles from both counties also went to the site at the intersection of County Line and Main Streets.

Officers from the state police, Northampton County Sheriff’s Office, and Exmore Police Department assisted Godwin’s deputies. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call 757-787-1131 or 757-824-5666. Tips may also be submitted through Godwin’s website at www.accomackcountysheriffsoffice.org

VDOT Offers Light at Cape Charles Food Lion

By Stefanie Jackson — A last-minute change was made to Northampton supervisors’ agenda for their Oct. 9 meeting to accommodate a surprise visitor, Virginia Department of Transportation Accomac Residency Administrator Chris Isdell.

After VDOT’s safety improvement plan for Route 13 by the Cape Charles Food Lion was carefully reviewed and an additional traffic study was conducted, Isdell was able to offer supervisors three new options, including the installation of a traffic light at the intersection of Route 13 and Country Place at the shopping center’s busy south entrance.

A VDOT public hearing held in July had garnered much criticism from Cape Charles area residents. VDOT’s original proposal mainly consisted of widening and lengthening turn lanes, but it made no provisions for safety at the dangerous intersection where there have been many accidents and close calls, residents said.

Previously, when supervisors requested adding a traffic signal to the safety improvement plan, Isdell cautioned them that it might drive up costs too high for the project to qualify for VDOT’s Smart Scale program.

Furthermore, the county did not request a traffic signal on the original Smart Scale application it submitted in 2016, and if the application was amended, there was no guarantee it would be approved a second time, Isdell had told supervisors in August.

But this time, Isdell seemed confident that the traffic signal is a favorable option.

The project’s “scope would have to be re-evaluated to make sure that the funding that is currently there will work, and by doing so, it has the potential to trigger a rescore of the project,” Isdell said.

“However,” he continued, “we feel like the project is a strong project and may score as well” as previously.

All three options for amending the safety improvement plan are: closing the intersection to all traffic except vehicles making left turns; converting the intersection to an RCUT or J-turn intersection, achieving the same outcome as the first option but enabling vehicles to make U-turns; or installing a traffic signal preceded by warning beacons and rumble strips.

The new traffic signal would be near the existing traffic signal at the intersection of Route 13 and Stone Road, leading into the town of Cape Charles. Isdell said the traffic lights would be timed similarly to the series of traffic lights seen on Route 13 in Exmore, Onley, and Oak Hall.

According to Isdell, at least two turn lanes would still be widened and/or lengthened on the stretch of road less than half a mile long, including the turn lane leading to Cape Charles. The original safety improvement plan included widening and lengthening eight turn lanes, which some citizens deemed unnecessary.

But the project would not include a speed reduction from 55 mph to 45 mph, as occurs in most other towns in Northampton and Accomack counties where there are multiple traffic signals close together.

“That may be something to look at later, but this is definitely progress,” Chairman Spencer Murray said.

Isdell agreed and said the traffic signal would be taken into consideration when the next speed study is done.

Supervisor David Fauber asked everyone to recognize former supervisor Granville Hogg, who was in the audience, for all his hard work on the project. Hogg advocated for road safety improvements at the Cape Charles area shopping center both as a county supervisor and, after his term ended, as a concerned citizen.

Supervisor John Coker said, “Granville deserves all the credit for this. He’s been working on this for over a decade.”

Cheriton Police Chief Sacked in August, Citizens Want Answers

By Stefanie Jackson  — At Cheriton’s latest town council meeting on Sept. 26, unrest among citizens persisted and questions remained unanswered about the police department and its future.

Marc Marshall was the chief and sole member of the newly formed Cheriton Police Department that had been in operation for barely one year when the council voted 5 to 1 on Aug. 29 to terminate his contract.

No reason for the termination was provided by the council or Mayor Larry LeMond, who cited a “personnel matter.”

Councilman Wesley Travis, who cast the only opposing vote, was not present at the Sept. 26 meeting. Instead, he left a resignation letter for Town Clerk Stacey Salenski to read into the record.

According to the motion to terminate Marshall’s contract, “The police chief was put on administrative leave with pay, pending an investigation,” Travis wrote.

“I voted ‘no’ because there was no investigation and no due process,” he explained.

“Since that meeting, I have experienced many forms of harassment by the general public and council members’ families. I have been cursed out, given dirty looks, been the subject of rumors and accusations. This pains me because there was no content to go along with the vote, and for that reason I am resigning from Cheriton council effective immediately,” Travis concluded.

LeMond responded, “I’m sorry to hear that. … He has his opinion. Five of the other council members didn’t agree with his opinion.”

About one month following Marshall’s termination, the council had no plan to replace him and voted to cancel an eSummons software maintenance agreement and return related computer equipment for refunds totaling more than $19,000.

During the public comment session, Jason Van Marter, a Cheriton resident and restaurant owner who some citizens hope will be appointed to the open seat on the council, said, “By canceling the eSummons and sending back all the equipment, at least to me, it appears that you’ve already made a choice on the Cheriton police force whether you voted on it or not.”

Councilman Matthew Yancy responded, “A final decision has not been made concerning the Cheriton police department. … it will be inactive until either A) a police officer is hired, or B) this council votes to disband it.”

“Relax your minds, we still have a police department, it’s just not active right now,” he said.

“And will remain so until we hire a certified, fully trained law enforcement employee, or send our employee to the police academy and get certified,” LeMond said.

According to LeMond, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice said the police department could remain inactive indefinitely.

Neither LeMond nor the council provided the rationale for canceling the eSummons or deciding to return the equipment hardly a month after terminating the police chief.

In response to concerns that Cheriton is once again relying solely on the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office to patrol the town and provide revenue through traffic tickets, LeMond said, “The sheriff’s department is doing what they always have done. They’ve always patrolled this town. … Even when we had a police department, the sheriff’s department was patrolling the town.”

Travis’ letter stated, “I believe that Cheriton needs to move forward and not backward. We spent many years getting from out underneath the county and to run back to them as soon as there’s a problem shows a lack of leadership for our town.”

Citizen Joanne Fitchett said, “I was very taken aback with the way that the council didn’t include the town people before a lot of these decisions were made.”

“I feel like we don’t have a voice in the community. We just come here and sit, you make the decisions, and it’s a done deal,” she said.

Fitchett spoke out about Marshall’s termination. “We need to know why you fired him,” she demanded. “He lives in our community. His children, wife … it puts a burden on his family to be looked at, and everyone has a story to tell, but we never got the story.”

LeMond repeated that neither he nor the council can discuss personnel issues.

“Forgive us that we can’t bring you in on every decision … unfortunately, this was one of them,” Yancy said.

Fitchett also wanted to know why council had not followed through on its plan to form a committee to find alternative sources of revenue for the town, “so that you’re not putting pressure or putting a dollar amount or ticket amount on one person, which I thought was very unfair,” she said.

“We just haven’t had time,” Yancy answered. “I’m hoping after tonight … that we now can move on.”

Another citizen, Nancy Brown, had no harsh words for new council members Yancy and Mary Mears, but told Barry Downing, Norma Spencer, and Bo Lewis they have “done nothing” about revenue generation.

“You just put it all on Marc Marshall and said, ‘Yah, mule,’ kept cracking the whip, and told him to bring in more tickets,” which was “unfair” and “unsustainable,” Brown said.

She wanted to know why the investigation of Marshall was not done. “Where’s any accountability for that?” she asked.

“We’re not going to comment,” LeMond answered.

A few minutes later, a soft voice spoke up. It was Mears. “I hope we will move forward. We just haven’t got there yet, but we’re working on it,” she said.

Elaine Meil from the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission will visit the council next month to discuss funding sources the town can pursue, Mears said.

Both Spencer and Downing admitted mistakes had been made, and Spencer said, “We definitely don’t want to repeat those, so we wanted to carefully move forward.” Downing echoed Spencer’s statement and asked citizens for their “cooperation to help us move forward from this situation.”

In Latest Elder-Care Shuffle, The Hermitage Is Sold, Buyers Dropping Skilled Nursing

By Linda Cicoira — A deal to sell the Hermitage on the Eastern Shore in Onancock has been made and the buyer is promising to invest $3 million for capital improvements, convert the skilled nursing wing into memory care for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and add independent living services to the already upscale retirement center.

The sale price was not disclosed in an announcement made late Wednesday by the buyer, Commonwealth Senior Living, of Charlottesville, Va., which has 21 such communities in Virginia, and Pinnacle Living, of Glen Allen, Va., a not-for-profit organization that was formerly United Methodist Homes and currently owns the Hermitage. The facility will be renamed Commonwealth Senior Living at the Eastern Shore.

The new company will take over management next month “once the nursing beds are converted,” the announcement stated. “The transaction is expected to be complete before the end of the year with construction starting shortly thereafter.”

Residents “are expected to remain and will not see any increase to their base rate for at least 12 months,” according to the announcement. The two companies “will work together during the transition from nursing to assisted living to determine staffing needs … associates not retained will be offered a severance package from Pinnacle Living.” The announcement said future job opportunities are anticipated as “renovations are completed and occupancy grows.”

“Those residents currently residing in nursing will be assessed in the coming weeks to ensure their needs can be met in assisted living or memory care” with “a reduction in their monthly fee once the transition to assisted living is complete. Skilled nursing services will continue to be available through local home health providers,” the announcement continued.

“We understand the importance of continuing the mission Pinnacle Living has so capably carried on for more than 50 years, and we are both excited and honored to have the opportunity to bring our passion and our expertise in caring for seniors to the Eastern Shore.” said Richard Brewer, Commonwealth Living’s CEO. “While nursing home utilization has declined over the last 10 years, the need for more affordable options such as independent living, assisted living and memory care has grown. We are making a significant commitment to ensure those needs are met.”

“This decision came after many months of careful consideration and research into who would be a good partner to continue our mission of enriching life’s journey,” said Pinnacle Living President and CEO Christopher P. Henderson. “We are pleased with CSL’s plan to further invest in the community, the additional services and its commitment to ensuring the community will remain a resource to seniors on the Eastern Shore for the long term.”

Commonwealth Living has “successfully operated communities throughout the state for almost 17 years, including buildings in the nearby Southside, Peninsula, Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck areas,” the announcement stated.

Former Supervisor Granville Hogg Accused of Brandishing Firearm in Trespassing Dispute

By Linda Cicoira — Former Northampton Supervisor Granville Hogg was accused late last month of brandishing a firearm at two men he says were trespassing on his property. The men claim they identified themselves as Fed-Ex workers and were trying to make a delivery but were still “held hostage” by Hogg.

Complaints were taken out against Hogg, 71, of Butler’s Court near Cape Charles. They were filed by Kyle Edward Miller, of Quarterpath Triangle in Chesapeake, Va., and Anthony C. Sivels, of Aggonne Avenue, in Norfolk, Va.

According to papers filed in Northampton General District Court, the misdemeanor offenses occurred Sept. 23, and involved brandishing “a firearm in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another or hold a firearm or an air or gas operated weapon in a public place in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another of being shot or injured.”

“I called 911 dispatch because me and my helper were being blocked in a driveway by a man holding a gun,” Miller wrote. “The road was Secretairy Drive and we were delivering to 21444 Oyster Cape Road, off Secretairy. He pulled out in front of us, blocking me from exiting or even getting away … while holding us up from performing service to the Eastern Shore. We are employees of Fed-Ex ground.”

“Already shaken up by being held hostage, we produced paperwork and badges showing (our) reason to be there,” Miller continued. “He said he didn’t care and wouldn’t let us leave. I have a picture of him standing in front of my van with gun in hand.”

Sivels wrote, “Me and my driver were pulling out of a driveway (to) deliver a box to someone and this man had pull(ed) in front of our truck and block(ed) us in. Then got out with a gun and ask why we (were) on his property. So we told him and show(ed) him ID information. But he still don’t let us leave and refuse to put gun away.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Beverly Leatherbury, who also serves as the county’s attorney, asked to be removed from the case saying in a court document that it would be improper for her to handle the case. Judge W. Revell Lewis III appointed Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan of Accomack to the case.

In an email, Hogg indicated the men were not in a Fed-Ex vehicle. Instead, he said, they were in a Penske rental truck. Hogg said they were trespassing and obtained warrants for them in that regard. The warrants were not yet returned to the court because they are in the process of being served and were not available for inspection by a reporter.

“Based on the conduct I witnessed, out of fear and respect, I have never been close enough to the individuals to read any identification they presented and (that was) the reason the sheriff’s department was notified,” wrote Hogg.

He said a “No Trespassing” sign is on Secretairy Road about 500 feet south of the intersection of Secretairy and Townfield roads. “Don’t proceed beyond the sign without an invitation … as a citizen, how many times have you noted a delivery vehicle like UPS, FedEx, or DHL delivering packages on Sunday? How many persons does it take to drive a delivery van? Do logistics companies like  UPS, FedEx, DHL have requirements for their vehicles to be identifiable? … In today’s world, most logistics companies have GPS units. Did they have that capability? … To my knowledge, they did not have a parcel addressed to me or the tenant nor any former tenant … Is there anything wrong with contacting the sheriff’s department and requesting assistance in determining the identity of someone acting out of character that is trespassing on your property? When you see individuals driving recklessly, acting totally out of character, not being able to provide good reason for being on your property, I believe I have good reason to think my life is being threatened.”

A hearing will be held at 10 a.m., Nov. 14. Jack Wescoat of Eastville has been retained to represent Hogg.

Sheriff David Doughty said the incident occurred on a road belonging to Hogg, the warrants didn’t require an arrest or bond, only a promise to appear. A deputy went to the scene and will be subpoenaed as a witness. Due to Hogg’s previous position as a supervisor, “any other potential criminal issues will be investigated by the state police,” Doughty said.

Truck Scrapes Tunnel Top and Halts Travels for Hours

By Stefanie Jackson — A tractor-trailer traveling northbound on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was involved in a single-vehicle accident inside the Thimble Shoals tunnel on Monday at approximately 11 a.m.

No one was injured, but traffic delays persisted for about 16.5 hours until approximately 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. Some travelers reported on Facebook being delayed as much as 6-8 hours.

The tractor-trailer belonged to Chesapeake Tunnel Joint Venture, the company constructing the new parallel tunnel at Thimble Shoals channel. 

Bridge-tunnel officials gave details about the accident in a follow-up press release. The truck was transporting a piece of heavy construction equipment from Island One to Island Two, one of four manmade islands that are part of the bridge-tunnel system, when the tractor-trailer struck the tunnel ceiling. Because the truck did not pass through the toll lanes at either end of the CBBT, it was not subjected to a height check.

The bridge-tunnel was completely closed until 3:20 p.m., or about 4.5 hours. After two failed attempts to clean up the debris and remove the tractor-trailer and equipment from the tunnel, “motivated by the knowledge that our customers have no viable alternative to this route,” according to the CBBT press release, a single lane was opened to alternating northbound and southbound traffic.

This process is frequently used when work is being done inside either tunnel at night. It generally adds 15 to 20 minutes to a CBBT customer’s travel time, but “a series of events conspired to delay travelers far beyond anything that we would have anticipated,” the press release continued.

Larger vehicles were having trouble navigating through the 10-foot-wide travel lane.

Some drivers encountered “car trouble of their own after being delayed for such an extended period,” furthering the overall delay for all involved.

Travelers made the best of the situation. “The weather is nice, the windows are down (and the car turned off) and I’m listening to a good book on CD,” posted Channing Warick Guvernator, of Onancock, to Facebook. She spent 2½ hours trying to cross northbound. She was alerted early about the shutdown and spent time at the nearby outlet mall before venturing onto the bridge-tunnel. She fared better than most.

Deborah Martson spent six hours trying to cross with a 3-year-old in tow.  “It was insanity,”
she posted on Facebook. “I feel the bridge should have been closed. No food, water or bathroom is crazy!” she continued. “Why were they taking our toll money? Makes me a little crazy just thinking about it.”

Usually, the proportion of northbound and southbound vehicles crossing the bridge-tunnel is 50-50, but on Oct. 1, there were 20 percent more southbound vehicles on the CBBT.

At 9:30 p.m., southbound vehicles were prioritized to alleviate traffic delays. At 10 p.m., about 6.5 hours after the single lane had been opened to traffic, the bridge-tunnel closed again so all remaining vehicles could exit.

A third attempt to remove the tractor-trailer and equipment from the tunnel was made around midnight, which eventually succeeded, allowing the bridge-tunnel to reopen at 3:30 a.m.

The CBBT issued an apology on Tuesday for the “extreme inconveniences” its customers experienced. Due to “legislative enablement and bond contracts,” the CBBT is unable to refund tolls, but Chesapeake Tunnel Joint Venture, who is responsible for the accident, is setting up a toll relief fund for travelers who were inconvenienced.

That was cold consolation to Jennifer Oneil Slovinski. “I want my time back,” she said, adding the toll “is nothing.”

The CBBT will release further information on the toll relief fund as it becomes available.