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.”