Onancock Reflects on Christmas Event, Provides Grants, Wastewater Updates

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Town of Onancock welcome sign. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

By Carol Vaughn —

An estimated 300 vehicles, and likely around 1,000 people, participated in Onancock’s drive-through Christmas event, according to Town Manager Matt Spuck, who called it “one of the finest and most memorable Christmas events.”
Councilwoman Maphis Oswald, speaking during the Dec. 21 town council meeting, said feedback about the event was positive.
“Everyone was so grateful to have something to do and the holiday spirit — and the hosts were happy to provide it,” she said.
“It was just great. The whole town sort of came together. People even not involved in the actual tour decorated their house,” said Mayor Fletcher Fosque.
Grants Update
Spuck in his report to the council said a $430,000 Community Development Block Grant was awarded to the town to assist local businesses. An application form is being developed and must be approved by the agency before businesses can apply for funds.
The town has a year to distribute the funds.
Onancock Main Street is helping administer and disseminate information about the grant.
“We want to help as many businesses as we possibly can to qualify for the money, so we are going to be doing workshops; we are going to be doing Zoom training sessions. We’re going to do all kinds of things to make sure all of our businesses have the support to complete (the application),” Spuck said.
A bilingual person on the grant team will be able to speak to and advocate for business owners who speak a language other than English.
All CARES Act funds allocated to the town through Accomack County have been expended, Spuck said.
Onancock received two allocations of $106,333 each.
“We, the staff, felt really, really good about the utility subsidies that council approved. We were able to help over 40 high-need customers with subsidies to help pay their sewer and water, right during a time of year when money gets incredibly tight in a good year,” Spuck said, adding the total amount of subsidies was $20,000.
Additionally, the town distributed more than $100,000 in grants to businesses.
The town also was awarded a grant of over $21,000 to help water and sewer customers whose accounts fell into arrears by more than 60 days as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another grant application, to FEMA, has been submitted and if approved will award around $5,000 to the town for COVID-19 related expenditures.
A project to renovate the Onancock Wharf boat ramp should get underway this month.
Wastewater Update
Spuck said the Hampton Roads Sanitation District was hit by a phishing scam in November, which triggered ransomware and caused HRSD to lose “an enormous amount of productivity, to where they were almost closed for the better part of two and a half weeks.”
Spuck told the council he had spoken to Ted Henifin, HRSD general manager, earlier that day, Dec. 21, “about how we were going to be moving forward with our project with them.”
“They are securing a VRA (Virginia Resources Authority) loan. They’ve already got the approval and everything else. That’s going to be for their pipeline portion. A portion of that VRA loan is going to be used to pay off some of our debt,” Spuck said.
A contract with HRSD to guarantee the town will accept wastewater from Nassawadox for treatment at the Onancock plant went through some minor language revisions and will be completed and presented to the Department of Environmental Quality.
“Once DEQ has that contract — they’ve already got the application for the qualified project down at Nassawadox — that’s going to prompt things to move forward very quickly,” Spuck said, adding, “The next trigger points are when the VRA loan closes for HRSD, when the Nassawadox contract is presented to DEQ. Those two issues, when they get resolved we will have a very clear timeline on moving forward and it’s at that point we will begin very clear negotiations.”
Spuck said in the meantime he will meet with the HRSD director of human resources to go over what the transition of the town’s wastewater facility employees to HRSD will look like.
“I want to make sure that as we transition the asset, we also make sure that we are taking very, very good care of our people,” he said.