Accomack Board Discusses Rescue Plan Options, Postpones Decision on Jupiter Power

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UPDATED: This article has been updated to reflect information that a petition referenced by a speaker at the public hearing was not about the energy storage facility application.

By Carol Vaughn — The Accomack County Board of Supervisors Wednesday discussed priorities for spending $3.1 million in federal funds coming to the county in the second and final allotment resulting from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The board by consensus postponed action on allocating the money until the county receives cost information for one of the projects, a regional 911 communications system.
The money must be obligated for specific uses by Dec. 31, 2024.

Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason in April recommended three potential uses for the money: $892,000 to $1,563,000 for the remainder of the cost for the 911 communication infrastructure project; $50,000 for a feasibility study for a sewer system in the northern part of the county; and $1.5 million for broadband infrastructure, to match a state grant.

Additional funding requests were made at a May 5 town hall meeting, including $250,000 for renovations to the Eastern Shore Coalition Against Domestic Violence facility; $52,966 to provide broadband access to migrant agricultural workers via Wi-Fi hotspots; $533,000 to help Eastern Shore Rural Health replace dental units at two schools; and $2.2 million to help ESRH expand dental services to Onley Community Health Center.

After the town hall, the county received two additional requests: $50,000 for startup funds for the Onancock Bayside Revitalization organization and $60,000 for the Mary Nottingham Smith center to renovate an office and the board room.

Those two requests do not appear to fit approved uses for the federal funds, according to Mason.

The total amount for the projects recommended or requested is $6.275 milion if the higher amount for the 911 project is used, Mason said.

Hearings Held on Wattsville Battery Energy Storage Facility
The board after holding public hearings postponed action until July on Jupiter Power/Scout Energy’s applications for rezoning and a conditional use permit for a $45 million, 80-megawatt, battery storage facility on 11.6 acres in Wattsville.

The Accomack County Planning Commission previously voted 6-1 to recommend approval of the applications.

Only one speaker, Robert Tittle, who owns property in Wattsville, addressed the board during the hearings.

Tittle spoke against the project.

Company representatives said they made changes to the project in response to input from the county and previous public comment, including at hearings held by the planning commission.

The company also has met with local fire departments.

Benefits of the facility include support for the power grid and revenue for the county, according to Nat Drucker, director of project development for Jupiter Power.

Changes include setting aside a right of way for possible future expansion of Route 175, adding more vegetative buffers, and changing the design of a wall that will surround the facility, among others.

Board members asked numerous questions about safety of the technology, including whether lithium batteries can explode and how they will be disposed of once their life is expended.

The used batteries will be sent to a recycling facility, according to the company.

Supervisors Robert Crockett asked that a condition be added to the conditional use permit specifying the batteries will not be disposed of in Accomack County, to which company representatives agreed.

Supervisor Donald L. Hart Jr. asked staff to obtain information about these types of facilities from the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Fire Services Board, noting he recently attended meetings at which the safety of energy storage facilities was discussed extensively.

Crockett asked that the company respond to the information once it is received.

The county could receive at least $3.6 million in revenue over 25 years from the facility, assuming a revenue share ordinance is enacted, an attorney for the company said at a planning commission meeting in February.

The board of supervisors voted to schedule a public hearing July 20 for a revenue share ordinance that would provide for a different form of taxation for energy storage systems.
Under state law, the county is authorized to impose a rate of up to $1,400 per megawatt, which would be assessed instead of the usual machinery and tools tax.

The proposed ordinance stipulates that the rate be increased by 10% on July 1, 2026, and every five years thereafter.

Another hearing, about a siting agreement with the company, also is set for July 20, when the board also could take action on the rezoning and conditional use permit applications.
The siting agreement will set out the amount of revenue share payments to be made to the county by year and the amount of supplemental payments to the county by year, among other provisions.

Wallops Research Park
The board set a public hearing for July 20 about selling more than two acres of county-owned property in the Wallops Research Park.

The county received a signed purchase agreement from Devreco LLC, of Salisbury, Md., to purchase the land, located on the south side of Aerospace Gateway, for $20,000 per acre.
Devreco wants to purchase the property to construct office buildings, with plans to lease a portion to Kratos Defense & Security Solutions Inc. or another tenant, according to the agreement.

A hearing is required before selling county-owned property.

Mary Nottingham Smith Center Awarded Grant
According to Mason, the county was informed on June 10 that the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has reserved $5,000 in funding, which will be used to reimburse the county for completion by Sept. 30 of certain activities related to planning for the Mary Nottingham Smith Cultural Center.

Once the activities are completed, a planning grant of up to $50,000 for the Mary Nottingham Smith Cultural Center will be awarded.

To be reimbursed and receive the grant, the county must submit the most recent audit or financial statement, show completion of an initial public meeting about the project, show completion of an initial and a second management team meeting, and submit a draft request for proposal for engineering services.

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