Peace Agreement Reached By Fairfax/Falls Church

Mediators in the Middle East may always have a conflict to resolve, but the water war between Fairfax County and Falls Church appears to be ending.

As reported by the Falls Church News-Press, the City of Falls Church has agreed to sell its water distribution utility to Fairfax Water.

The city will get 90% of its asking price ($40 million of the “minimum” $44 million bid), plus a change in city boundaries.  Falls Church will gain 12 acres with high potential for generating property taxes, plus additional land already used for city schools.
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Now that Virginia Has Emptied the Bank Account for Funding Transportation Projects – What’s Next?

The Commonwealth Transportation Board has now spent all of its money – and Hampton Roads was the last winner.

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Governor McDonnell assembled $4 billion to fund 900 transportation projects in the 2012–2017 Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP).  He was unable to get General Assembly funding to sell the state liquor monopoly and ABC stores, so he went to Plan B.  He borrowed $3 billion by issuing bonds – $1.8 billion in Capital Project Revenue (CPR) Bonds, $1.1 billion of Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) Bonds, and $283 million for the capitalization of the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank funds (VTIB) – plus assembled another $1 billion from various sources.

It appears that Hampton Roads, not Northern Virginia, just sucked up the last of that $4 billion in transportation funding.  The state will spend the remaining $900 million in its transportation checkbook to build a 55-mile long highway between Norfolk and Petersburg, parallel to existing US 460.  It will be a toll road, designed primarily to move trucks from the Port of Norfolk to I-95.

As one member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board noted, “This is it for a few more years with no new money coming in…”  In musical chairs, when the music stops, some people are left without a seat.

It appears the proposed Tri-County Parkway, connecting US 234 near Gainesville in Prince William County to Route 606 in western Loudoun county, has been left without a chair.  Despite claims that it is a done deal, allocating the last of the funding to southeastern Virginia leaves no funding to build a new highway to Dulles. Potential objections from the National Park Service to that “Road to Dulles” may have been overcome and the government approvals may be formalized soon – but the checking account to build anything appears empty.

As one Northern Virginia legislator has noted, “we can’t borrow more without diverting additional General Funds for debt service or coming up with a new source of revenue.”  Repeating Gov. McDonnell’s strategy is not an option: the next four governors “will only be able to borrow $50 million/yr — not the $600 million/yr spent by this Administration.”

Former Redskin coach George Allen’s used a future-is-now strategy, trading away draft choices to assemble the veteran Over-the-Hill Gang.  Allen’s strategy got the Redskins football team to the Super Bowl, but limited the options for future coaches.

Governor McDonnell has done the same.  In one term, he tackled transportation, generated funding, and committed to 900 projects. However, there’s still a transportation wish list (VTrans 2035) with $50 billion of unfunded proposals.

What’s next?  Look for a funding crunch, to start.  Maintenance of existing roads and bridges built in the last 50 years will suck up even more funding, while fuel-efficient cars will result in lower revenues from the taxes of gas.  New tolls on I-95 will cover some maintenance costs, but there is a limit on the willingness of users to pay for more tolls (especially on bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads).

The Washington Post has articulated one solution clearly, in its editorial Raise the Gas Tax.  When the General Assembly transfers money from the General Fund to subsidize the transportation budget, Virginia taxpayers pay 100% of the cost.  If the gas tax was increased, then out-of-state drivers would be contributing.

Senator Russell Long of Louisiana gets credit for identifying the politically-correct solution: “Don’t tax him. Don’t tax me. Tax that man behind the tree!”

Next Stop from Wallops Island: International Space Station… and the Moon

The old World War II rocket launching site at Wallops Island will enter the big time in 2013.

Under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA, Orbital Sciences will launch supply missions from Accomack County directly to the International Space Station (ISS), 200 miles up.  Next year, NASA will launch a satellite from Wallops Island to orbit the moon.

On October 1, a test version of the Antares rocket was transported to the launch pad.  The liquid-fueling process will be tested next, followed by a “hot fire” of the engines for 30 seconds – and a month later, the first actual launch will occur.  Starting in 2013, Orbital will begin 8 resupply trips to the ISS.

Virginia is competing with Alaska, California, Florida, and New Mexico to attract commercial spaceflight operations.  In 2007 and 2008, the General Assembly passed the Spaceflight Liability and Immunity Act and the Zero G Zero Tax Act, and the state has invested $26 million in bond financing to build a new launch pad at Wallops. (Orbital is committed to repay $19 million for that infrastructure.)

Virginia expects to spur other companies – especially those involved in commercializing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for civilian use – to move to the Wallops Research Park. NASA has already used Wallops to fly Global Hawk drones over hurricanes, with “fly-by-mouse” pilots on the ground at Wallops and in California.

The newest economic bright spot in the state’s economic recovery just might be the glint from a rocket motor.  For more, see Space: The Final Frontier

If Virginia Beach Gets A Professional Basketball Team, What Should They Call It?

should we call the new team the”Tidewater Kings“?

Maybe the NBA Sacramento Kings will move to Virginia Beach, as rumored in August after city officials announced plans for a new arena.

Of course, threatening to move to Hampton Roads might be just a negotiating tactic by the owner of the Kings, as he seeks the best deal from various competing communities.

Hampton Roads has played this game before.  Norfolk was jilted 10 years ago, when the  Charlotte Hornets head-faked a move to southeastern Virginia before ending up in New Orleans.  Before that, in 1997 the NHL put its expansion hockey teams… elsewhere.

In 2004, the Montreal Expos toyed with the region before settling in Washington, DC.  In 2006, the Florida Marlins teased local officials with the potential of a move from Miami.

Why are there no major league team in southeastern Virginia, when there is as much or more disposable income in Hampton Roads as there is in Jacksonville (with NFL Jaguars) and Charlotte (with NFL Panthers and NBA Bobcats)?

“If we had an adequate arena, the Hornets would be playing in Norfolk right now…” said a member of the Norfolk City Council in 2003.
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Pride and Prejudice at Second Manassas

Today, August 29, is the 150th anniversary (the “sesquicentennial”) of the first day of major fighting at the battle of Second Manassas.  The National Park Service held a series of special tours, attracting 120 or so people to walks/talks that traced the military actions on the battlefield.

The park rangers have developed an ability to present the political and social nuances of the battles, as well as the detailed who-fought-where troop movements.

First tour of the day traced the attack on Maxcy Gregg’s brigade, on the far left wing of Stonewall Jackson’s half of the Confederate Army.  Union troops in a division under Franz Sigel moved west and probed to find where the Confederates were located, triggering a fight with Gregg’s troops along an unfinished railroad near Sudley Church.

Both Gregg and Sigel gradually committed more troops, until they were engaged in an unexpected large-scale battle.  Sigel expected help from Phil Kearny’s division, but Kearny directed his troops so they did not assist Siegel’s regiments.  Some crossed Bull Run and wasted their effort  attacking the wrong place, while others wandered around without joining Sigel’s attack.

One possible reason, according to historian John Hennessy: Kearny was biased against German-Americans, and choose to leave Sigel unsupported because of his prejudice.  Kearny had expressed his bias in a letter that Sigel obtained and had published.  The Union generals may have been fighting for the same side, but Kearny may have been willing to let other Union soldiers die in vain because he was unwilling to support German-Americans.

In contrast, two days later Kearny committed his troops rapidly to assist Gen. Isaac Stevens at Chantilly/Ox Hill, reportedly saying “My God, I will support Stevens anywhere!”

We will never hear Kearny’s rationalizations of his behavior, because he died at Chantilly/Ox Hill.  As an army the Confederates were, ultimately, fighting for preservation of slavery… but they were not the only ones on the battlefield with prejudices.

For more on the battle itself, see the National Park Civil War Series on the Second Battle of Manassas.

Borders Matter: Angler Access in Virginia vs. Pennsylvania

The cold Jackson River water below the Gathright Dam in Allegheny County has triggered a hot dispute.  An angler and landowners are in court contesting the right to stand on the riverbed and fly-fish.

The River’s Edge development claims private access to four miles of the river, based on a land grant issued by Charles I, King of England, waaaaaay back in 1743.   According to the landowners, that grant transferred full claim to the submerged bed of the Jackson River, the land below the low-water mark.

The angler claims  the Public Trust Doctrine reserved public access to the beds of navigable rivers in Virginia, even if the county imposes property taxes on the submerged land.    If so, title to the riverbed is held by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, not the adjacent private property owner.

As described recently in articles published by The Hook (in Charlottesville) and The Washington Post, the Attorney General of Virginia has declined to get involved, saying the lawsuit is between private parties and no public interest is involved.

That stands in contrast to Pennsylvania.  A 2008 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes how state agencies intervened to ensure public access to the Little Juniata River, when a “fishing preserve entrepreneur” sought to privatize access to a stretch of that river.

There are 50 states, 50 state constitutions, 50 sets of elected officials, and 50 ways of doing business in the United States…

[for more, see Virginia and Submerged Lands]

Why This Blog…

This blog is intended to serve as a “what’s happening now” companion to the website VirginiaPlaces.org

As I travel around the state, or discover a news article with a geographical aspect, I’ll post on this blog to elaborate on the website material.