Wallops gets Walloped


damaged launch pad and Antares Transporter/Erector/Launcher after the October, 2014 launch failure

The Antares rocket that launched from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island on October 28 barely made it past the launch tower.  The dramatic destruction of the rocket, so close to the ground, damaged Pad OA.

It’s not the first setback for efforts to develop a commercial space launch business there.

Starting in 1995, Virginia decided to build a spaceport to subsidize a new industry, commercial launches into space.  That same year, the first commercial launch ended in failure when a Conestoga rocket was destroyed 10 miles into the climb to orbit.

Wallops recovered.  In 2004, Virgina agreed to partner with Maryland, and the Virginia Space Flight Center was renamed the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS).  In 2013, Orbital Sciences Corporation started launching Antares rockets into orbit,  and NASA launched a mission to the moon from the island.

Virginia has no other feasible location for a spaceport, and Orbital builds its spacecraft near Dulles airport.  Assuming Orbital resumes resupply missions to the International Space Station, it is likely to return to Wallops.

For more, see Space: The Final Frontier.

Bye Bye, Colonial Downs

colonialdownsColonial Downs announced today that Virginia’s only pari-mutuel track with an unlimited license would close on November 1, after the Fall harness racing season.

The track and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, representing owners and trainers of Thoroughbred horses, reached an impasse this year.

They failed to sign a contract, the 2014 Thoroughbred race season was cancelled, and Colonial Downs was unable to get the Virginia Racing Commission to approve a contract with another group that the track claimed could arrange for horses to race in the future.

Bottom line: it costs too much to run live races in Virginia.  The horse breeding industry will continue, but the opportunity to win stakes at Colonial Downs appears to have closed.

For more, see Horse Racing and Gambling in Virginia

Public Access and Private Property Along the Alexandria Waterfront

odbcThe Washington Business Journal has revealed the Old Dominion Boat Club’s design for its new facility, which will replace the old Beachcombers restaurant on Prince Street.  The club is moving one block downstream after winning a 38-year property rights battle against the Federal government – but losing its war with the City of Alexandria.

The Federal government claimed the boat club’s building, at the foot of King Street on the Potomac River, was located on Federal land.  That claim was based on the location of the shoreline of the Potomac River in 1788, when the United States was formed after ratification of the Constitution.

Since then, the land on the Alexandria waterfront was extended into the river as the gaps between shipping wharves were filled with dirt.  That fill was placed on the bottom of the Potomac River, which was a navigable waterway so the bottom was owned by the Federal government in 1788.

The US Department of the Interior claimed that the fill placed on the Federally-owned river bottom became Federally-owned surface land.  A Federal court ruled otherwise in 2011, concluding a lawsuit first filed in 1973.  Two Federal courts ruled that the gradual process of extending the waterfront also extended private ownership of the new land in Alexandria.

The city of Alexandria then pushed for the boat club to vacate its location, or allow for a public walkway along the riverfront between the clubhouse and the marina.  Unlike the Department of the Interior, the city made no effort to claim it owned the land.  Instead, Alexandria made clear that the local government had the right to acquire the boat club’s land through eminent domain, in order to create a public park to be known as Fitzgerald Square.

The boat club lost its exclusive access to the waterfront, but the consolation prize was a $5 million payment for a half-acre and the new building site a block away.

For more, see:
Virginia-District of Columbia Boundary
alexwaterfrontSource: City of Alexandria

The “F- Word” in Westmoreland County – Farming, Fishing, Forestry, Fun… and Fracking

taylorsvilleAs noted in a recent Westmoreland News article, the residents of the Northern Neck are debating the impacts of potential natural gas extraction by fracking.

In the Taylorsville Basin, it’s more than just a political discussion.  Over 80,000 acres have been leased by a company that assembles packages for sale to other companies that develop gas fields.

If geologists and economists judge that there is a valuable-enough natural resource to justify the costs of drilling and construction of a network of gathering lines, then landowners could receive significant revenue.

Cheap gas won’t stimulate many jobs in the area, once drilling is completed.  The Northern Neck is not a center of manufacturing; lower energy costs will not cause companies to build factories with high-paying jobs in Colonial Beach or Warsaw.  The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will bring cheap Appalachian shale gas to Waynesboro, central Virginia, and Hampton Roads, where factories are more likely to grow.

The fear is that energy development could damage the existing economy in Westmoreland County, King George County, and the surrounding area.  Extracting the natural resource from the subsurface could affect the natural resources on the surface.

Farming and fishing depend upon clean water.  Tourism and the construction of second homes for vacations will be limited, if fracking fluids contaminate surface streams or if the landscape appears industrial.

Groundwater may be the most-affected resource.  Continue reading

Bugling in Buchanan

elkbugleMating season is arriving for the elk in Buchanan County.

The last native elk was killed in Virginia in 1855… but they’re back, a second time.

The Virginia Game Commission re-introduced elk west of the Blue Ridge (plus Virginia Beach and Cumberland County) between 1913-1922, but the populations lacked grazing habitat, especially during the winter.

Farmers who had carefully collected hay for feeding cattle during the winter were not pleased when elk found their pastures.  By 1970, the elk were gone again – except for the herd imported for Bellwood Farms near Richmond.  The military’s purchase for conversion into Bellwood Depot included a commitment to maintain that herd.  It’s still there for wildlife viewing.

Kentucky imported elk for hunting, starting in 1997.  The revegetated strip mines provided grazing habitat, and the population expanded to the point where elk migrated into Virginia’s part of the Appalachian Plateau.  Farmers grew concerned, but the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries saw an opportunity to re-establish a large enough population to allow hunting again.

Wise and Dickenson county officials objected, reflecting Farm Bureau concerns, but Buchanan County officials authorized release of elk that had been trapped and relocated from Kentucky.  (The 1920’s elk came from Yellowstone National Park; by then, elk had been extirpated from the eastern states.)

This summer, 20 calves were born.  The population grew from the original 70 imported from Kentucky to  around 90.

Male elk will be bugling for mates and providing a tourist attraction this Fall in Buchanan County.  When the population reaches 400, hunting will be authorized.

For more, see Elk in Virginia.

The Battle of “White House Landing” – 200 years ago today

belvoir1814200 years ago, the Americans and British were fighting the War of 1812. The British were winning.

In mid-August, 1814, the British fleet in the Chesapeake Bay launch a pincer attack on Washington, DC. The army and most of the fleet sailed up the Patuxent River, marched west, defeated the American forces at Bladensburg, and burned the public building (and one newspaper office) in Washington DC.

The other half of the pincer was the Potomac Flotilla. It sailed up the Potomac River, but was slow in getting past the shoals and mudbanks. When Admiral Cockburn reached Washington, he realized that his other forces had not arrived yet. The British evacuated DC, rather than stayed to wreak more havoc.

The Potomac Flotilla did not get close to DC until three days later. The Americans abandoned Fort Washington without a fight on August 27, and Alexandria surrendered a second time. (Alexandria’s leaders had surrendered to Admiral Cockburn first when he arrived in DC, but he simply returned to his ships on the Patuxent River.)

The Potomac Flotilla agreed not to destroy Alexandria, if left undisturbed while emptying the warehouses of flour, tobacco, cotton, and other valuable. The British also seized commercial ships in the harbor; officers and crew were granted a share of the captured goods and prize ships, when later sold.

As the British looted Alexandria, the Virginia militia organized downstream. They chose to fortify at a location where the deep river channel came closest to bluffs on the Virginia shore, in front of the ruins of William Fairfax’s plantation at Belvoir.

A structure on the shoreline there was known locally as the “white house.”  The Battle of White House Landing happened nearly 20 miles downstream from the President’s House that had just been burned in the nation’s capital.
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Atlantic Coast Pipeline

atlanticpipelineDominion has partnered with Duke Energy and two other companies, and proposed a new pipeline to carry Marcellus/Utica shale gas to markets in Virginia and North Carolina.

The most-organized opposition is in Augusta and Nelson counties, though individual landowners can not block the pipeline from crossing their land because the General Assembly has given utilities the power of eminent domain.

The Friends of Nelson described the project as “a speculative venture to profit from the massive increase in natural gas supplies due to highly controversial hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking.’”

All of that is true, but not necessarily cause for alarm.
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