Opinion ‘My number one legislative priority will be prohibiting drivers from having mobile phones in their hands while driving’
On Wednesday, January 11, the 2017 Session of the General Assembly Session will gavel in for a 45-day “short” session. I am looking forward to a very busy six weeks and would like to update you on my plans for session. I am introducing nearly 40 bills, but here are a few highlights.
First, lagging state revenues continue to limit legislative initiatives and create funding priorities. The Virginia State Police is hemorrhaging Troopers due to lagging pay and a planned two percent raise for teachers and state employees was delayed after anticipated revenues fell short. They will be a priority this year.
My number one legislative priority will be prohibiting drivers from having mobile phones in their hands while driving. Between January 1 and July 1 of 2016, traffic fatalities in the United States were up by 10% – for the first time in 50 years. Most experts attribute this to distracted driving. Anyone driving our roads only has to look at the vehicle next to them to realize this is a problem that requires attention. (more…)
Opinion ‘If you believe that our testing culture has gotten out of control and that we need to meet the basic needs of movement and play for young children then please…attend the Pep Rally’
I am writing to tell you about an exciting event happening at the [Prince William County] School Board meeting on January 27, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. My name is Barbara Larrimore and I have three young children; two of which are attending Lake Ridge Elementary School. Through watching and volunteering at the school, hours of research, and calling other counties and highly ranked schools in the state of Virginia, that PWC is not allowing best practices for our youngest citizens.American Academy of Pediatrics states that children need 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Half of our children’s waking hours are spent at school so they should be getting 30 minutes of physical activity a day (recess or P.E.). On most days, out of the 6.5 hours, they spend in school, my children will only get 15 minutes of physical activity. This is a staggeringly low number for my exuberant five and eight-year-old.Please, if you believe that our testing culture has gotten out of control and that we need to meet the basic needs of movement and play for young children then please…attend the Pep Rally for more recess on January 27, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. at the school board meeting! Feel free to share this with your family and friends.
“I have been a resident of eastern [Prince William County] since 2008 and I’ve seen the county undergo many changes. What has become concerning to me is the panhandling situation. I come from NYC and have spent time in DC and I have never felt so harassed when I go shopping like I have in PWC. In the last month every time I visited Walmart, Target, Big Lots, 7-11, Hobby Lobby, etc I have been approach[ed] at MY Vehicle with a panhandle asking for money. It’s as if they are just waiting and don’t even give you a chance to exit your vehicle. I want to know what are the laws in the county on panhandling? Are other residents feeling harassed too? What are officials doing to stop this? Are they even aware of this problem? …Thank you in advance for addressing my concern.”
From Prince William County spokesman Jason Grant:
“…the County’s panhandling ordinances were repealed for legal reasons. Attached is a handout that the County Attorney’s Office provided on the issue.”
Opinion ‘How would a loving dad react if he saw a grown man follow his nine-year-old daughter into a bathroom’
We got this statement from Delegate Bob Marshall about his new bathroom bill HB 1612 which he says will “protect privacy in facilities normally separated by sex” in government-owned or rented buildings.
Agree with him or disagree with him? Leave it in the comments.
How would a loving dad react if he saw a grown man follow his nine-year-old daughter into a bathroom at a state park? Would parents want their 14-year-old daughters on the school swim team taking showers with 17-year-old biological males in a public school locker room? Would women feel safe stopping at an Interstate rest stop knowing biological males could use the women’s bathroom?
Because identifying as transgender is about how an individual perceives themselves how can a biological female third party possibly distinguish between a transgender individual who means no harm and a male predator using the ladies room who does intend harm?
It is because of situations like this that more than six hundred parents and students in Prince William County and many more in Fairfax County attended meetings to oppose changes in school policies which would have allowed biological males to use the bathrooms, dressing rooms, locker rooms, and showers set aside for females, and vice-versa.
In response to that outpouring of concern for the safety and privacy of our children, I have introduced HB 1612 to preserve current law to prevent schools and government entities from changing policies that protect privacy in facilities normally separated by sex.
Opinion Reader: Schools should wait for Supreme Court, Virginia Supreme Court to rule on LGBT matter
OP-ED EXCLUSIVELY FOR POTOMACLOCAL.com
School Board Should Wait For The Courts
By Carrie Beliles, resident of Triangle, VA
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Word count: 638
Next week, the Prince William School Board will vote on a major policy proposal to add “gender identity” to the school’s non-discrimination policy. Enacting this new policy could allow transgender faculty and students to choose the bathroom, locker room, showers and athletic team participation of their preferred choice, regardless of current biological anatomy.
My family moved to Prince William County because it is a welcoming and compassionate place for all people. I enjoy that multiple cultures and people with diverse belief backgrounds all live together in relative harmony. While I believe we should protect transgender students from harassment and discrimination, this policy proposal could have far-reaching ramifications.
This gender identity policy is being debated in Courts all across the nation, and is even on its way to the Virginia Supreme Court. In August, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Obama’s guidance directive on the use of bathrooms by transgender students, (State of Texas et al v. United States of America). Also in August, the U.S. Supreme Court halted a lawsuit by a student in Gloucester County, Virginia, effectively ruling that the County did not have to open up their bathrooms, locker rooms and showers to opposite gender students (G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board). Earlier this year, 51 families in Illinois (the district in which I graduated High School, Palatine High School) filed suit against two federal agencies and Township High School District 211 on this issue, as well (Students and Parents for Privacy, et al v. United States Departments of Education and Justice, Township High School District 211, and Cook County, Illinois).On Monday, the Virginia Supreme Court decided to take up a challenge to Fairfax County’s “gender identity” policy change (Andrea Lafferty, et al, v. School Board of Fairfax County). This is the very same policy being voted and considered by the School Board on September 21 in Prince William.
Moving forward with this policy now in Prince William could open up the County to frivolous lawsuits and protracted litigation that drain taxpayer resources that could be allocated to classrooms across the county. While the constitutionality of this policy change is debated in the courts, Prince William School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers should put this on hold until the Supreme Court and the Virginia Supreme Court have ruled on this matter.
In law school, I was taught the importance of judicial precedence in how the law is administered; which means that previous rulings have significant sway on future rulings. Judicial precedent provides a blueprint for how a law should be implemented and interpreted. Precedent will be created by the US Supreme Court and Virginia Supreme Court very soon. The Prince William School Board should align itself with judicial precedent as the way forward on this issue.
If the School Board believes some action is necessary in the here and now, they should do three things: 1) evaluate the track-record of transgender welfare and determine if a problem exists; 2) take their time to debate implementation logistics and unintended consequences of this policy change; and 3) wait for the Supreme Court and Virginia Supreme Court to rule on this matter.
The Prince William County Public Schools have conducted numerous forums and outreach events regarding discrimination and school bullying, and the issue of discrimination toward transgender students and staff has not be cited as a problem at this time. This is good news.
To summarize, in order to protect our County from unnecessary lawsuits and to avoid the embarrassing possibility of a policy reversal, School Board Chairman Sawyers should push this vote to a later date allowing higher judicial precedent to pave a smoother way for our community.
Opinion Prince William Black Pastors: Revised schools discrimination policy ‘would threaten the privacy rights of our students’
The following letter to Prince William County School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers was sent to use in an emailed titled “PWC BLACK PASTORS OPPOSE SCHOOL BOARD “GENDERIDENTITY” REVISION”
Dear Chairman Sawyers and School Board Members,
We are writing to express our concern and objection to Revision of Policy 060, “Nondiscrimination And Commitment To Equity”, because of its expected implementation regarding the use of private facilities by transgender students in Prince William County schools.
This revision would update the school system’s non-discrimination policy to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the group of protected classes, along with race, color, religion, national origin, and gender. Adding “gender identity” to this non-discrimination clause would allow transgender students and staff to choose the bathroom, locker room, showers and athletic team participation of their preferred choice, regardless of biological anatomy.
While you may consider this potential change as ensuring diversity within our schools, the reality is this potential policy change would threaten the privacy rights of our students. No female or male student nor teacher should be forced to use a bathroom, locker room or shower area with someone of the opposite gender simply because that individual no longer identifies with or ignores their biological anatomy.
Our concern is also that we do not recall there being a lengthy and thorough discussion of how the county plans to safely enforce such a policy change. There has been no regulatory analysis on how this policy would be implemented. There has been no discussion or meetings on making sure that sexual misconduct does not occur or that sexual predators do not take advantage of this policy change.
Finally, this policy revision would force many students to compromise their deeply-held beliefs about privacy, modesty and sexuality. This policy revision would place children in the uncomfortable position of compromising their beliefs or face disciplinary action for having those beliefs.
Our churches are politically diverse congregations in Eastern Prince William County, and represent Democrats, Republicans and Independents. It would be wrong for the Prince William County School Board to ignore the will of its people by making this change while so many citizen concerns exists within our community.
We believe that every person is created in the image of God and deserving of respect and compassion. We unequivocally denounce all violence and bullying against LGBTQ people, but this revision will result in the discrimination against the majority of our children. To deny basic privacy to our students is the suppression of their rights. Like you, we want to make sure our children can learn absent a hostile environment, such as bullying. For that reason, as parents and pastors, we are grateful for your anti-bullying policies as they stand because they promote decency and order.
The Prince William County Public Schools have conducted numerous forums and outreach events regarding discrimination and school bullying, and the issue of discrimination toward transgender students and staff has never been a problem. For years, Prince William County Public Schools have protected and accommodated transgender students and staff in a respectful, private and genuine manner, therefore no revision is needed. The changes you are considering will place the ideology of a few powerful politicians above the right to privacy for the overwhelming majority of our families.
Therefore, we humbly request that you not pursue such a policy change.
Bishop Lyle Dukes, Harvest Life Changes Church, Woodbridge
Bishop Derek Grier, Grace Church Dumfries
Pastor Eric Kellum, Zion Church Woodbridge
Pastor Kurt Wallace, Freedom Fellowship Church, Dale City
Pastor Stephen Oni, Christ Apostolic Church, Joy Vineyard, Woodbridge
Pastor Sharon Fernandez, Spirit of the Living Christ Ministry, Woodbridge
Bishop John H. Reid, III, Victory Family Outreach Ministry, Woodbridge
Pastor Madlin Edmonds, New Creatures-in-Christ Community Church, Woodbridge
Pastor Victor Stanley, Calvary Baptist Church, Woodbridge
Pastor Al Stith, Word of Life Church, International, Woodbridge
The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will decide on Sept. 20, 2016 to allow Verizon Wireless to erect a 144-foot monopole for telecommunications at Prince of Peace United Methodist Church, located at 6299 Token Foreset Drive near Dale City.
The Prince William County Planning Commission and staff say the pole is a good idea.
A reader who submitted the letter below says monopoles are outdated.
The Prince William County Board of Supervisors should turn down the request to construct a monopole at 6299 Token Forest Dr. Manassas, Virginia at their September 20, 2016 meeting. Here’s why:
• Wireless technology is rapidly evolving and will continue to evolve. Globally, we’re on pace to deploy fully enabled wireless devices that will have far greater mobile computing power than is available today. The question is, should we embrace the past with big ugly “legacy” towers or does Prince William County bring the “future into the present”? There is new technology available thanks to 5G capability (Economist Magazine 2-16-16). This means technology that is smaller, has a less visible antenna, and has better speed and connectivity.
• We should be more aggressive about embracing the future instead of being stuck with a 144-foot ugly pole that reduces property values for our residents. Residents living near the proposed monopole each paid additional lot premiums. These premiums exceed a combined total of $100,000 for a number of the residents living near the proposed site. They could suffer a significant economic loss.
• Prince William County can utilize this as one more opportunity to establish itself as the innovation center in Northern Virginia.
• Embracing the future opens up limitless opportunities & economic development potential for the county.
We invite the Board of Supervisors to join us by defeating this proposal and rapidly moving Prince William County into the future.
Daniel A. Varroney
Importance of Manufacturing To Local Economy
Watching both party’s conventions on television this week as both a City Councilman and concerned Republican, I couldn’t help but reflect on just how lucky we are to live in such a great country. I’m so very proud to play a small role in our representative democracy as a member of the Manassas City Council. We have such a great city.
A large part of what makes our city great is our strong and forward-thinking manufacturing sector. Manufacturing is woven into the very fabric of our local economy: Its importance goes far beyond what happens behind the factory gates.
The jobs that Micron, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Aurora Flight Sciences serve an important role, offering economic opportunity to literally thousands of hard-working, high-skilled, Manassas-area residents. These jobs create upward mobility that broadens and strengthens the middle-class to the benefit of the entire economy and fosters American technology and innovation leadership.
As a member of Council, it is my job to create the best environment for business and economic stability that I can. To achieve economic stability, diversity in the economy is critical.
Although manufacturing is certainly affected by broader economic events, the sector’s internal diversity—supplying consumer goods as well as industrial goods, serving both domestic and external markets— gives it great resiliency, which in turn makes it a critical element to our economic success.
We need to support these companies and others like them and not take their presence here for granted. Other parts of Virginia are not as lucky as we are here in Manassas. More than 130,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the Commonwealth since 2001.
As the nation turns its focus towards the November election, let’s remember to send a message to our lawmakers in Washington that our manufacturers need not just citizen support, but their support as well. A strong city needs a strong manufacturing base, and a strong nation needs the same. The strength or weakness of American manufacturing carries implications for the entire economy, our national security, and the well-being of all Americans.
Prince William County Supervisor Nohe:What do the President of the United States, the Honorable Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Cities of Alexandria and Fairfax, the Town of Herndon, and the Counties of Arlington and Fairfax all have in common? All have declared June 2016 to be LGBT Pride Month. These declarations were also made in 2014 (https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/proclamations/proclamation/lgbt-pride-month/) and 2015 (https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/proclamations/proclamation/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-pride-month/).This is a conversation that our Equality Prince William President started two years ago and one he has been trying to continue, most recently with a request more than 5 weeks ago for an appointment with you. He has recently spoke with Kelsey Clark who assured me that she had made you aware of this request.Equality Prince William has more than 300 members on our Facebook page and those individuals are members, friends, relatives, allies, and supporters of the Prince William LGBT community. They reside in all 7 Magisterial Districts of Prince William County as well as the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.June is already half gone, but given the tragedy in Orlando, Florida recently and the outpouring of support for the LGBT Community worldwide as a result, I can’t stress enough what the gesture of the Prince William Board of Supervisors declaring June to be Pride Month for this year and in the years to come would mean for your constituents.Thank you for your consideration and have a great evening. Jim O’Connor (Equality Prince William President) and I are willing to meet with you in person to discuss this.David Dooley, Vice PresidentEquality Prince WilliamP.O. Box 6983Woodbridge, VA 22195
On January 13, 2016, I take my oath of office as your state senator. I am planning on introducing approximately 40 bills and about a dozen budget amendments in our 60-day session.
Predatory lending is a major problem in the U.S. 1 Corridor. Car title lenders have been abusing this loophole by charging rates over 200% by recharacterizing car title loans as separately regulated car title loans. To reign in car title lender bait and switch tactics, I am proposing to limit interest rates on consumer finance loans at 36%. I have also introduced legislation to prohibit car title lenders from using subsidiaries from using the open end credit loophole to also evade consumer protections.
High occupancy toll lanes or “HOT Lanes” have brought some much needed relief and predictability to commuters on I-495, I-95 and I-395 – but at a price. However, the collection of unpaid tolls through the courts has highlighted problems in the current system. I have introduced legislation to confirm a one-year statute of limitations on unpaid toll collections and to only allow a toll collector to collect stepped up fines after an actual conviction of a prior offense. This will prevent HOT lanes operators from suing commuters for over $2,000 for four offenses involving less than $20 of unpaid tolls, and provides some notice and fairness to the collection process.
I have also introduced legislation directing the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to study restructuring Virginia’s tolls to give some credit to in-state residents for the existing taxpayer investment in road projects. Other states, including Maryland, provide in-state residents discounts on toll roads. We should do the same.
I have also re-introduced a bill to restructure voting on the Board that decides how transportation money is spent based on current population instead of 1930’s congressional district boundaries.
I am carry several bills to increase government transparency. The first, reverses the Supreme Court of Virginia’s opinion in my case versus Department of Corrections interpreting the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Court held that if one sentence in a government record is exempt from FOIA, the government can withhold an entire document. I called that the “poison pill” rule and my bill requires the government to redact information instead of withholding entire documents.
The Court also held that a Court reviewing FOIA response is required to give “great deference” to the government’s decision that information should not be disclosed. That decision runs completely against the purpose of FOIA which is to allow citizens to ensure their government is being run transparently.
I am also introducing legislation that would prohibit law enforcement from withholding police reports from families involving deaths or suicides as is the present practice. I have also introduced legislation prohibiting local governments from using executive session to discuss salary raises for elected officials as occurred last year here in Northern Virginia.
Thanks to Congressman Beyer’s amendment to federal transportation legislation, I have introduced legislation confirming that Virginia’s localities have the authority regulate predatory towing. Also, I am carrying a bill to create a cause of action against corporations that fail to include mandatory language in consumer contracts and limit consumer’s remedies.
Plastic bags are the second largest pollutant in our area creeks. I will introduce legislation that would authorize localities in Northern Virginia to charge a $0.05 per bag tax on plastic bags.
Finally, I will introduce legislation requiring investor owned utilities to remove and store coal ash in modern landfills. There is a seventy-year old leaking coal ash dump less than 1,000 yards from the Potomac River in Dumfries, Virginia. Similar legislation was passed in North Carolina’s Republican legislature last year.
You should be receiving my 2016 Constituent Survey in the mail this week. If you would like to save a stamp, you can fill it out online atwww.scottsurovell.org/survey.
It will be a very busy year and I will write about a few more of my bills next week. Please continue to send me your input firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to serve as your State Senator.
The 2016, 60-day session of the Virginia General Assembly gavels in on January 13.
The legislature will craft a two-year budget, which will be Governor McAuliffe’s first chance to put his stamp on the state’s finances. While Virginia’s economy lags behind the national average, revenue is up more than average for the first time since I was elected in 2009 and there are many unmet needs worthy of funding.
Supporting our schools and colleges
Virginia is currently funding secondary education on a per pupil, inflation-adjusted basis at levels below funding in 2007. The Governor has requested a billion dollar increase, new teacher positions, teacher pay raises and full funding for “Cost to Compete,” a program that supplements salaries for Northern Virginia school employees.
We are likely to vote on a state constitutional amendment granting the State Board of Education authority to establish charter schools instead of locally-elected school boards. Bills to opening high school athletics to home-schooled children will be at issue again.
Higher education is also starved. Virginia currently funds higher education at 2006 levels and only funds one-third of actual in-state student cost. Tuition rates have risen over 30 percent in the last four years, financial aid demand has skyrocketed and the average Virginia college graduate now has an average of $20,000 in student loan debt. We must make higher education a higher priority.
Governor McAuliffe has proposed a $2.4 billion bond package for new higher education facilities focused on research and workforce development. The package also includes $250 million in modernizations at the Port of Virginia.
A partisan gulf remains on health care, in the shadow of a near shutdown of the government two years ago because the majority refused to accept $2 billion per year in federal Medicaid funds. Virginia still has over 6,000 families waiting for services for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults also called the ID/DD waiver program. If Virginia does not make significant progress on this backlog, we will be subject to court sanctions.
On transportation, we must correct an oversight in our 2013 transportation legislation and place a floor on our regional transportation gas tax dedicated to transit. Due to declining gas prices, millions of dollars have been lost. This shortfall means that Metro maintenance funding is at risk, Prince William County bus service could be cut by 40 percent and Stafford County may drop road-widening projects.
The legislature will also debate tolls on I-66 and changes to fine collection practices in HOT lanes. We will consider many car title lending bills to address the ever-expanding scourge on Route 1. We have targeted several loopholes and will try to restrict the number of lenders in an area and prohibit locating lenders near casinos or military bases.
We are likely to see bills raising contentious social issues, such as making it easier to obtain firearms and concealed weapons permits along with bills to restrict firearm purchases.
Legislation has already been introduced to reauthorize the Confederate flag on vehicle license plates. I also expect to see legislation to allow businesses to refuse business to LGBT families, to limit school boards’ ability to accommodate LGBT students, to restricting refugee resettlement and bills to limit reproductive choice.
On energy, the solar industry will make a major push to put Virginia’s energy laws on an equal footing with neighboring states so that Virginia’s solar industry can operate on an equal playing field. We will address coal ash dumps at power plants. Southwest Virginia legislators have already introduced legislation to thwart President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
Finally, Virginia still has over 20 open judgepositions that need funding. Fairfax County has two vacancies and Prince William County is short one. These vacancies impact Northern Virginians’ ability to have important legal matters heard, such as child support, child custody, personal injuries or contract disputes.
And filling a vacant state Supreme Court position is still in dispute with the majority still vowing to remove the first judge from Fairfax County to sit on an appellate court in over 20 years.
Next week, I will focus on my legislative agenda. I look forward to hearing from you at email@example.com.
Virginia State Senator-elect Scott Surovell serves southeastern Fairfax, eastern Prince William, and northern Stafford counties.
Opinion Prince William County needs more economic development, but it doesn’t have to copy Fairfax or Fauquier counties models to get it
Letter to the Editor
Now that this years’ election has concluded and budget season is here, it is time for the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to make good on their campaign promises.
At the December 1 Board meeting, Chairman Stewart took the first steps to follow through on his promises to improve the County’s business climate and expand the commercial tax base by announcing the introduction of an aggressive economic development agenda in the coming weeks. What exactly can we hope to expect from the Chairman’s economic development plan?
The Prince William Chamber of Commerce has a few recommendations: First, the county should continue to invest in local transportation infrastructure. Prince William County has invested $1.4 billion in local roads over the past seven years. This is the most significant local investment in the Commonwealth, and justifiably so considering Northern Virginia’s unfortunate reputation for having some of the worst traffic congestion in the United States.
To attract businesses that would normally locate inside the beltway, Prince William County needs to be able to ensure businesses that they will be able to move their goods, services, and workforce efficiently from local roadways to the larger highway system that connects our region to areas like Washington, D.C. and Dulles International Airport.
Secondly, the County must further incentivize small business and continue to reinvent itself as a center for innovation. Aside from traffic congestion, interjurisdictional competition is a tremendous challenge for the county.
Neighboring localities are all competing for the same pool of businesses and offering a variety of “carrots” to encourage entry into their market. Last year, the Board of County Supervisors put forth a plan to gradually increase the number of businesses exempted from paying the Business, Professional, and Occupational Licensing (BPOL) tax over the next five years. Once the plan is fully implemented, nearly 75% of all businesses in the county will be exempt from the tax levied on their gross receipts. That is an impressive statistic for any locality to champion but it should be noted that the types of businesses that are still not exempt from the tax number in the thousands.
By definition, the overwhelming majority of businesses still impacted by this tax are small businesses. The county has the opportunity to brand itself as the small business community as well as a hub for innovation by continuing down the path it started on last year and fully exempting all small businesses.
Finally, the County needs to continue to invest in its own economic development department; especially when it comes to advertising and supporting the type of analytical research necessary to identify new and innovative economic development opportunities. Our region is strategically located between I-66 and I-95 offering easy access to Washington, D.C. and two major airports. It is anchored by George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus and two Northern Virginia Community College campuses which are part of the largest community college system in the country. Our public school system is among the largest in the nation and one of the best in the state.
And finally, the County’s quality of life is outstanding when looking at the cost of living in Northern Virginia. As a community we have gone through something of an identity crisis the past few years as a formerly rural area that has experienced rapid growth. The Prince William region has its own winning brand and does not need to be Fairfax or Fauquier County to be successful.
The business community, represented by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, is looking forward to working alongside the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. Our community is poised for incredible economic growth over the next few years if we pursue these types of initiatives.
Brendon Shaw is the Director of Government Relations for the Prince William Chamber of Commerce.
Letter to the editor
To the Editor:
You recently published a letter to the editor from the chair of the Prince William Democratic Committee regarding Dominion’s request for a water permit modification for Possum Point Power Station that will enable the company to close its coal ash ponds at the facility.
Please know that we are not in the least taken aback by people who are expressing their genuine concern for the protection of waterways and our environment — natural treasures we’ve inherited and are rightfully expected to protect for posterity.
For the record, there are a number of assertions that were expressed in Mr. Wiggins’ letter that beg for factual clarity and context.
First of all, it needs to be pointed out that neither environmental science nor engineering has a political persuasion. They are based on science and facts. Here are the facts about this permit application:
?Coal ash is solid waste under federal law and regulation, not hazardous waste. Dominion did not decide this; President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency did – in December 2014 after completing a comprehensive and exhaustive review.
?The draft permit is designed to protect water quality and to enforce water quality standards, which are designed to protect public health, the environment, and the beneficial uses of the water—fishing and boating for example. There has been a public information meeting and a public hearing already held about this permit. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is analyzing the public comments to decide if any changes to the draft permit are needed.
?Possum Point Power Station has been a good neighbor for decades. In 2003, the coal units at the station were converted to natural gas to reduce air emissions and to improve regional air quality. The plan Dominion has developed to close its ash ponds will ensure that they are closed as quickly as possible. By contrast, ash pond closure in other states will take more than a decade, will involve countless truck trips down local roads and busy highways, and assumes substantial “beneficial reuse” of coal ash that may not materialize. Dominion has a plan to close its coal ash ponds promptly, safely, and permanently, and in an environmentally responsible manner, as required under the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules governing coal ash pond closure.
Finally, it can’t be overstated: Our desire for the health and safety and protection of our environment is in lock step with the concerns that have been expressed by Mr. Wiggins and others. We are committed to closing the Possum Point ash ponds in a responsible manner consistent with a company whose ideals are rooted in environmental stewardship.
Thank you for the opportunity to share the facts about this permit application.
Pamela Faggert is the Chief Environmental Officer/ V.P. Corporate Compliance at Dominion Resources Services
Letter to the editor
Dominion Power has applied for a permit to discharge millions of gallons of toxic waste water into Quantico Creek, a tidal water way that flows in to the Potomac River and eventually in to the Chesapeake Bay.
The toxic waste that Dominion is proposing to discharge comes from unlined coal ash ponds at the Possum Point power plant that are leaking in to ground water and contains fatal to life heavy metals including arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury and numerous other toxic and life killing substances.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is the state agency responsible for review and approval of Dominions application and seems inclined to approve a permit that will make Quantico Creek and the discharge area in the Potomac River unusable for recreation, fishing or any human activity for years to come due to the level of toxicity that Dominion is proposing to dump in to the creek.
For example, in coal ash pond D the level of arsenic in the water is nearly 1,000 times the naturally occurring levels found in Quantico Creek. Remarkably, Dominion’s application sets no limits on the amount of toxic and life fatal material that it could discharge in to the Creek.
For the past 50 years Dominion has been contaminating the creek with surreptitious discharges in to the Creek, the Potomac Riverkeepers, a non-profit organization that advocates for a clean Potomac has been monitoring Dominions discharges and have found startling levels of toxic materials being discharged in to the Creek and the Potomac River.
What Dominion is proposing will lead to centuries of a degraded water way.
There is another way, there are viable ways to filter and clean the waste water that Dominion wants to discharge and bring the discharge to levels of toxicity that are found naturally in Quantico Creek. Dominion, however, is choosing the cheapest route: dump millions of gallons of toxic waste water in to the Creek, and just too bad for Prince William County.
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently had an “information session” to present an overview of the permit request. My observation of that event that was sparsely attended, due to the failure of DEQ to adequately advertise it, was that DEQ is nothing more than an arm of Dominion.
I would like to commend Senator-elect and current Delegate Scott Surovell, Delegate Luke Torian and Delegate David Bulova for attending the session and calling in to question Dominions flawed proposal. Unfortunately, Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, whose district the proposal impacts the most, was unavailable to attend one of the most pressing issues facing the Potomac Magisterial District.
There will be a Public Hearing on Dominions proposal on Dec. 8, 2016 at 7 p.m. at DEQs Northern Regional Office, 13901 Crown Court, Woodbridge, VA 22192. If you want to stop Dominion’s plan to poison Prince William County please attend and speak up.
Formal comments are due to DEQ no later than Dec. 14, 2015, both the Potomac Riverkeepers and the Southern Environmental Law Center are working tirelessly to help save Prince William County from Dominions toxic waste attack.
Harry Wiggins is the head of the Prince William County Democratic Committee.
Letter to the editor
At the State Senate annual Finance Retreat two weeks ago, staff updated the State Senate on Virginia’s economy, projected revenues and significant budget issues expected during the 2016 session to begin on January 13. The news is a mixed bag.
First, Virginia’s economy is still struggling. Thanks to the “Sequester,” large, across-the-board, federal budget cuts, federal spending in Virginia is down by 33 percent over just last year. That’s $24 billion fewer dollars coming into the Virginia economy. Not surprisingly, economic growth has been flat statewide. Twelve percent of homes are still short sales due to stagnant home prices and our predicted economic growth for 2016 is about one-third less than the national rate.
Notwithstanding this disappointing news, the state took in about $550 million more than we budgeted in FY 2015. These revenues were mostly generated by income taxes paid by business owners, not employees’ paycheck withholding.
We expect to see a 4.1 percent revenue growth in 2016 driven by employment gains in Northern Virginia and housing construction. Between revenue growth and the funds carried forward from FY 2015, the staff anticipates that there will be about $1.6 billion above the state’s “base budget” to allocate to various needs. This is the first year since I was elected in 2009, that there will be any meaningful money to allocate.
Given Virginia’s budget difficulties over the last six years, many unmet needs should be addressed. First, Virginia’s secondary education funding on an inflation-adjusted, per pupil basis is less than what the state spent in 2007. Most teachers have seen one raise in six years and for many, that raise was consumed by new retirement contribution rules. Fairfax County, and especially Prince William and Stafford Counties, are desperate for additional funds to raise teacher salaries, lower class sizes and upgrade technology.
Second, Virginia’s colleges are struggling. Last year, the legislature appropriated $110 million less to our 14 four-year colleges and 23 community colleges than we did in 2008. These institutions serve 399,000 students. Average tuition and fees have risen from around $4,000 per semester to nearly $8,000 and the state is barely covering half the cost of an in-state student’s education. The state’s contribution was over 62 percent when I attended James Madison University from 1989-1993. Average student debt is up by 35 percent since 2008.
Third, Virginia continues to leave about $2 billion of federal Medicaid dollars on the table. Expanding Medicaid to low-income working adults would free up $180 million of Virginia tax dollars which we could re-appropriate, generate 30,000 new jobs and close Virginia’s coverage gap. This debate nearly caused a state government shutdown two years ago until Senator Phil Puckett resigned.
Fourth, Virginia still has 6,000 families on the waiting list for services to severely disabled children and adults. Virginia’s waiting list is one of the worst in the United States.
The Virginia Port Authority has requested $350 million for capital investments so it can remain competitive with other ports. Three dozen judgeships are vacant and unfunded, including five in the 36th District.
The Republican leadership in the House of Delegates has expressed a preference to “pre-pay” the funds that were not paid into the Virginia Retirement System in FY 2010-2011 to balance our budget. This move was a gimmick when adopted and paying it off is a prudent thing to do, but we have other worthy priorities. Many see this proposal as an opening bargaining step in an anticipated four-month negotiation with Governor Terry McAuliffe.
We also have about $100 billion in needed transportation projects than funds in the pipeline over the next 20 years, including multiple projects in the 36th District along U.S. 1 and I-95. Transportation revenue is especially problematic due to lower gas prices since Virginia changed its tax from a per-gallon tax to a percentage-based tax in 2013.
The bottom line is that our budget situation is the best it has been since 2009, but Virginia continues to lag behind the country and has a lengthy list of very worthy needs. I am tackling these problems and will continue when I join my colleagues in Richmond in January and February for the 2016 General Assembly session.
Last week, I joined the Virginia Senate’s Finance Committee in Portsmouth for briefings on Virginia’s economy, revenue projections and other important issues facing the state legislature. More on that later. While in Portsmouth, I toured two significant and under-appreciated Virginia assets.
While neither the shipyard nor the Port is located in Northern Virginia, both have a significant impact on our quality of life and the entire state’s economy. A healthy Port of Virginia has beneficial ripple effects across the whole state.
Newport News Shipbuilding
Newport News Shipbuilding, dating to 1886, is the only facility in the United States capable of constructing an aircraft carrier and one of two in the country that can build a submarine.
We started in the foundry where they manufacture large steel ship components. The level of precision, craftsmanship and quality that goes into making these pieces cannot be understated – it was amazing and there are no do-overs in this process. They walked us through all the steps: they model a wooden replica of the piece packed it in a casing with a plumbing system to facilitate even cooling, pack in sand, fill it with molten steel and cool it. Then, they break the molds apart.
Next, in the facility where submarines are assembled, we saw three different Virginia Class submarines in various stages of construction. Workers assemble four segments in this facility. General Dynamics Electric Boat in Norwalk, Connecticut, assembles other segments. After they complete the segments, they ship them by barge and put them together. Leaders showed us how they have reduced manufacturing time by over a year through efficiencies.
Lastly, we had a drive-by tour of the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s next nuclear aircraft carrier –and the U.S.S. Enterprise, which they are decommissioning before tugging it to the West Coast and scrapping it.
Newport News Shipbuilding has its own college which trains workers who earn college degrees. The company has many traditions, including its own challenge coin. It employs 20,000 very proud workers, mostly Virginians, 50 percent of whom are members of United Steelworkers Local 888. Everyone there does incredible work.
Port of Virginia
I also toured two segments of the Port of Virginia, first Norfolk International Terminals (NIT). NIT was alive with activity. We watched people thousands of containers being loaded, unloaded and waiting for pickup or shipment back across the sea.
Port Authority officials described their need for about $380 million in capital investment to keep pace with competing ports in New York, Baltimore and Charleston. Bigger ships are coming after improvements to the Panama and Suez Canals and efficiency is critical.
Next we toured the Virginia International Gateway (VIG). A soybean farm in 2007, today VIG is one of only two semi-automated cargo centers in the western hemisphere.
We watched a series of rail-guided cranes automatically take containers on and off ships and put them onto trucks. When trucks come through the entrance, cranes start to move containers into place for delivery. The only part of the process that is not automated is positioning containers onto the trailer chassis.
The Port currently receives over 5,000 tons of cargo worth over $15 million to and from businesses headquartered in the 36th Senate District. That excludes goods sold at retail stores such as Costco, Walmart, car dealerships and grocery stores.
The Port needs a major capital infusion to automate remaining port facilities, deepen channels, and complete an expansion on Craney Island in order to increase capacity by nearly 700,000 containers per year, about a 50 percent increase.
Next week, I will write about the health of the Virginia economy, the state budget outlook and some major budget drivers facing the 2016 General Assembly convening in January.
It is an honor to serve you in Richmond. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your views and questions.
Letter to the Editor
November is National Adoption Month in America, a time when our nation celebrates and raises awareness about adoption. While all adoption stories are important, the particular focus of this month is the adoption of children currently in foster care.
There are millions of orphans all over the world who desperately need families. Here in America, there are also children who don’t have the love and security of a stable family.
According to the Health and Human Services Department, there are about 400,000 children in the American foster care system, of which about 100,000 children are waiting to be adopted because their parents’ rights have been terminated due to neglect or abuse. On average, more than 250,000 children enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system.
Here in Virginia, there are about 4,900 kids in the system, of which about 860 are in need of adoptive families, because their parents’ rights have been terminated. There are a wide range of ages of children who are available for adoption – about 50 percent are 10–years-old or younger. Families for siblings are sorely needed as well, as there are numerous sibling groups available for adoption in our state.
Many foster children are at risk of falling prey to human traffickers. They are often targeted by traffickers because of their need for love, affirmation, and protection. Studies have shown that between 50 and 80 percent of commercially sexually exploited children in America are, or were formally, involved with the foster care system.
Each year, more than 20,000 children in America ‘age out’ of foster care without being adopted at all. Although there are some that succeed, the outcomes for most of these young people are very bad. One in five will become homeless after age 18. Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19; and fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25. And 71 percent of young women who ‘age out’ are pregnant by 21 years old. Take a moment and read those startling statistics again.
Abruptly faced with living independently, often with no home foundation or family support to offer security, these young people often flounder. Can you imagine being fully on your own at the age of 18, after experiencing years of insecurity, emotional trauma, and even abuse?
A shows that they are twice as likely to use food stamps (SNAP), and three times more likely to use welfare services, like Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), as adults, years after they ‘age out’.
The Virginia General Assembly should, as dozens of other states have, raise the foster care ‘age-out’ age to 21 years old to keep them in foster care. This would provide more support for these vulnerable young people, and reduce the risk of them falling into poverty, sex trafficking and crime. Keeping them in foster care increases their chances of graduating, obtaining a good job, and becoming fully self-sufficient. Passing this legislation – Fostering Connections Act – would save the state thousands, maybe millions, of dollars in future welfare and prison spending.
The government manages the foster care system and essentially maintains custody and responsibility of foster children, but there is absolutely no substitute for the role of a family in the well-being of a child and the health of a community. This principle is driven home to me every time I talk to a foster teen or young adult who has aged out of the foster system. They will tell you that they never outgrow the need for a family. I know adults who have aged out of foster care and, in their late-20’s and 30’s, still long for a family to come home to at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Here in Prince William County, we are blessed with dedicated social workers who care very deeply for our foster children. Many of them are over-worked and under-paid, yet they devote their life to counseling and helping the most vulnerable among us. We also have local elected leaders in Prince William who are great advocates for adoption, foster care, and kinship care. In particular, the families of Supervisors Marty Nohe, Jeanine Lawson and Delegate Michael Futrell have personally taken this step and devoted their time to advocate for vulnerable children.
If you have any interest whatsoever in helping the foster care problem in Virginia, please consider learning more about the process of foster care, mentoring or becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
Each month, the Prince William County Department of Social Services offers informational meetings about the foster care process. One meeting is held on the 2nd Monday of the month at the A.J. Ferlazzo Building in Woodbridge from 6pm to 7 p.m. Another is held every 4th Monday of the month at the Sudley North Government Center in Manassas from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. Learn more information by visiting . Learn more about becoming a CASA at .
Don’t let National Adoption Month go by without thinking about the vulnerable children in our foster care system, and how it impacts the future of our state. To prevent the negative outcomes associated with aging out of the system, consider helping with family reunification support, foster care, and foster-to-adoption, or supporting local organizations who engage in this work.
D.J. Jordan is serving a four year term (2013-2017) as a Member of the Virginia State Board of Social Services and lives in Woodbridge.
Letter to the editor
My name is Riley Kotlus and I am an 11 year old student in Prince William County.
Two years ago my family moved so that we could be closer to my dad’s job so he could get to work faster. My dad commutes to work everyday.
Most of my friends’ parents commute into work every day. Lots of them work in DC or Tysons Corner.
Now there are highway bandits in Richmond who want to make I-66 a toll road. This means that we either have to move out of Prince William County to Fairfax, or parents will have to pay up to $17 each day, or they will have to take roads like 28, which make my dad yell.
Did you know that in Virginia the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour? That seems like a lot of money to me, but if you have to spend three hours of your money to go to work, then it doesn’t leave you with very much, even if you are a kid. Also, people who work have to pay taxes, so that is even less money.
I like when my dad is able to come home earlier because there is less traffic. If he has to take 28 or 29, he’ll be home later. When he gets home later, my mom has to drive all three of the kids in our family to activities by herself, which makes her completely lose her sanity.
If they make tolls on I-66 and parents drive it to save time, then they’ll have to pay about $4,000 a year to drive to work.
I like doing swim team, but it is extremely expensive, and if my dad had to pay $4,000 to go to work, then I wouldn’t get to do swim team. I bet that’s true for my friends who swim, too.
If I don’t do swim team, then I’m not being active, which is what the president and first lady want. There are lots of reasons why tolls on I-66 are a bad idea, but most of all, politicians should think of the children who don’t want their mom to be crazy, who still want to do swim team, and who just want to make the president happy.
As I criss-cross eastern Prince William County in my quest to become the next Occoquan Supervisor, people at their doors tell me that traffic congestion is a nightmare and getting worse, especially during extended rush hours and when school is in session.
While our major interstate arteries are clogged, most conversations at the doors are about congestion on Old Bridge Road, Smoketown Road, Davis Ford Road, Yates Ford Road, and similar roadways.
How did we get to this point? The population of Occoquan District has grown exponentially over the last decade. Population growth has outpaced the widening of roads and other ongoing improvements.
It does no good to point fingers or make excuses. We simply need to reach inside for the good inside our citizens and find a way to move people and cars along these roads without constant, frustrating traffic jams.
As I consider the possibility of serving as Occoquan Supervisor, I want to take a visionary approach! Over the course of my 21 years in the greatest military the world has ever known, I liked to think outside the box and work with people who are not afraid to voice unique and innovative ways to solve unsolvable challenges!
I’m one who tries to see beyond obstacles, to see an end state, and to encourage groups of people to come up with innovative and creative ideas in our search for solutions.
The concept of “mind-mapping” is one way of doing this—a technique that examines every option and throws out no suggestion while brainstorming is in process.
In the face of traffic congestion, many throw up their arms and blame developers, elected officials, and county staff for the current problem. Others list solutions that have been talked about for years, but are not viable or have not gained popular support.
I want to surround myself with people who are excited about finding solutions and who relish in the process of envisioning success.
Over the last year, I have explored innumerable suggestions in dozens of forums to hundreds of people—many do-able and some not—but have tossed them out for brainstorming purposes and to generate the creative juices of our fellow citizens and to stimulate conversation in the public square.
I’ve seen many of these solutions across the globe in my military travels and during my humanitarian work in other countries. I’ve seen double-decker roads, bus systems with so many options that people prefer them over cars, Disney World ways of moving people, traffic circles and roundabouts that eliminate stoplights and keep traffic moving, smart timing of stoplights along busy roads, workable telecommuting programs, and a multitude of technological innovations that apply science to traffic.
None of these may be the answer to congestion along our roads in the Occoquan District, but maybe one of these ideas will help us develop our own unique solutions.
If elected, one of my first moves will be to create a citizen’s “think tank” for traffic congestion solutions. It will be a positive, innovative, think tank where all ideas, no matter how outlandish, will be on the table to help us come up with realistic, workable solutions.
Ruth Anderson is running for the Occoquan District seat on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
Letter to the editor
Betty Covington is the right choice for Potomac District, Prince William County School Board. Betty has dedicated her life to helping children, standing up for teachers, giving back to her community.
It was an honor to serve with her on the school board from 2003-2009. You always know where she stands, on the side of our students, teachers and parents.
Every budget season Betty would say, “Pennies turn into dimes, dimes, turn into quarters, etc.” and has been an .
Betty knows what it is like in the classroom, as an administrator managing a school budget, and has managed the entire school division budget for 12 years.
Betty is running for the right reason, to help our children receive the best education possible. Please vote Betty Covington for Potomac District School Board on Tuesday, November 3, 2016.
Julie Lucas served on the Prince William County School Board from 2002 to 2009.
Letter to the editor
Over the past year, I’ve knocked on countless doors across Coles District, telling voters, “I’m running for School Board to prioritize our budget and put more money in the classroom to educate our students.” It’s a simple message, but a focus that will improve our School System. As we prioritize our students, we will achieve the results our community deserves.
While our school system does a lot with the resources it has, there are a number of ways we can do better.
Fifty-seven percent of our property tax dollars go to the school system. Our county deserves to know that every dollar is being maximized. Sadly, many do not have that confidence, and every dollar wasted is an educational opportunity lost for our students.
Our misplaced priorities have created a formula that needs to change. Currently, Prince William County students are barely scoring above the state averages on most standardized tests, yet we also have the highest paid superintendent and the most expensive high school in the region. Superintendent Walts’ annual compensation package is near $400,000. How many of you knew that Prince William County is maxing out retirement contributions to three different retirement programs for Superintendent Steve Walts? We pay approximately $70,000 a year toward his retirement, a staggering amount, and more than most teachers make in a year.
While the superintendent’s compensation package isn’t enough to solve our budget problems, it’s a striking example of our misplaced priorities. We see similarly misplaced priorities in the original plan for construction of the thirteenth high school. Fortunately, just this past month, School Board member Gil Trenum forced school staff to create a high school design that was $3 million cheaper than the original design. The new design also seats an additional 500 students, all while being energy efficient. One has to wonder, if our school staff is serious about overcrowding, why aren’t they proposing designs like this themselves, instead of being forced to adapt after incessant prodding?
When you look at the data, what you find is that every neighboring county is doing a better job than Prince William County in the area of prioritizing instructional costs. This is true regardless of the number of students, or the dollars per student spent. According to the Virginia Department of Education Scorecard, Loudoun, Fairfax, Stafford, and Fauquier counties all spend between 3% and 5% more on instructional costs than Prince William County. If we increased our spending on educational costs accordingly, that would be an additional $30-50 million dollars spent on our students. This level of prioritization would make a huge difference.
As I talk to parents, taxpayers, and teachers across the district, we’ve discussed some areas where we need to improve. We need to reduce class sizes, which would improve teacher-to-student ratios and increase educational opportunities for our students. We need to prioritize special education, and we need to focus on increasing compensation for teachers and bus drivers, so we can reduce turnover and incentivize veteran professionals to continue investing in our system.
These improvements are all possible if we first prioritize our budget. Our students deserve a school board that focuses on getting results for them, and every taxpayer deserves the knowledge that their investment is being used as effectively as possible.
By electing a school board that focuses on prioritizing the school budget the same way we all prioritize our household and business budgets, we will have the ability to reach these goals and provide a better quality education for our students.
Willie Deutsch is running to become the next Coles District representative on the Prince William County School Board.