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John Gray campaigning for Occoquan District seat

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John Gray will seek his party’s nomination to be the next Occoquan District Supervisor.

If elected, the Republican would replace Mike May who announced he would seek the job of Prince William County Commonwealth Attorney.

Gray ran against Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large in 2011 as an independent and lost. Since that election, Gray has remained an active participant in local politics.

He’ll likely face competition from within his own party as Don Scoggins said he will run for the Occoquan District Seat. Democrat and former Town of Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta will also run for the seat.

Gray works as a CPA. Naturally, the top issue facing the county residents is taxes, he said. While he won’t run on a platform of lowering them, he does propose placing a cap on the amount of property taxes collected.

When property assessments come in and they’re higher than what they’ve planned on them being, [the county] collects more revenue in the form of real estate taxes,” said Gray.

Higher teacher pay 

His fix: factor in the amount of over-collected taxes from last year into the coming year’s budget. That would result in a tax decrease for residents, said Gray.

Teacher pay is another top issue Gray said his campaign would focus on. Prince William teachers don’t make enough, he said.

“We’re getting what we’re paying for,” said Gray, noting Prince William County is falling behind when it comes to living wage increases to attract and retain qualified teachers in the county’s public schools.

The Board of Supervisors is the county’s taxing authority but does not have a say on how the county’s School Board spends their funds. If elected. However, Gray said he’ll keep a close watch on the construction of the county’s 13th high school.

“I’ll make sure we don’t spend our money on things like a school pool and a black box theater that doesn’t improve the quality of our childrens education,” said Gray.

He referred to the county’s 12th high school, now under construction off Route 234 near Hoadly Road. It will have an aquatics facility and black box theater, and with a price tag of nearly $100 million, it will be one of the costliest high schools ever to be built in Virginia.

Picking a fight with Peacor

Gray would also immediately pick a fight with Prince William County Executive Melissa Peacor, if elected.

“I don’t like the direction she’s leading the county. Every time she needs something funded, [the Board of County Supervisors] find some fund to do what she wants,” said Gray.

He cited the $12 million cost to bury power lines on U.S. 1 in Woodbridge to complement a the road widening effort funded by the state. The burial costs were not factored into the current budget approved by the Board of Supervisors in April.

The funds allocated for the power lines burial came from a reserve fund dedicated for transportation projects, and the recommendation to bury the lines came not from Peacor but from the Board of Supervisors, which asked for her professional recommendation on how to proceed, said county spokesman Jason Grant.

Its important to also note Peacor works at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors, added Grant.

Don Scoggins will challenge Gray for the seat, and the challenge could lead to a Primary Election on June 9.

The General Election will be held Nov. 3, 2015.

Gray has been married for 43 years and has lived in Lake Ridge for 28 years. He is a Marine Corp veteran, and has served  as president of the Lake Ridge Property Owners Association. 

Traffic
Should Prince William raise taxes to fill $17.7 million bus budget gap?

Average tax bills could rise by $80 to offset budget shortfall

Commuter bus service in Prince William County is heading toward a fiscal cliff.

A budget deficit of $17.7 million is looming for OmniRide commuter buses and OmniLink local buses. The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission or PRTC — the agency that operates the buses — asked Prince William leaders to help make up a budget shortfall that could lead to 1/3 of all PRTC to be slashed, starting in 2018.

PRTC expects the state to provide 10% fewer dollars than it last year. Additionally, a surplus of monies collected in the 2.3% motor fuels tax — a tax on every gallon of fuel purchased in the county — is expected to run out by 2018.

With the drop in fuel prices, and newer cars getting more miles per gallon, gas tax revenues are expected to be flat over the next several years despite Prince William’s growing population, said PRTC Executive Director Al Harf.

Prince William County is the largest funder of PRTC, as 86% of riders live in the county. The county gave $15.2 million to both PRTC and Virginia Railway Express this year, while Virginia provided $16.2 million, and the Federal Government $2.7 million.

The bus system now wrangles with the costs of maintenance, purchasing new buses to replace old ones, and has seen fewer dollars than expected from last year’s landmark transportation bill that increased sales taxes to generate an estimated $880 million in new revenue for transportation and transit. Harf says the linger affects of the recession, the impact of sequestration, and lower fuel costs are all to blame for the lower funds.

Prince William leaders have the option of footing the entire $17.7 million bill, placing the tax burden on the backs of county taxpayers.

“We would need a significant amount of funding from the general fund to accomplish this,” Prince William County Budget Director Michelle Casciato told officials in September.

Total funding would lead to an $80 increase to the average property tax bill paid by county residents. Because of a revenue sharing agreement between the county government and its public school system, education funding would automatically be increased by the move.

County leaders also have the option of diverting monies already allocated toward traffic improvement projects, such as widening Minnieville, Balls Ford, Neabsco Mills, and Vint Hill roads, and using the dollars to fund the transit service. That option would push back construction completion dates on the road projects by up to 10 years and, due to inflation, would mean the projects could cost more in the long run.

If the county picks up only some of the cost, about $13 million, then PRTC warns local buses and buses that service Metro stations in Springfield and Vienna would run less frequently. Riders could also expect large annual fare increases, rising as much as 42%, beginning in 2016.

“Once you lose a rider, you’ve lost them,” said Harf. “More people would rely on family and friends, and they would be carpooling where they are not carpooling now.” 

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors will begin working on the fiscal year 2016 budget in earnest after the 1st of the year.

Manassas and Manassas Park residents also use the bus service, but those independent cities do not contribute funding to PRTC. If the cities did, it would help to close the budget gap by $2 million, said Harf.

Traffic
Virginia Transportation Chief to Speak in Woodbridge

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane will appear at a town hall meeting in Woodbridge.

The secretary is expected to discuss several transportation projects taking place in the region, like the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on Interstate 95 set to open later this month to the widening of Route 1 in Woodbridge.

“There is a lot of investment around transportation in the Woodbridge District. We will have a Q&A with Secretary Layne and a panel discussion with VDOT, Transburban, PRTC, and PW County Transportation. We will talk about what to expect from upcoming transportation projects.”

— Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Princpi

The meeting is being organized by the Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association. It will be held Wednesday, Dec. 10 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Freedom High School in Woodbridge.

News
Many Unfamiliar with EZ-Pass Express Lanes at Opening

The 95 Express Lanes will open in December. We just don’t know exactly on which date drivers will need to be sure to have their EZ-Pass affixed to their windshields.

The two-and-a-half year project to convert the HOV lanes on Interstate 95 to toll or EZ-Pass Express Lanes, as well as build new lanes from Garrisonville Road north to Dumfries, is coming to an end.

Gov. Terry McAulliffe is scheduled to speak on Dec. 10 at the ceremonial opening of the express lanes. He’ll be joined by Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane, as well as County Board of Supervisors Chairmen Sharon Bulova, of Fairfax and Corey Stewart, of Prince William.

However, the lanes will not open to traffic until sometime after that date, said project spokesman Michael McGurk.

All drivers who use the lanes will need an EZ-Pass or an EZ-Pass Flex inside their car. The lanes will be tolled 24 hours a day, and carpoolers with three or more people inside the car will travel free with the EZ-Pass Flex. The pass be switched between a carpool mode that tells the road’s all-electronic tolling system there are three people inside the car, or to single-driver mode to incur a charge.

Toll rates will vary depending upon how much traffic is in the lanes, just like the EZ-Pass Express Lanes on Interstate 495 between Springfield at Dulles Toll Road.

New research from the builders of the lanes, Fluor-Transurban, and from the Virginia Department of Transportation, shows drivers are unprepared to use the new lanes.

Here’s more in a press release:

Only 32 percent of carpoolers have an E-ZPass Flex:

  • All drivers will need an E-ZPass to use the Express Lanes.  Carpoolers will need an E-ZPass Flex and three or more passengers to travel toll-free.
  • E-ZPass and E-ZPass Flex are available at 75 convenient Northern Virginia retail locations including Wegmans, Virginia DMVs and Giant Food Stores; at E-ZPass Customer Service Centers; online or by calling Virginia E-ZPass at (877) 762-7824.   Only 51 percent of 95 drivers know that the Express Lanes will be reversible and just over half (55 percent) understand that the Express Lanes will replace the existing HOV lanes on I-95:
  • The existing HOV lanes are being converted to Express Lanes.  The lanes will reverse as they do today.  Learn more about the lane reversal scheduleNearly a quarter of I-95 drivers think the tolling and HOV-3+ requirements will only be in effect during rush hour:
  • The Express Lanes rules of the road are in effect 24/7.  Read more about the new rules.
     
    Less than a quarter of I-95 drivers are aware of what happens at the transition area on I-395 just north of Edsall Road where the Express Lanes end and the I-395 HOV lanes begin :

  • North of the 95 Express Lanes, the rules on the I-395 HOV lanes will be the same as they are today.
  • When the HOV restriction is in effect, drivers traveling alone or with one passenger will need to exit from the Express Lanes to avoid entering the HOV lanes.
  • HOV-3+ and eligible clean fuel plate vehicles can travel in the I-395 HOV lanes as they do today.
  • For more information about the transition area just north of Edsall Road on I-395, visit:  95ExpressLanes.com/transition.

News
License Plate Reader Limits Could Hamper Investigations

A Prince William County legislator is seeking statewide uniformity on how license plate readers collect and store data that has been linked to solving crimes.

Delegate Richard Anderson told the Prince William Committee of 100 that he and Virginia State Senator Chap Petersen will submit new legislation that would address how police agencies, like Prince William County’s, collect and store photos of license plates collected from cars in parking lots and from vehicles driving on county streets.

How LPRs work

Prince William police have 12 license plate readers, or LPRs, in use. Eleven are mounted to police cruisers, and a 12th is attached to a trailer that is moved to different locations in the county.

Each unit is a camera that quickly snaps photos of license plates and stores them on a computer inside the police car. If the computer matches the license plate number with a plate that has been reported stolen, officers know to pursue the stolen car immediately.

At the end of the day, the data is transferred to a database at the police department and is kept on file for six months. Prince William Police Chief Stephan Hudson said his ability to collect and store this data had allowed his investigators to use the data to help solve crimes. He said the data has also come in handy when police need to locate missing persons.

Fears of police tracking

Frank Knaack from the American Civil Liberties Union urges caution against using the machines. He said police can create a “digital fence” around a certain area to track drivers to determine travel patterns, giving authorities a clear idea of where a driver works, shops, as well as which groups he or she may associate with.

“Cars with license plates readers can drive through parking lots and can track cars at church, and police have a good idea that you go to that particular church every Sunday,” said Knaack.

Statewide limits would address privacy concerns

That’s where Anderson’s new legislation comes in. Earlier in the year, he, Petersen, and others formed the Ben Franklin Privacy Caucus in Richmond to address such privacy concerns. Anderson wants to impose a three month statewide limit on how long police may keep the license plate data on file.

“We need to tackle the issue of what triggers the [data] collection,” said Anderson. “It should be one of two things: It ought to be with a court order, or if a crime is in progress that requires law enforcement to spring into action in a given moment, so they have the intelligence they need to solve a crime.”

Historical data important to police chief

Chief Hudson said he’s “OK” with the three-month limit but prefers keeping the data on file for six months, as his department does now. He also said obtaining a court order each time data is collected could diminish the effectiveness of how LPRs are used today.

“My concern is that with such parameters we would have no historical data. And much of the benefit to having the historical data is going back to look at something days, weeks, even a couple months old and, if it was governed by that trigger, I wouldn’t even have that information,” said Hudson.

News
Police Search for Fast Fuels Robbers

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Prince William police are investigating a robbery that occurred at a gas station at the intersection of Old Bridge Road and Route 123 near Occoquan.

Here is more in a press release from Prince William poilce:

Armed Robbery – On November 23rd at 6:16PM, officers responded to the Fast Fuel Service Station located at 1320 Old Bridge Rd in Woodbridge (22192) to investigate a robbery. An employee reported to police that three unknown men entered the business and approached the counter. Two of the men display handguns while the third took money from the register and a purse belonging to an employee. Following the encounter, all three men fled the store on foot. No injuries were reported.

Suspect Descriptions:

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 5’10” with a thin build

Last seen wearing a black HH winter coat with a hood, tan brown pants and black & white shoes

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 6’0” with a thin build and short dreadlocks

Last seen wearing a black hooded jacket over a green hooded shirt and blue jeans

Black male, between 25 & 29 years of age, 5’8” with a medium build

Last seen wearing a black long coat, red shirt, black mask and tan work boots

News
Hudson: Recent Prince William Murders Not a Trend

Chief praises police officers for hard work following murders

 

Two murders back to back, less than a week apart, has some Prince William County residents talking about safety.

On Nov. 10, a Woodbridge Senior High School student was shot and killed on a walking path just outside the school. Police said the victim was killed in a drug-related robbery. Five people, including a 16-year-old girl, were arrested and charged in connection to Williams’ death.

In the early hours of Nov. 16, Christopher Nathaniel Weaver, 19, and a 15-year-old boy were shot in Dale City. Both were taken to a hospital where Weaver died, and a 15-year-old suffered injuries that did not appear to be life threatening.

One shooting suspect was arrested the following day in Arlington, and the second was taken into custody last night in Manassas.

The two shootings were not related.

In an interview with Potomac Local, Prince William Police Department Chief Stephan Hudson says the county has seen some troubling incidents in recent days, but says crime in the community continues to be at historically low levels.

“Even with two recent murders that have occurred within five or six days of each other, we still are at a total of six murders for the entire year. Historically, over the past 30 plus years, [the number of] our murders vary every single year. They’ve gone from lows of one and two to a high of 16. So, I am not overly concerned that this represents some kind of a trend that we need to be concerned about,” said Hudson.

Statistically, Prince William is on par with having the same number of murders this year as last. A total of 16 people were murdered in Prince William in 2006, and 12 people were murder in the county in 2008. Those two years, out of the past 10, saw the most murders in the county.

The department’s policy of directing a massive amount of resources to the county’s most violent crimes immediately after they occur is what helped detectives to quickly track down suspects in the two most recent murders. (more…)

News
Beer Boon: Craft Brewers Now Welcome in Prince William

Restrictive zoning ordinance amended

It is now legal to open a craft brewery in a shopping center in Prince William County.

In what seemed like a happy hour session, that last call of the night for the County Board of Supervisors was to amend zoning laws that once prevented small craft breweries, like Bad Wolf Brewing in Manassas, from opening in commercial or retail district.

Unlike bars or restaurants, most craft breweries stick to serving only beer. New legislation signed earlier this year by Gov. Terry McAuliffe now allows these small breweries that were once banned under Virginia ABC laws.

“We’re always trying to catch up with the market,” said Nick Evers, with Prince William County’s planning office.

Like small wineries, craft breweries are growing in popularity and have sprung up in Manassas City and Stafford County. Recently, Bad Wolf Brewery in Manassas chose to expand its operation in that city. But not before exploring their options to expand at Tacketts Mill in Lake Ridge only to be told no due to the old zoning law.

“We’ve already lost potential business in this development area,” said Occoquan District Supervisor Mike May.

Small craft breweries allowed to make 10,000 barrels per year, and are no longer restricted to being located in industrial zones in Prince William. For brew masters that grow their ingredients for their beers on farms with two acres of land or more, those breweries can make 15,000 barrels of beer per year, said Evers.

But it’s not all Miller time yet for the Supervisors on this issue. As the Board voted to allow small craft breweries, they also voted to revisit the issue to refine the language that states exactly what types of alcoholic beverages may be brewed in the county.

Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large, said the language in the new law does not address breweries that make alcoholic cider, or Mead, a drink rooted in ancient history throughout Asia and Europe made by fermenting honey with water.

“Yeah, it’s coming up. They make Meade,” said Stewart.

Craft breweries will be allowed to host beer tastings at their facilities but will need to obtain a permit for events with more than 100 people in attendance.

Tree Lighting, Holiday Shopping Event in Occoquan

Four-year-old Paloma is mesmerized by all the lights during the tree lighting in Occoquan Friday night. (Mary Davidson/PotomacLocal.com)

Four-year-old Paloma is mesmerized by all the lights during the tree lighting in Occoquan Friday night. (Mary Davidson/PotomacLocal.com)

 

On November 21, Occoquan will be hosting its annual tree lighting and holiday shopping event from 4:00PM to 8:00PM. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More information from Earnie Porta’s E-Newsletter Update for Prince William County and Occoquan:

Mark your calendars for Friday, November 21, when starting at 4:00 p.m. the Business Guild of Occoquan will hold their annual Holiday Open House. The town will be decorated for the season and shops will be open until 8:00 p.m., offering a variety of special deals, refreshments, and activities. After the shops close, the Town will hold its annual tree lighting ceremony at 8:05 p.m. in front of the Occoquan Town Hall (314 Mill Street), followed promptly at 8:15 p.m. by the Guild’s Open House drawing in front of Hawthorne House Fine Papers (404 Mill Street), where $1,500 in gift certificates will be given away.

Come enjoy this wonderful annual tradition in historic Occoquan!

News
Youth Scouting Membership Declines

The number of Girl Scouts is on the decline nationally, but that isn’t the case in Prince William County.

The number of Girl Scouts “remained steady” in Prince William, while the numbers of girls joining the ranks of the scouts has declined 6% in the last year, down from 2.9 to 2.8 million Girl Scouts nationwide. Overall, the membership numbers have fallen 27% from its peak of 3.8 million in 2003.

There were 3,192 Girl Scouts in Prince William County last year supported by 1,000 adult volunteers. The 102-year-old organization prides itself on maintaining its core values while educating girls in the changing fields of science, technology, and math, commonly known as STEM.

“We remain committed to our mission: building girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place. Girls continue to learn new skills and earn badges, participate in the outdoors and provide service to their community,” Girl Scouts spokeswoman Nancy Wood told Potomac Local.

It’s not quite the same story for the Boy Scouts in Prince William. Their membership numbers fell nearly 2% last year, a bit lower number when compared to the 2.5% decline in membership seen in Boy Scout troops across the U.S.

The Boy Scouts have also embraced STEM education as part of their curriculum, but the Boy Scouts also knows activities for participants must also be fun.

“We have been working on a number of projects to bolster the numbers of young men and women in our program,” said Ben Hazekamp, a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America National Capital Region. “We are working on new units at schools that currently do not offer a scouting program, so that we can offer the scouting experience to every youth. We are also working on several strategic partnerships through our Explorer’s program, which offers young men and women the opportunity to explore potential careers from the ages of 14 to 21.”

Another program open to Boy Scouts came about from a partnership with Prince William police, where boys get to explore the field of community policing.

There are 4,774 active youth members in the Boy Scouts organization in Prince William. It’s an average of 2.5 children to every one adult, according to Hazekamp.

The Boys Scouts recently held a fundraiser dinner honoring two women in our community, Ernestine Jenkins and Melissa Robson, awarding them the “Good Scout” award. The dinner served to raise awareness of scouting and also raised $10,000 for the local organization.

News
Winter Warm-UP Drive Benefits Local Students

Withfall in full swing and early morning temperatures near freezing, the Prince William Chamber of Commerce would like to remind you that there are many children who need our help to stay warm this winter.

Michelle Rao, of Laser Quest Corporation, co-chair of the Chamber’s Education & Innovation Committee, said that while many coat drives are conducted over the holidays, often-times local children lack warm clothing underneath. To meet this need, each year the Committee organizes a Winter Warm-UP online clothing drive. For only $10, donors can purchase a “kit” containing a hat, gloves and fleece, and sweat shirt.

The Committee, with the help of students from Manassas Christian School, then distributes these warm clothing “kits” to Title I schools in Prince William County and the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. The goal is to keep kids focused on learning by meeting one of their most basic needs; the need for warm clothing during cold weather months.

“We believe that strong business and strong community go hand in hand. These children are our future workforce, our future leaders. It is important that we let them know this is a community that values their education and stands ready to help them reach their full potential,” said Debbie Jones, President & CEO of the Prince William Chamber.

Last year, the Chamber raised enough money to purchase 501 kits through the program. This year, with the generous contributions from Lockheed Martin and the Prince William Education Association, the Education & Innovation Committee is hoping to exceed last year’s contributions for Winter Warm Up. All residents, community groups and businesses are invited to participate and help meet the goal and make a difference in the lives of local students.

Both long-time members of the Committee, Denyse Carroll, Prince William County Public Schools and Jamie McNealy, Invent Now, Inc, helped collect donations from attendees at the Chamber’s recent Cuisine de Commerce luncheon. They were pleased to report that in just over an hour, members of the local business community had given enough to purchase 10 kits just by pooling their pocket change.

To donate online, visit PWchamber.org and look for the Winter Warm-UP graphic in the homepage slider. Checks can also be mailed to the Chamber Headquarters at 9720 Capital Court, Suite 203, Manassas, VA, 20110, c/o Winter Warm-UP.

For questions about the Winter Warm-UP or other community outreach activities of the Prince William Chamber, visit PWchamber.org and click on the tab labeled “The Chamber” or call 703-368-6600.

Traffic
Rules Changing for Drivers on I-95 HOV Lanes

The rules of the road are changing for those who use HOV lanes on Intestate 95.

When the newly built 95 Express toll lanes open in December, a 29-mile stretch of the road from Route 610 in North Stafford to Edsall Road in Alexnadria, to include a large portion of the existing HOV lanes, will be tolled 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Nearly everyone will need an EZ-Pass to use the lanes — even drivers of hybrid cars. Under the old rules, vehicles with three or more occupants, hybrid cars with a clean fuel designation printed on them, and motorcycles could use the lanes at all times. Under the new rules, motorcyclists can ride free but all other vehicles need an EZ Pass or EZ-Pass Flex.

Here’s more from the Virginia Department of Transportation:

Carpoolers: 

  • Carpools need an E-ZPass Flex
  • Carpools with three or more people can travel toll-free on the Express Lanes with an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode.   
  • E-ZPass Flex works like a standard E-ZPass but allows carpoolers to switch between HOV and toll-paying modes. The switchable E-ZPass Flex lets the Express Lanes operator know which vehicles are HOV-3+ so that they aren’t charged a toll.  

Drivers of Hybrid Vehicles with Clean Fuel Plates: 

 

When the 95 Express Lanes open, hybrid vehicles with clean fuel plates issued before July 1, 2006 must pay a toll or have three people in the car to use the Lanes.  The rules affecting hybrids are as follows:

  • Hybrid drivers can ride toll-free on the 95 Express Lanes with three people in the vehicle and an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode; or,
  • They can pay the toll with an E-ZPass if traveling with fewer than three people in the vehicle.
  • The 95 Express Lanes will end just north of Edsall Road. From Edsall Road to Washington, D.C., the HOV lanes will exist with the same rules that are in effect today. Hybrid vehicles with clean fuel plates issued before July 1, 2006 will continue to be allowed to use the HOV lanes without three people in the vehicle on the I-395 HOV lanes. For more information about the transition area just north of Edsall Road on I-395, please visit: 95ExpressLanes.com/transition

Drivers of Trucks, Commercial/18-Wheel Vehicles:  

  • Vehicles with more than two axles – including 18-wheel trucks – will not be permitted to access the 95 Express Lanes.
  • Small and mid-sized trucks with two axles may use the Express Lanes as toll paying customers or they may travel toll-free if they have an E-ZPass Flexset to HOV mode and three or more people in the vehicle.

Law Enforcement Officials: 

  • Local, state or federal law enforcement officials will not be exempt from toll and HOV requirements on the 95 Express Lanes unless in the direct pursuit of their duties, which does not include commuting to and from the workplace.
  • Law enforcement officials can contact the Express Lanes pre or post travel for trips they believe qualify as exempt.  Please contact customercare@expresslanes.com for more information.

Motorcycles: 

  • Motorcycles do not need an E-ZPass.

Unlike the existing HOV lanes, the rules of the road for the new 95 Express Lanes will be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including weekends.  Vehicles may not tow trailers on the 95 Express Lanes. HOV-3+ vehicles with an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode, motorcycles and transit will have toll-free access to the Express Lanes at all times; drivers with fewer than three occupants can choose to pay a toll with E-ZPass to use the lanes on occasions when they need to get somewhere on time.

Get an E-ZPass:

Drivers can get an E-ZPass or E-ZPass Flex at more than 75 convenient Northern Virginia retail locations including Wegmans, select Giant Food Stores, or at one of the E-ZPass Customer Service Centers, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles; online or by calling Virginia E-ZPass at (877) 762-7824.  Visit www.ezpassva.com or call the Customer Service Center for more information – (877) 762-7824.

The 95 Express Lanes are being delivered through a public-private partnership between VDOT and Transurban with Fluor-Lane 95, LLC constructing the Express Lanes.  For more information on how I-95 drivers can use the 95 Express Lanes please visit  www.95ExpressLanes.com.  For up-to-date construction information please visit  www.vamegaprojects.com.

 

News
Woodbridge Rotary Sells Chips for Charity Tickets

This year’s Chips for Charity fundraiser will take place at the Harbor View Event Center in Woodbridge.

The annual event is scheduled from 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14. Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Woodbridge, the Greater Prince William Health Center, and the Prince William F.U.N. Project, the gathering helps to raise funds for several area causes:

Greater Prince William Community Health Center — The Health Center provides access to affordable primary, OB-GYN, dental, and behavioral care for all residents of the Greater Prince William Area, regardless of income or insurance.

Rotary Clubs of Woodbridge Rotary support:

ACTS (Action in Community Through Service)

Good Shepherd Housing

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Project Mend-A-House

Red Cross of the National Capital Region, Prince William Chapter

Salvation Army of Prince William County

The ARC of Greater Prince William

The Chesapeake Bay Conference

The Vocational/College Scholarships Program

Wounded Warriors

The Courage FUN Project Foundation — This foundation provides resources so that children and families in our community who need it the most have opportunities to play organized soccer.

“Chips for Charity” features several table games, prizes, musical entertainment, food and drinks. Tickets to the event are $90 each and include $10,000 in gaming money to be used during the event, two tickets for prize drawings, as well as food, music, and dancing.

News
Secret Garden Cafe Donating to Charities in Nov.

Starting in November, Occoquan’s Secret Garden Cafe is beginning a donation program where 10% of sales on a particular evening go to a deserving nonprofit organization in the community.  

On Friday, November 7, the Secret Garden Cafe will donate 10% of the evening’s proceeds to Rolling Thunder’s Wounded Warrior Program.  Then, on Friday, January 2 and Friday, February 6, 10% of sales will go to the Occoquan Historical Society.

The Secret Garden Cafe is located at 404 Mill Street in Occoquan and is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

The restaurant’s website posted this to describe their menu:

When asked to describe our menu, after many attempts to describe it, we are left simply saying, “well, its food we like.” From the far east of the globe to the far west, we are not afraid to be adventurous.

News
Mill Hosting Last Demonstration of the Year

Visit the Occoquan Historical Society‘s Mill House Museum this Sunday, October 5, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., for the last Milling Demonstration of the year. Children will have the opportunity to use a hand-turned mill to grind wheat into flour and then take home the flour they mill, seeds to plant, and a recipe for “Mill House Millies.”

Visitors on Sunday will also have an opportunity to meet local children’s author, Jamey M. Long, who later in the month will be holding a writing clinic for elementary school children.  Sponsored by the Occoquan Historical Society, the writing clinic will take place on October 25 at the Occoquan Town Hall.  During a 90-minute class, children will develop their own story line and character.  Registration is $25 and class times are at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on the 25th.  All supplies are provided and young authors will leave with a signed copy of Jamey’s book, Johnny Appleseed.

To register for the class in advance, call the Mill House Museum daily at 703-491-7525 between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.  The child’s name, age, address, phone number, and an adult contact are required.  You may also email the required information to: curator@occoquanhistoricalsociety.org.  Limited same-day registration is also available.

News
Woman Struck With Bottle, Choked

OCCOQUAN, Va. – On August 21, a 38-year-old woman told police that she was struck in the head with a bottle and choked, making her lose consciousness by the male suspect. According to the report, a family member discovered her and when police arrived, arrested the suspect at the home. 

Here’s the latest from Prince William police:

Strangulation | Domestic Assault & Battery – On August 21st at 10:09PM, officers responded to a residence located in the 12500 Gordon Blvd in Woodbridge (22192) to investigate a domestic assault. The victim, a 38 year old woman of Woodbridge, reported to police that she and the accused, a known acquaintance, were involved in a verbal altercation which escalated. During the encounter, the accused threw a bottle at the victim, striking her in the head. The accused then began to choke victim causing her to lose consciousness. Another family member was able to wake the victim and contact police. Minor injuries were reported. The accused was at the residence when police arrived at the home. Following the investigation, the accused was arrested.

Arrested on August 23rd:

Dagoberto LANDAVERDE-LOPEZ, 44, of the 12500 Gordon Blvd in Woodbridge

Charged with strangulation and domestic assault & battery

Court date: pending | Bond: unavailable

News
REI Grant to Fund Development of Trails on Newly Acquired Occoquan Preserve

OCCOQUAN, Va. — The owner of the Cock & Bowl restaurant in Occoquan made a pretty astute observation: A sign was erected heralding the coming of nothing. And that, said the restaurant’s owners, is refreshing.

Occoquan officials recently closed a deal that gives the town ownership of a 17-acre parcel of land, the once controversial Oaks III property, which will be turned into, well, absolutely nothing.

“It’s rather refreshing to see a sign announcing NO new development for a change… I love this little town,” Cock & Bowl posted to its Facebook page.

The town plans to allow the Prince William County Trails and Streams Coalition to construct a series of, you guessed it, trails on the property. The non-profit organization applied for and won a $4,500 grant from Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), sellers of outdoor goods and clothing.

The sign was posted by the Realtor who brokered the deal with the town as a way to say thank you, said Mayor Liz Quist. It states: Town of Occoquan’s Future Nature Preserve, thank you, Mayor Porta.

Porta, who was a proponent of conserving the land and fought developers who wanted to build and office building on the property, left the Mayor’s office on June 30.

“Thanks again to everyone for their support on the Tanyard Hill property. And thank you to the real estate folks who put up this sign. I’m not sure how long it will be there, but I very much appreciate it,” stated Porta.

Quist says the sign will come down eventually and the land won’t necessarily be a nature preserve or wildlife sanctuary in the strictest sense, but says it will be a nice place for all to visit.

The land was sold to the town for $300,000. With closing costs, the final price tag was $301,913, said town manager Kristen Barr.

News
Town Asks VDOT to Clear Drains after Minor Flooding in Occoquan

OCCOQUAN, Va. — Clogged drains in Occoquan could have contributed to some minor flooding Tuesday night.

As heavy rain moved through the region about 7:30 p.m. the Ballywhack Creek that runs alongside Tanyard Hill Road spilled its banks. The creek is known to flood.

No damage was reported to any public properties in the town, and it didn’t flood for long.

“It was quick, and it receded fairly quickly,” said Occoquan Mayor Liz Quist.

The town manager on Wednesday called the Virginia Department of Transportation to the town and asked to them to unclog storm drains.

There was also minor flooding on nearby Popular Lane which, along with Tanyard Hill Road, serve as gateways to the small town.

Occoquan flooded in 2011 when the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee inundated our area leaving many in the Holly Acres trailer park in nearby Woodbridge homeless.

News
Occoquan Supporters Push for Special License Plate

OCCOQUAN, Va. — There are over 100 specially designed license plates that Virginia residents can choose from.

Whether you’re allegiance is to the military branch you serve, your college, or a special interest group, drivers in our state have their pick of specially designed plates.

Now residents of Occoquan want to add their plate to the list of special plates offered by Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Occoquan River Communities, a group that may be best known for its stewardship of the Occoquan River – the heavily traveled waterway that separates Fairfax and Prince William counties – needs 450 paid, signed applications from those who want to affix their license plate to their cars.

“We feel like it has so many things going for it. If you live in that region you’ve got the wonderful little town, and right across the river you’ve got a regional park, and there’s the Workhouse Arts Center…you’ve got all this stuff but people don’t think about it as one area,” said Betty Dean, president of Occoquan River Communities.

The plate’s design depicts a river setting with a boat and  kayak as well as iconic images from the Town of Occoquan like gas lights and the gazebo at Mamie Davis Park.

Virginia Delegates Luke Torian and Richard Anderson have come together to create a bill in the state General Assembly to help make the license plate a reality.

“Occoquan is a unique community and while creating a new specialized license plate in the DMV can be a challenge, this is a community that clearly shows they want and deserve one,” said Torian.

“I can’t wait to see these gorgeous plates rolling across our beloved Prince William County. Many thanks to all who played a part in its creation…I am simply the messenger and am privileged to work with those who have the artistic and organizational talent to create such a beautiful plate,” said Anderson.

Occoquan River Communities is accepting orders for the plates. They cost $25 each, $35 for a personalized plate, and each donation comes with a one-year membership to Occoquan River Communities.

If the plate becomes a reality, DMV will give Friends of the Occoquan $10 from each plate purchase.

he Occoquan plate could appear by fall 2015 and the donation monies from DMV to the organization would be retroactive, said Dean.

Traffic
More Express Lanes Work Means More Free Bus Rides

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — More headaches for drivers is actually good news for bus riders.

The Prince William Metro Direct buses that run on Saturday between Potomac Mills mall and the Franconia-Springfield Metro station will continue to be free.

The free fares are subsidized by the state as a way to mitigate traffic delays as work to convert Interstate 95’s HOV lanes to express toll lanes continues, as well as add new lanes from Dumfries to North Stafford. The conversion has meant the frequent closure of the HOV facility and caused drivers major delays since construction began in 2012.

The free fares were expected to come to an end May 17, when construction crews anticipated the need to frequently close the HOV would diminish. Now, the bus riders will continue to be able to ride the Metro Direct bus free of charge.

Here’s a statement from the bus’ operator, Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission:

Virginia Megaprojects, which is a collaboration of the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, is paying 100% of operational costs for the Saturday Metro Direct bus service to encourage drivers to share their ride during weekends when the I-95/I-395 HOV lanes are closed for construction of the Express Lanes.

Previously, weekend closures of the HOV lanes were to end in the spring and Megaprojects intended to end its full funding for the bus service at that time. The PRTC Board of Commissioners had decided to continue offering the Saturday Metro Direct service but fares were to be charged and buses were to run less frequently starting on May 17.

However, Megaprojects recently informed PRTC that weekend HOV lane closures will continue throughout the summer, and as a result Megaprojects will continue its 100% support of the Saturday Metro Direct service.

Schedule brochures are being reprinted and will be available to the public as soon as possible. In the meantime, customers can find the most up-to-date timetables at PRTCtransit.org.

The Saturday Prince William Metro Direct bus service was introduced in September 2013 and has proven popular. The service’s high ridership mark was set on April 26 when 720 passengers used the service.

The HOV lanes between Dumfries and the Pentagon will close again this weekend from 11:30 p.m. Friday until 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and again from 11 p.m. Saturday until 4 p.m. Sunday as crews work to install new conduit, excavate, and erect new highway signs.

News
Snakehead Fish Unwanted Guest after Occoquan Flood

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OCCOQUAN, Va. — Some Occoquan residents on Friday spent the better part of the past two days cleaning up sludge and debris left behind by flood waters from the Occoquan River.

He also had to figure out what to do with an unwanted fish that found their way into their garage.

“We spent an hour to an hour and a half just shoveling buckets of shad out of here,” said Cobb Ervin, who lives in an apartment building his family has owned since 1977 nestled between Mill Street and the Occoquan River. “There were literally hundreds of fish swimming around our parking lot when the water was up.”

The shad regularly spawn in the river during this time of year, so there were plenty of them.

Cobb’s garage was flooded out, its contents strung every where, and his 27 foot motorboat now has a hole in it after being struck by river debris.

On Thursday, after drenching rains the day before, the Occoquan spilled its banks sending more than two feet of water over seawalls and into homes and businesses. The rains fell hard enough and in the right location to cause this type of flooding, said residents who are used to seeing the river rise only when a large storm or hurricane move up the East Coast.

“That’s the perils of living on the water. We’ve gone through this 15 times at least,” he added.

Scuba shop drying out 

Next door at Patriot Scuba, Merial Currer was drying out her shop after it was inundated with 10 inches of water. She brought in five wet-dry vacuums to clean up the mud that was caked to her floor, and then fans to air out the shop.

In addition to giving scuba lessons, her shop sells scuba gear, and much of it is meant to get wet. But she’ll still have to claim a loss on some items damaged in the flood waters.

“I don’t know how much of a loss it’s going to be, but it won’t be as big as I thought it was going to be when I walked in here at 8 o’clock Thursday morning,” she said.

The scuba shop has been at its current location on the river for about a year, occupying 27,000 square feet of space. It’s the third, and largest location for the shop in Occoquan.

“This flood is not going to make us move. We want to be here on the river,” added Kurr.

A new seawall built less  than a year ago, which is lower than the neighboring walls, was said to have been the reason why so much water was able to spill over and into the scuba shops and into the town.

What to do with the snakehead? 

Back Ervin’s apartment building, an employee from a nearby restaurant came to the garage and pointed out what he thought was a snake that washed up from the river. It was a snakehead fish, the invasive fish that can sit for hours on land and breath air.

Snakeheads have invaded the waters of the middle Potomac River, destroying native habitats, and have been declared a public nuisance by state wildlife officials.

With no where to go, the fish sat in the dark, cool, flooded out garage until it was scooped up into a shovel and brought out to a gravel parking lot. Now in bright sunshine, the fish, with moves similar to a snake, tried to slither its way back to the garage.

Instead the fish was put into a barrel and taken to the restaurant where they thought about eating it.

In the end, the restaurant employee brought the fish back to the river and dropped it back into the water – a move that is prohibited by Virginia law.

“They say you’re supposed to kill them when you find them but I just don’t see the sense in it,” said the restaurant employee.

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