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The Bedford County Board of Supervisors began its first regular meeting of the new year by choosing a new chairman and vice chairman for the year. District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard was elected chairman and District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry was elected vice chairman.
Then, the board got down to business, unanimously approving two cell tower special use permits. One was for a new cell tower on U. S. 501, near Coleman Falls, and the other was for a height extension on an existing cell tower on Va. 24, near its intersection with Va. 122. This tower will go up to a height of 123 feet. Both applications were from Verizon. Both applications had been unanimously recommended by the planning commission late last year.
“I’m in District 5 and this is seriously needed,” commented District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington, when he made the motion to approve the new cell tower.
A wind ordinance is also set for quick action. County Administrator Kathleen Guzi had presented copies of the ordinance to the supervisors in their agenda packets and the supervisors agreed that they were ready to proceed with a joint public hearing on it with the planning commission. Guzi will work with the planning commission to schedule one.
Guzi also brought a legislative concern before the supervisors. Last year, the General Assembly voted to hold localities harmless from the impact of changes to the local composite index which determines state funding to local school divisions. It’s a measure of a locality’s ability to pay for school costs and half of the index consists of real estate values. The legislation passed by the General Assembly made up 100 percent of what localities, such as Bedford County, would lose in the first year of the Commonwealth’s biennial budget, and 50 percent in the second year.
According to Guzi, the budget that Governor Bob McDonnell is submitting to the General Assembly takes this out. As a result, Bedford County stands to lose $1.4 million. The supervisors agreed to ask the area’s General Assembly delegation to put this money back in the budget.
Early in the meeting, the supervisors heard from a delegation of Lake area residents concerned about restrictions on docks in American Electric Power’s (AEP) shoreline management plan for Smith Mountain Lake. Speakers said that some owners of lakefront property are discovering that, when they try to sell their property, they can’t transfer the dock to the new property owner without making expensive modifications to the dock, even though the dock had all the necessary permits when it was built. This, they say, invariably causes the sale to fall through.
“I don’t think you’ve even begun to see the impact of this,” said Tom Buck, who owns Mitchell’s Point Marina. He’s attempting to buy the old Campers Paradise property.
Buck said that no realtor can sell lakefront property without AEP input. AEP, in turn, looks at even the slightest variations from the original permit and hits on cases that don’t involve significant changes.
Buck added that the new shoreline management plan doubles the conservation and environmental areas on the shoreline. Property owners who have land in these areas will have to have an environmental impact statement prepared in order to get a variance to put in a dock or install rip-rap.
“They have taken away a lot of our property rights,” he said.
The group, consisting of four speakers, urged the supervisors to support keeping the Tri-County Relicensing Committee (TCRC), intact in order to provide a legal entity to deal with this.
District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer is on the TCRC.
“It has been one of the most frustrating experiences of my life,” he said.
TCRC was established to represent the three counties bordering Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake as AEP went through the process of getting its hydroelectric project relicensed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). AEP developed a shoreline management plan as part of this. A steering committee sought to make recommendations on this plan.
“By and large everything that the steering committee tried to do was dismissed,” Neudorfer said.
Neudorfer said that the TCRC isn’t going to disappear, but he’s not optimistic about what can be done.
“In essence, you are going to have to fight the federal government over this,” he said.