Northampton Zoning’s ‘Man Behind the Curtain’


July 28, 2014

Thank you to the Cape Charles Wave for keeping us all ahead ot the curve regarding the zoning dispute in Northampton County. The complete rezoning of the county into a what several developers hope to be a Disney-like resort retirement destination deserves to be scrutinized, and readers are well-served by the Wave’s reporting.

The million dollar question of who is the “man behind the curtain” orchestrating the plan to completely rezone Northampton County into an industrial, commercial, and resort-style mecca looms ominously heavy on the horizon. And the Board of Supervisors’ “we need to be business friendly” mantra makes us wonder what businesses our protective Comprehensive Plan drove out of the county, and prompts us to wonder what it would be like if the curtain of resource and environmental protection was drawn fully open.

In our quest to answer these questions, we had to do a little digging. And we unearthed a plan in 1992 by PEMSCO to bring 60,000 tons/month of contaminated soil to a 65 acre tract in Cheriton, formerly home of the KMC Food Processing Plant. There the petroleum-soaked soil would be “cleansed” by incineration and “biological processes” so that it could be spread throughout Northampton County and beyond, used in landscaping and road building. But because it required a Special Use Permit, county residents had the chance to learn about it, research it, and oppose it en masse for obvious reasons. It was defeated.

But under the new “business friendly” zoning crafted by Economic Development Director Charles McSwain, this type of use will be allowed “by right” in any agricultural zone. The public will not be notified and no public hearings will be necessary.

In the same year, it was discovered that a local industrial contractor was importing and remediating “contaminated soil” and adding it to his asphalt product, using it in repaving and road projects. Again, once the act was discovered, it was deemed a violation of the county zoning ordinance, and the zoning department issued a “cease and desist” order, giving the owner 90 days to meet “binding contracts” already in place.

Again, under the proposed “business friendly” zoning ordinance, this process would be allowed “by right,” and residents would not know what was happening until they smelled the stinking fumes from the incinerators. [Read more...]

Why the Lower Shore Needs a Community VA Clinic

American Legion Post 56 Commander

July 28, 2014

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address to a war-torn nation that was filled with anger, angst, and uncertainty. Lincoln understood it was the people fighting the Civil War who shouldered the burden for the nation. So he elegantly spoke about the need “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” However, those immortal words that were spoken 149 years ago seem to have fallen on deaf ears in America.

We live in a time where the unemployment rate of our veterans still outpaces their civilian counterparts by three to five points and it’s about to get worse with significant military drawdowns. Another startling fact is that one-third of the adult homeless populations are veterans, and over 70 percent of them have some type of substance abuse issues.

The early recruiting promises and contracts regarding medical, dental, and retirement pensions have also fallen into the abyss. The majority of the broken expectations are due to politically oriented budget-cutting on both sides and elected officials who have little understanding of veterans’ issues since the majority of them never served in the military.

Promises of care for veterans have been around for centuries: in 1776 the Continental Congress encouraged enlistments by providing pensions to disabled soldiers, and some states and communities actually made individual pacts to care for their returning veterans. In 1812 the federal government authorized its first medical facility for veterans that eventually evolved into the establishment of the Veterans Administration in 1930 when Congress authorized President Herbert Hoover to “consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans.”

The VA has been effective in dealing with some veterans’ needs and extremely deficient in other cases as the media bears witness in Arizona. However, the Eastern Shore has a ray of hope that comes in the form of two very hard-working ladies named Wendy Ainsworth and Jamie LeCates-Brown. Ainsworth is the Veterans Service Representative and Manager for the Accomack Field Office, and Lecates-Brown is her administrator. [Read more...]


Remembering the Good Ol’ Days


July 12, 2014

All fishermen are liars . . . except you and me — and sometimes I have my doubts about you!

There is a small lake at Fort Lewis, Washington, and it is in the artillery impact range where often they fire 105 mm Howitzers, so the area is off limits five days a week. On Saturdays my Captain, my Sergeant, and myself would go there to catch the beautiful Rainbow Trout living there in large numbers. I would dig a worm, put it on my hook, cast, and in short order reel in a nice fish.

The Captain would ask what I was using for bait and he would say worms are no good. “Use some of my salmon eggs.” I would dig another worm and catch a fish. Each time I caught a fish he moved to my spot, but no matter, I continued to catch fish.

The limit was 15 and when I had enough I left to meet my girlfriend who was in the Air Force and then go to where they had fireplaces and tables and enjoy the elegant feast. When I left the lake the Captain was still using salmon eggs and had not caught a fish.

The Captain was also a game warden on the Fort, and I went with him to a club on the base for hunters and fishermen. Above the bar they had the head of a mounted “Jack-A-Lope,” which is a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope: very rare!

That girlfriend became my wife, and 56 years, four sons, and 12 grandkids later here we are in Melfa. [Read more...]

Do You Know Where Your Tax Dollars Are?

Citizens for a
Better Eastern Shore

July 7, 2014

Counties around the state are finishing up their budgets for the next fiscal year. This is the time of year we can easily see where our county’s tax dollars are going – and take a look at similar expenses for the counties around us.

This year, and not for the first time, Northampton County wins the spendthrift award. Compared to Accomack County, and compared also to several eastern Virginia counties with similar populations, Northampton spends more per person for county administration, public safety and debt service, and provides more education dollars per student than most of the others. Northampton also tops the list in per-person local tax revenue collected.

When comparing expenses of the two Eastern Shore counties with a disparity of population (Accomack’s population is about
 three times Northampton’s), it’s more informative to compare the costs for what are assumed to be similar services on a per-person basis. For instance, Northampton collects almost $1,700 in local tax revenue per person, while Accomack collects about $1,100. Assuming that the actual costs of several locally funded services are similar from one county to the next, it would be logical that the same costs spread over a larger population would make the services less costly per person. All things being equal, one might assume that the total costs for many services in Accomack could be as much as three times as much as in Northampton, which has one-third the number of residents. [Read more...]


COMMENTARY: Heroes, a Small World, and Nonsense


June 23, 2014

My mom and dad were my heroes along with our fantastic generals and admirals of WW II who accomplished what wouldn’t be possible today.

Mom’s father got killed at work, leaving a widow with seven young kids. The eldest had to quit school and earn money to support the family, as there was no welfare or food stamps. Mom dropped out in 8th grade and became a playground director at the school she had attended. The job title today would be gym teacher. She lived in Down Neck, Newark, NJ, which was all Irish, and she taught all the Irish police, fire, and politicians. She went on to be a paymaster in a shipyard and worked in teen recreation and child care and nurseries. She was the secretary of the Irvington, NJ, Democratic Club.

Dad left school in 9th grade from the German neighborhood of Newark. He joined the army in WW I and became an officer. He became a city firefighter and retired as a deputy chief. In WW II he joined the Navy and left as a full commander. When WW II started he trained the soldiers from Fort Monmouth who were now firefighters. The fire engine from Fort Monmouth came to the Irvington drill tower where he taught firefighting and safety. He taught all 1,000 Irvington teachers first aid in case we were bombed by the Germans. He organized, trained, and equipped the CD Firefighters in Irvington.

The Irvington Fire Chief was James Thompson, Jr., who was way ahead of the curve. In 1938 he came up with the idea of an Emergency Squad that would respond to every kind of an emergency with a main mission of saving lives. My dad was put in charge of the Squad for the 84 hours a week he was on duty. It was a beautiful white fire engine with a huge spotlight and a powerful, very loud motor. It carried all kinds of equipment for fighting fires and saving lives. There were probably around seven husky men on the Squad, all first aiders, and one man was a police officer who dressed and worked like a fireman but who wore a police badge, had a pair of handcuffs, and was armed. The men on the squad got little sleep because they averaged three calls per night. [Read more...]


‘By Right’ Development Means No Right to Say NO


May 12, 2014

Usually we don’t pay much attention to the fields by our homes, or down the road, or alongside our town, though most of Northampton County is filled with these pretty vistas.

Now consider this all too real scenario: Gone are the fields. Instead, you see a wastewater treatment plant, a dredge spoil disposal site, or perhaps a prison. This project will have a direct impact on your property values. Did you and your neighbors have any say in its building? How about input in how adverse affects could be lessened to protect your town?

The answer is a startling NO if the Northampton County proposed zoning passes. These, and a long list of land uses including heavy industrial and high impact development, will now be “By Right.” To be blunt, if the developers want to build it, they will have the right to do so.

Citizens, on the other hand, will have no rights, no say, no recourse to shape development that affects what for most of us is our biggest investment — our homes.

Certainly economic development is needed; few dispute that. However, taxpayers who carry most of the burden of funding the county have a right to weigh in on what their community will be like now and in the future.

The proposed zoning virtually eliminates Special Use Permits for a large number of land uses. Most reputable developers respect these permits, considered a smart planning tool by countless locales. Currently if you have concerns about a proposed project — be it migrant labor camp, airfield, or biomass refinery — you can attend a public hearing and provide feedback. The developer can offer proffers to mitigate harm to the community by limiting the size, hours of operation, enact noise and odor controls, increase buffers, etc.

With the proposed zoning, there is no public hearing or public input. It’s a done deal. Even if the BOS believes the project will do more harm than good, if it’s in the zoning their hands are legally tied. [Read more...]


COMMENTARY: Setting the Registers to Zero


May 8, 2014

I was an observer at the elections in Cape Charles on Tuesday. My initial job was to make sure that the registers were set to zero. Each voting machine has an electronic counter on the front of it which is incremented as each person casts a vote. Having the registers set to zero at the beginning of an election assures that no candidate obtains a head start in the counting.

I see this initial validation as a metaphor for our collective town future. Those of us in the vocal, but defeated, minority now have an opportunity to do as the election officials did in the early hours of Tuesday morning: Set the registers to zero.

The voices of the majority have spoken. Let’s all start again by showing respect for our democratic process. Let’s give the new Mayor and Council an opportunity to fix things that some see as broken. Things that I feel strongly about are as follows:

– Allowing citizens to speak their minds at the Town Council meetings and having the Council members actually take an interest in what is said.

– Arranging periodic town meetings to obtain citizen feedback for major town projects before the Council has decided on a course of action.

– Being watchful of the money that citizens give to the town to run it.

– Avoiding snap spending decisions.

– Keeping staffing to the minimum possible. [Read more...]


FRANK WENDELL: Why I’m Running for Mayor


May 4, 2014

I am running for mayor because I love Cape Charles. It’s just that simple. My grandfather, Frank Wendell, emigrated to Cape Charles from Lockenhaus, Austria, with my great-grandfather Joseph in 1884 at the age of 12. My family has been living and working in Cape Charles ever since. My father, Francis Wendell, lived his entire life in Cape Charles and taught me at an early age the value of public service and giving back to your community. So we’re all come-heres from somewhere – some just got here sooner than others.

Small-town life in Cape Charles has gained a lot of appeal in the last 20 years, and the town has benefitted greatly from the resurgence and investments that accompanied it. How we go forward without losing our small town charm and quaintness is one of the many challenges we face as a community. According to the Cape Charles Comprehensive Plan Vision Statement, “the people of Cape Charles cherish and nurture the unique qualities of this small historic town.” I encourage all the town’s people to become more familiar with the Comp Plan and participate in its updating currently in progress.

The issues, opportunities, and challenges facing Cape Charles are as diverse as our richly diverse community:

  • Emergency medical services and our public school system require us to partner with our county leaders in solving these complex problems that have a tremendous effect on our collective economic development.


  • The PSA-proposed Southern Node sewer project and commercial development of Route 13 has benefits, but in my opinion the risks to our downtown outweigh the benefits.


  • Our $10.8 million debt and our continuing need to build, acquire, and maintain infrastructure will remain an ongoing challenge.


  • Harbor development, beach replenishment, and Phase 2 of the Community Trail Project, along with the cooperative efforts with Southport, Bay Creek, King’s Creek Marina, Bayshore Concrete, and Bay Coast Railroad all offer reason for great optimism.


  • Proper management of the town’s 30-employee workforce while insuring proper compensation and keeping town taxes and fees reasonable and fair is paramount. [Read more...]


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