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Meeting Wrap-up: June 2, 2011 BOS Worksession *UPDATED 6/4*

June 4, 2011

Well I didn’t get a whole lot of feedback on our question of whether or not we should cover worksessions (thank you, lone respondent in the night, wherever you are), but we decided to take a stab at it anyways for a few reasons. First, the worksessions are relatively new, and I wanted to give people a glimpse into how they work. Secondly, although worksessions are not held for the purpose of conducting legally binding business, it is here that the board gathers a great deal of information from experts and staff about upcoming issues they’ll soon be casting votes on, so I feel you have a right to the same information. Finally, and perhaps the most base reason, a board member commented to us they’d like to see more coverage of these meetings, so, yeah, I tried.

This video is perhaps the opposite of last week–good audio, weak video. Not weak in hard to make out, but rather its a bit shaky owing to the fact that due to limited seating in the room and few good angles to capture all the participants, I had to take a few blocked shots and in other cases balance the tripod at any angle to get around, um, obstructions. Oh well, lesson learned. Also, I intentionally left my power cord at home, thinking I wouldn’t need it. Well, let me tell you–these sessions are purposely freewheeling and the first two items took roughly an hour each, and my battery only holds two hours of juice. So we didn’t get the Board’s questions on the Farm nor the discussion on the Tyson issue. However, that was relatively short. For now, we bring you this, with our promise next time to be prepared! Also, I’ll have notes up later today from the Tyson’s portion of the meeting.

Finally, this edition of Meeting Wrap-up introduces a new feature–well, not quite new, but used in a new way. After each item that is for discussion or public hearing, we’ll offer you a chance to weigh in. As always, we prefer comments in the comment section, but we know not everyone has the inclination or time to type a detailed comment, so, we figured a little voting will be nice. We will try to publish the results (if any) on a weekly basis. Keep in mind these polls are in no way scientific, nor is there any guarantee that the Board will look at the results, but we thought it’d be nice to try a little audience feedback. So enjoy!

UPDATE: View all of the meeting that we caught here as a playlist.

Shenandoah County
Board of Supervisors

AGENDA

Board Conference Room
Shenandoah County Government Center
Woodstock, Virginia

Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Roll Call: No roll call was taken, due to this not being a binding meeting. However, Supervisors Neese, Helsley and Baker were present for the entire meeting, and Supervisors Ferguson and Morris were present for roughly 3/4ths.

WORKSESSION TOPIC(S)

1. Discussion regarding Conservation Easements

UPDATE: The County’s Director of Planning and Zoning Brandon Davis was kind enough to provide me with a PDF copy of the packet (Click here to dowload–roughly 9MBs) he provided to the Board and guests at the meeting. I didn’t get a copy originally because they ran out, so I appreciate his effort to help me get this information out to the public. I didn’t take the time to break it down piece by piece, one due to time but also to provide complete context for the information. Just so you know, though: Pages 3-4 are the county’s brochure on the easement program; pages 5-6 are a memo on conveying an easement to the authority; pages 7-9 are the application for an easement; page 10 is an email on rollback taxes between Davis and Garland Miller, the county budget manager; pages 12-13 are a memo from Kelly Watkinson, a staffer for the Potomac Conservancy; pages 15-20 are a memo from Allison Teetor, the natural resources planner for Clarke County; and pages 22-28 is a memo from John Hutchinson, the Conservation Director for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation.

2. Update from the County Farm Advisory Committee

UPDATE: As promised (though not exactly on time), here are my notes from the Thursday worksession. As stated, I’ll try to the best of my ability to report just the facts of what was said. If anyone who spoke has a correction or feels I characterized their statement, though, let me know and I’ll do my best to set the record straight.

Supervisor Morris stated that he had worked on the Agriculture Task Force a few years back and felt that any plans for the County farm needed to be flexible in light of that committee’s commitment to continuing agricultural education in the high schools. He stated that three years ago the FFA held its state soils contest at the farm. He was unsure if a farmer, after putting money into the land, would be comfortable with having that land then used for such program. He noted that the Envirothon is held on the Civil War Battlefield Trust land. He stated that he didn’t want to tie hands to not allowing use, tying this to the fact that a ten year lease is required for cost-sharing of best management practices.

Raymond Powell, Chair of the County Farm Advisory Committee, stated that the committee added a paragraph stating that the farmer would agree to work with the Cooperative Extension Service and the FFA. Morris stated that it might be advisable to take a tract or two out for exclusive use.

Extension Agent Bobby Clark, who also served on the County Farm Advisory Committee, stated that liming, one example offered of a farmer putting money into the land, lasts for five years. He also stated that farmers want to be compensated if they lose land and that this was built into the new lease. He said that this would become part of the demonstration purposes of the farm as an example of arrangements between farmers and landowners. Morris suggested again to take a tract and not rent it but rather simply allow the farmer to use it at his own risk. Clark stated that the farmland is currently not in hay, which would be the only real crop where that would be feasible. Clark also stated that the current leese is already utilizing many best management practices. Morris again stated that flexibility is king and that this is what would draw the public to use the land. Supervisor Neese stated that he felt if the farmer was not given full use he may not use it all. Supervisor Helsley stated that the key would be in how the lease is written.

Pam Sheetz, Director of Parks and Recreation, also on the Committee, stated that her department was flexible and that they hoped to eventually connect set aside land with the Jordan Hollow tract owned by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation. She stated that she was willing to cooperate but that a ten year lease may be too long to really see an alternate use take hold.

Supervisor Neese asked about the possibility of a conservation easement on the land, alluding to the earlier discussion on that topic. John Hutchinson, who is the Director of Conservation for the Battlefield Foundation, stated that it would likely be neccesarry to set up a dummy corporation first. However, someone else (I didn’t note who) stated that Planning Director Brandon Davis had previously said it couldn’t be done, but Hutchinson insisted that other localities had done it. Dr. Helsley believed the issue needed some clarification.

Ray Powell stated that he felt there was a need for a public hearing. However, Chairman Helsley stated that a public hearing had not been held at least during his term. Assistant Count Administrator Beth Price stated that she never recalled a hearing, and Morris, who has served on the Board since the 70s, couldn’t recall one either. That both also stated that the current leaseholder, Guy Gochenour, was the only person they could ever recall holding the lease.

John Hutchinson stated that the SVBF has a long term vision for providing a more park-like setting at the park. However, that would likely not be the case at least within the next decade.

Here you can find the packet that was handed to the Board and visitors during the meeting (roughly 9MBs). This includes a printout of the powerpoint, full color maps (although you’ll need to rotate them), and

3. Discussion regarding the George’s Chicken/Tyson Court Case

Again, only notes here. Supervisor Neese, who represents New Market, where two of the facilities in the George’s/Tyson deal are located, stated that he supported writing a letter supporting acquisition. He stated that the possible closure of these two facilities if the deal is blocked by justice would only directly affect roughly fifty jobs. He stated that although opponents of the deal are saying this would decrease competition, he pointed out that if the deal is completed Pilgrim’s Pride would still have a 57% market share over the combined 43% of the other two.

Supervisor Steve Baker, who raises hogs, concurred. He stated that a stop to the deal would have a huge impact and that the only alternative for growers would be a co-op. He noted that growers, many who are locked into mortgages and other costs, must keep going, and that a co-op would have to find a market, which if not done quickly would put farmers in a perilous position.

Mary Beth Price stated that the County Administration has a copy of the letter that Rockingham sent to Justice but that the language was very specific to Rockingham. She asked if the letter was to be sent to Justice and the Board members affirmed it should be.

Bobby Clark noted that the Board would be well advised to look into national concerns between growers and integrators . (Side note: Integrators are poultry operations in which the slaughterer (in the case, George’s), supplies the chicks, feed and drugs to the growers). He suggested talking to growers to find out more about these concerns. He noted also that at this time roughly 50-70% of the corn grown in the county is sold to Tyson’s. Ferguson asked what the justification for the letter was, asking if the reasoning was, as he saw it, that continued operation would be advantageous to the county. Clark noted that continued operation of the two Shenandoah County facilities was not a foregone conclusion. Neese stated that he attended a meeting where it was stated that there would be two operations. The Route 42 facility west of Edinburg would continue to process small birds, while the Harrisonburg operation would focus solely on turkeys for deboning.

OTHER BUSINESS

ADJOURNMENT

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