Election, property use highlight year

Published 7:17 pm Monday, December 31, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The unexpected departure of Isle of Wight County Sheriff Mark Marshall and the subsequent special election to fill the office, as well as plans for a juvenile detention center on county-owned property, topped headlines this year. 

Also generating a good deal of interest was the future use of the county-owned Blackwater property and staffing challenges at the animal shelter. 

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Marshall announced his intention in January to leave office nearly two years early to open a brewery on the Eastern Shore. 

His departure required that a replacement be determined by special election, but the Board of Supervisors did not want to wait until the November general election. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

After some wrangling, it was decided that a July 24 election would work — and it was the first time the county has held an election during that month. 

Marshall’s top deputy, James Clarke, easily defeated fellow deputy James Pope for the job, in which he will serve until the remainder of Marshall’s term expires Dec. 31, 2019. 

While it was reported in February that Isle of Wight County was being eyed for a state juvenile detention center, the news seemed to catch many by surprise when further information was revealed in July. 

The plans brought some opposition, but mostly centered on a particular site — one that is no longer being considered. The 60-bed detention center is now slated for land along Route 258, about a mile south of the town of Windsor. 

The conversation over the future use of the county’s roughly 2,500-acre Blackwater tract was far ranging, to include the notion that those other than hunters would be unable to conduct themselves in those woods. 

In recent years, two local hunt clubs have enjoyed the use of the property for its activities. After rejecting the state’s plan to turn it into a public access property, the Board of Supervisors called for a task force to explore options for the property, such as canoeing, hiking and equestrian use. 

The task force is expected to make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors in 2019. 

Tensions between Isle of Wight County’s volunteer fire and rescue squads and its paid counterparts were eased a bit this year by the formation of a fire and rescue advisory board that will present policy and standards recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. 

Earlier this year, Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice called for a meeting between all the county’s volunteer agencies, as well as the paid emergency services department, to hash out long standing complaints. The biggest takeaway from the meeting, called a “line in the sand,” was a lack of communication — hence the formation of the advisory board. 

The county’s comprehensive plan began being updated this year and numerous forums and meetings were held to get public input. 

Those who responded to surveys and questions seemed to favor maintaining the county’s rural character, protecting its sensitive environmental areas and schools, but also promote economic development and address transportation issues. 

The stretch of Route 17 between the James River Bridge and the Suffolk city line appears to cause the most headaches for commuters, so much that it’s the top issue brought to Del. Emily Brewer, R-64, from Isle of Wight residents. 

As a result, VDOT has worked to better time the stoplights along the corridor to mixed reviews. 

The Board of Supervisors this year had to change its practice of praying before meetings — a long-standing tradition, that more likely than not, was directed to Jesus Christ. A Fourth Circuit court of appeals last year ruled that elected officials violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution when they lead a prayer before a government meeting. 

Instead, the Board is inviting local pastors to lead the prayer.

It took a few requests, and a slew of emotional emails and pleas from volunteers, for Isle of Wight County Animal Services to get more staff. Seems the division, which oversees law enforcement as well as the animal shelter, had been down a couple of employees due to medical leave, leaving the remaining staff and officers scrambling to keep up with the workload.

The Board of Supervisors in December agreed to add a full-time animal control officer and increase a part-time kennel assistant position to full-time. 

Isle of Wight County, along with the Town of Smithfield, agreed to a water swap arrangement whereas the county would continue to purchase water from the town for Gatling Pointe. In exchange, the town would have access to water that will come off the new water line down Route 10 once construction is complete. 

The town would benefit from added capacity and the county would be able to add new water customers to its overall water system. 

Water has been a point of contention since the county signed the Norfolk water deal in 2009, which provides Isle of Wight with an abundance of surface water from lakes owned by Norfolk, but located in Suffolk and Isle of Wight. The deal, struck through the Western Tidewater Water Authority, has been expensive.  {/mprestriction}