Surry sets three hearings for Jan. 6

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Surry County’s Board of Supervisors will hold three public hearings on Jan. 6 — one on redistricting, one on changing a polling site, and the third on a proposed natural gas project.

All three hearings are scheduled to take place during the Board’s scheduled 7 p.m. meeting in the General District courtroom of the Surry County government complex at 45 School St.

During the redistricting hearing, residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on the configuration of Surry County’s five voting districts.

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Per state law, localities must revise their voting districts using the latest census data every 10 years. Surry County has proposed making no changes to its current five-district map based on the 2020 census data, which showed Surry’s population dropped 7% since 2010.

Keeping Surry’s voting district boundaries as is will result in a 5.34% deviation between the most and least populous districts, according to a breakdown of Surry’s 2020 census data by the Crater Planning District Commission. Per federal and state constitutional requirements, redrawn districts must be more or less equal in population, be contiguous and compact, and not discriminate based on race. Deviations between districts should be less than 5% if possible, but deviations of up to 10% may withstand challenges.

At the polling site hearing, residents will have the opportunity to comment on a proposal to permanently relocate the polling location for the county’s Bacon’s Castle District from Mount Nebo Baptist Church to Bacon’s Castle Baptist Church.

In September 2020, Surry County Registrar Sharna’ White received approval from the Virginia Department of Elections to use Bacon’s Castle Baptist as an emergency polling site after Mount Nebo sustained damage from heavy flooding. According to the proposed Board of Supervisors resolution that would make the change permanent, Bacon’s Castle Baptist is “more conducive” for voting because it is more accessible to people with disabilities, has more space to accommodate social distancing, has a parking lot directly in front of the voting entrance and has appropriate lighting for early-morning and late-night officer arrival and departure.

Changing the polling site to Bacon’s Castle Baptist would have little impact on travel time for voters, as the churches are within a 1.1-mile drive of each other, according to the proposed resolution.

The final hearing will concern Align RNG’s request for a conditional use permit, which would allow the company to establish a regional facility off Route 31 that would turn methane from hog manure into pipeline-quality natural gas.

According to Align RNG, a joint venture of Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, the resulting reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere should be roughly equivalent to taking 22,000 vehicles off the road. The proposed facility would also bring over $243,000 per year in tax revenue to the county, starting in 2023, according to an economic and fiscal impact report prepared for Dominion.

Surry’s Planning Commission voted unanimously in November, with two members absent, to recommend the project be approved.

The proposed facility would serve participating Smithfield farms in Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. There, the gas would pass through membranes to remove the hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, leaving a 99% pure product that can be fed into existing natural gas pipelines.

But the extracted carbon dioxide would be re-released, and not all the extracted hydrogen sulfide would be turned into solid sulfur and hauled away. The small amount of hydrogen sulfide that escapes the membrane will be fed into a thermal oxidizer — essentially an incinerator — where intense heat will transform the gas into less-harmful sulfur dioxide before it’s also re-released into the atmosphere.