Sunday, February 22, 2009

Midnight directives

A ghost in the machine?

Who among us has not said at one time or another “there ought to be a law against. . .?” We are blessed to live in a nation founded on laws, a system that, for the most part, works pretty well. Sometimes, however, laws do more harm than good, or simply serve as mechanisms for harassment.
Local laws are no different.
Of the prerogatives of a board of supervisors, the power to make law, in the form of ordinances, may be the most dangerous given its potential for abuse. Even the most honorable intentions sometimes go horribly awry.

In Goochland, the ordinances most often addressed in recent years are those concerning land use. Indeed, while county zoning ordinances have had marginal effect on controlling growth, they have proved to be an excellent vehicle for citizen harassment.

Perhaps the most notable recent example of over enthusiastic enforcement of zoning ordinances was the “Signgate” fiasco that blighted the last local elections.

In October, 2007, in response to a single complaint about one sign, county zoning officials sent threatening letters to approximately 17 citizens who displayed large campaign signs for either Ned Creasey or Pat Turner on their property. These letters warned landowners that they would be subject to legal action if the signs were not promptly removed.

Instead of cowering and removing the signs, those citizens vigorously contended that their First Amendment rights had been violated. The letters were rescinded.

Bob Hammond, director of planning and zoning often explains that zoning ordinance enforcement is complaint driven. If the county received a single complaint about only one sign in one district, why were letters sent to 17 people in three different districts?

Apparently, there were no complaints about large signs exhorting voters to cast their ballots for House of Delegates’ candidate Bill Janis whose large campaign sign was displayed prominently in front of the Broadview Shopping Center. More surprisingly, there were no complaints about a large sign on River Road supporting Jimmy Massie, candidate for a delegate seat in a district that does not include one square inch of Goochland.

We still do not know where the list of offending signs came from, although there is much speculation about its source.

The sign ordinance was clarified in 2008. Given the response to the Signgate shenanigans, it is doubtful that there will be a repeat performance in future elections.

On the books for many years, the sign ordinance was probably the product of extensive tinkering in response to circumstances not envisioned when it was first drafted.

In recent years, ordinances and policies have meandered into public view in a more sinister manner. The appearance of the notorious sections 13 and 14 of the supervisors’ Standards of Conduct (see Cloudy Day in the Gulag) is very similar.
It is almost as though there is a rogue word processor somewhere in the administration building that cranks out these “midnight directives” creating ordinances and policies that magically appear in board agendas demanding immediate attention. Often they are inserted at the end of long agendas and addressed late in the evening session of an exhaustive daylong meeting.

Following the March 2007 public hearing on the budget, the supervisors were exhorted to immediately adopt an emergency ordinance banning mud bogging and another to restrict accessory uses, supposedly to prohibit the construction of illegal garages.

The mud bogging measure was a knee jerk response to citizen complaints about a particular event. The “illegal garage” measure seems to have been designed to prohibit a proposed sporting clays shooting range at Orapax Plantation.

Following an outpouring of outrage from mud boggers, the activity’s proponents have adopted self-regulation to ensure that small scale mud bogging occurs in areas where it will not annoy neighbors. Once the offending boggers realized that they had unwittingly disturbed some neighbors, they agreed to have their fun, at least in small numbers, in isolated areas. No punitive measures were needed, just some old fashioned, if intense, discussion.

The explanation of the need for the accessory use ordinance would have been amusing had it not had such sinister implications.
Poor Bob Hammond tried to convince the supervisors that the construction of inappropriate garages, accessory uses, was such a serious problem that it required emergency action. After intense questioning, Hammond finally admitted that the number of such garages was about two per year. That ordinance passed, paving the way for an extended legal battle.

If the board of supervisors, as it was constituted in 2007, believed it was important to the health, safety and welfare of Goochland to prohibit a sporting clays shooting range at Orapax, it should have been willing to pass a specific ordinance and vote on the measure in public. There may well be sound reasons to deny this facility to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Goochland. They were never clearly articulated.

Instead, a midnight directive appeared fully formed on the board’s agenda with no information about its origins or true intended consequences.

In the ensuing months, the county and the owners of Orapax battled about the sporting clays shooting range. Their contentions even dragged the Boy Scouts into the mix. A board of zoning appeals hearing followed. The county argued against a shooting range that Orapax had in the past while Orapax defended the shooting range it planned for the future, an apples and oranges discussion if there ever was one. The BZA vote, a tie, upheld the county position. The tie occurred because the hearing had been postponed so many times that one member was out of the country on a planned mission trip.

Did any supervisors ever ask why the county was pursuing these matters? Or did they blindly trust the county staff members who presented the threat to the county as Gospel?

If a staff member or supervisor believes that a new policy or law is necessary, that person should be anxious to explain his motivations. Sneaking a proposed ordinance or policy on the board agenda with the expectation that it will be passed with little thought or discussion is just wrong.
Citizens are clamoring for open and accountable government. Midnight directives need to stop. The plug needs to be pulled on that rogue word processor.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Go play in traffic redux

Goal for inept government

The Goochland planning commission may have derailed agreements that would give GUSA some temporary playing space until both the methane problems at Hidden Rock Park and general dearth of county fields can be addressed.
Even before the February 19 public hearings began, an application by Collegiate School for a conditional use permit that would allow county kids to use its fields off of Blair Road was withdrawn.
In addition to Collegiate, St.Catherine’s and Benedictine, which have athletic facilities in the River Road corridor applied for similar CUPs.
Given its location, right on River Road, county staff advised that the Benedictine application be deferred pending some sort of traffic evaluation.
That left St. Catherine’s, which has operated in its location just west of Rt. 288 for several years.
The whole matter came up very quickly as an emergency fix to find field space to replace the out of operation fields at Hidden Rock Park, so that the soccer season for local kids could start on time, next month.
The CUP applications were fast tracked so that the planning commission and supervisors could consider and vote on the applications within a few weeks of each other.
Residents along the River Road corridor received little notice of the pending applications and we justifiably upset about the precipitous manner in which the CUPs appeared. They strenuously objected to additional traffic in their community.
During the course of the discussion about the CUP, the attorney for St. Catherine’s stated that his client would retain the right to decide who would use its facilities. Somehow, that assertion seems to have been misinterpreted by some of the commissioners who contended that the private school really wants to transform its facility into a public park attracting hordes of people, from who knows where, to regularly clog River Road.
The planners seemed to turn a deaf ear to St. Catherine’s athletic director who explained that, because the facility is expensive to maintain, the school is not anxious to encourage heavy use. The invitation to GUSA was extended as a gesture of neighborliness to help ensure that Goochland kids can play soccer.
After the comments made by the commissioners and residents, it would not be surprising for St. Catherine’s to withdraw its application and suggest that Goochland County perform an unnatural act on itself.
Discussion about the use of other field space in the county illustrated a total lack of familiarity with the fields, one of which is only half grassed several are too small or unusable for other reasons. Planners also had no clue that grass on new soccer fields must grow undisturbed for a good while to ensure a proper playing surface.
Mention was also made of money, up to $500,000, already in county coffers earmarked for parks and recreation. If the county is willing to spend that money on soccer fields, why has it not already been used to develop soccer fields behind the Towne and Country Shops in Courthouse Village? Still no answer to that question.
This is a clear illustration of how inept government comes back to plague everyone.
The folks in the River Road corridor are entitled to peace in their enclave. It was quite interesting to glean from their comments that many do not realize that Goochland has only one operating public park. Had county government been doing its job, fields for soccer, baseball and other sports would exist. The field shortage has bubbled over infecting even River Road.
The planners finally voted to recommend approval of a very limited CUP that would be cancelled as soon as the HRP fields are fit for play.
On March 3, the supervisors will hold their own public hearing on the application, if it has not been withdrawn. Because the planning commission’s role is advisory, the supervisors are under no obligation to follow its recommendations. Indeed, on many occasions, the board has blithely ignored the planners to approve hotly disparaged zoning changes.
At the end of the day, county kids are still being told to play in traffic, but not along River Road.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Trust but verify

Open communication is essential

In the firestorm that followed the stealth adoption of expanded Standards of Conduct (SOC) for county supervisors, the substance of the matter got lost. We still don’t know who wrote offending additions or authorized their last minute inclusion in information given only to the board.
The stealth with which SOC sections 13 and 14 appeared is reminiscent of the “midnight directives” (subject for a future entry) that have driven board decisions in recent years.
At the February 3 board of supervisors’ meeting, Ned Creasey, District 3 asked that the section of the Code of Virginia pertaining to rights of local employees be added to the packet and read aloud during the meeting. (See “Weekly follies” below)
William Quarles, Jr. District 2 contended that the county administration needs a clearly defined chain of command and defended the stricken sections of the SOC. (See “Cloudy day in the gulag” below)
Quarles said that the county administrator is imbued with only those powers granted by the supervisors. It’s hard to believe that someone as intelligent as Mr. Quarles could be so na├»ve about the manner in which the former county administrator dealt with Goochland employees.
Had the SOC, as explained by the former county administrator to county staff, been observed as he apparently intended, no supervisor would ever know that county employees were forbidden to speak to them.
The thuggish implication that any communication between supervisors and county employees must be vetted by the county attorney or county administrator seems lost on Quarles.
In a worst case scenario, if a county employee received unwanted advances from his department head and knew that department head was a good friend of the county administrator, that employee would have no conduit for a legitimate complaint of unacceptable behavior. His only avenue of redress would involve lawyers and the potential for expensive and embarrassing litigation against the county.
Supervisors are elected to make policy decisions and oversee county government operations to ensure that those policies are enacted. This arrangement demands demonstrated and absolute integrity on the part of the county administrator and open opportunity for oversight by the board. The trust of the board must be earned, not assumed.

In the recent past, that relationship seems to have been reversed giving the county administrator a perceived policy setting role. Indeed, there were far too many times when it seemed as though the board followed instructions from the county administrator instead of vice versa.

Unfolding revelations of chaos in the Utilities’ Department, which so far extend from undeposited checks to a potential public health and safety threat at Hidden Rock Park, clearly demonstrate the failure of misplaced trust.

A chain of command policy is sound in concept, but as constituted in sections 13 and 14, could easily be perverted into a mechanism to hide incompetence and abuse power.

Rather than a rigid chain of command policy, why not devise an open communications policy that encourages the flow of accurate information in all directions. The people who perform the myriad of tasks that result in a well-run organization have a different perspective on day–to day operations than those who make policy.
Pooling perspectives, information and expectations will result in more effective policy. Everyone who participates in the policy’s creation will have ownership and be far more supportive of its implementation.

Management by decree is rarely effective when employees are terrified of reprisal. (See ”The Emperor’s New Clothes”) Bully tactics are a dangerous substitute for genuine leadership.

Supervisors must be able to ask questions of any county employee and receive accurate, honest answers. Employees must have a comfort level that they will not be punished for communicating with board members, especially when reporting incompetence or abuse.
The arrogant indifference displayed by the majority of supervisors to the Utilities’ Department revelations is extremely troublesome.
Are they whistling past the graveyard in hopes that further lapses in sound management will not bubble to the surface, or so out of touch that they dismiss the current citizen uproar as the meddling of a few rabble rousers? They pay lip service to transparency in government while taking actions to further muddy already murky waters.
If we indeed all want the same end result — honest, effective government that conducts its affairs in the open and is accountable to the citizens from whom it derives its power — why all the shenanigans?

Trust in county officials, both elected and appointed, is vital, but there must also be mechanisms to verify that trust.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Special board meeting February 10, 2009

The Goochland Board of Supervisors will meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday February 102009 in the board meeting room at the county administration building at 1800 Sandy Hook Road in Courthouse Village. The primary purpose of the meeting will be a closed session discussion of compensation for the interim county administrator. The supervisors will then open the meeting.

A day at the sausage factory

Observations of the February 3 board meeting

Kudos to all who attended both the afternoon and evening sessions.
You may have set a record for public comment (about one hour and 45 minutes) in the afternoon. People get the government they deserve and by taking the time from your busy schedules to attend meetings you send a clear message to the supervisors that Goochland citizens expect accountability and transparency in their local government.
Keep up the good work.

Fairgrounds property

The best news of the day came at the top of the meeting when Ned Creasey, District 3 announced that the supervisors, in response to a flood of phone calls and emails, decided to reject all offers for the Fairgrounds property. “Your voices have been heard,” said Creasey. “The board will evaluate the property and decide what will benefit best the citizens and small businesses of the county.”

County administrator

Quashing rumors that County Attorney Andrew McRoberts was to succeed Greg Wolfrey as county administrator on an interim basis, the board announced that Lane Ramsey former Chesterfield county administrator will act in that capacity.
Ramsey, who performed a similar task in Gloucester last year, will keep the county running while the board searches for a permanent replacement for Wolfrey whose resignation became effective on February 1.
Some religions denominations use a similar procedure following the departure of minister under clouded circumstances. Interim appointment of an outsider provides some breathing space for a troubled congregation to heal and get its house in order before a new permanent pastor is installed. Goochland county administration is in a similar situation and the remedy is sound.
Board chairman Andrew Pryor, District 5 announced that Wolfrey will receive two months’ salary and unused vacation and sick leave. The supervisors discussed the county administrator succession in closed session.

Soccer fields

Both during its afternoon and evening sessions, the board heard lengthy and mind-numbing explanations of the methane remediation process underway at the capped landfill under the Hidden Rock Park soccer fields.
New plastic vent pipes and a pumping system are being installed to extract the landfill gas, which is comprised of methane, carbon dioxide and “other things.”
Overall, the officials from DEQ and Resource International, the firm hired by Goochland to perform the remediation work, agreed that the new system should control and safely remove gaseous effluent from the closed landfill. Both gentlemen seemed to view the situation as more of a nuisance than a threat. They never quite explained why DEQ levies fines for a nuisance.
The “exploding soccer Mom” incident in which a soccer parent was injured after igniting a methane pocket in a low- lying area near a soccer field was explained.
According to the experts, concentrations of escaped methane high enough to cause that kind of explosion typically occur at old landfills that were not properly closed and capped.
The Goochland landfill, they said, was newer and its sealing cap seemed well maintained. They seemed to be unaware that a portion of the cap slipped down the hill a few years ago.
Terminology used to describe levels of escaping landfill gas — lower explosive levels and upper explosive levels –did little to dispel the notion that methane and “other things” escaping into the air near playing fields is bad for children and other living things.
Ben Slone, whose residence is downwind from HRP, presented photos of supposedly sealed gas vents with easily removed metal caps labeled water and monitoring stations heavily covered in brush.
Slone raised concerns about what will happen if the excess landfill gas is flared, or burned. He contended that overtime the gaseous effluent from the dump, which includes methane and carbon dioxide changes over time into “non-methane organic gases which, if ignited can cause degeneration into things like dioxin.”
He said that building playing fields on top of a closed landfill whose contents and construction are unknown is a bad idea and advocated creation of playing fields elsewhere in the county. A close examination of the closed landfill is also needed to do the right thing for the county and not just meet DEQ guidelines.
At the end of the day neither representative from Resource International nor DEQ would declare the fields absolutely safe. Questions about the safety of the ball fields, which are located at the bottom of the old landfill were answered with vague generalities.
It is believed that no definitive statements about field safety will be made until all of the remediation work, whose price tag is more than $100,000, is complete. The system will be monitored to determine the presence and extent of any remaining emissions.
Ken Brown, Goochland Fire-Rescue Chief said that he was not aware of methane concerns on the Fourth of July when several thousand people gathered in the park at the bottom of the hill, where escaping methane could be expected to accumulate, to watch fireworks.
Two important issues got lost in the shuffle:
Why, if the county knew of the violation in May was remediation work begun almost nine months later?
Why were parents and officials of youth sports groups not immediately notified about the presence of high concentrations of potentially volatile substances at HRP? Bob Dewar, president of the Goochland United Soccer Association (GUSA) asked that regular test be made at the soccer fields and the results of those test be made public.
Pryor promised to promptly post notice of such tests on the county website.
Insurance for GUSA players on the HRP fields is also a concern, said Dewar. He was unsure if the organization will be able to secure insurance coverage without unqualified assurance that the methane problem has been fixed and the fields are safe to play on.
Agreements for county children to use fields owned by private schools were fast tracked to secure needed review and approval by both the planning commission and supervisors in the next month. While this maneuver will take a bit of pressure off the field shortage, it is no substitute for additional fields.
More importantly, the board declined to comment about what is going on with the land purchased by the county last summer located behind Towne and Country Shops for a soccer complex.
Dewar told the board that the complex will bring lots of people to Courthouse Village on weekends to patronize local businesses who pay county taxes. The impact of a soccer complex on county businesses will be immediate, he contended.
Dewar’s remarks fell on deaf ears.
It is puzzling that the Department of Economic Development has not been promoting creation of the GUSA soccer complex.

Comp Plan hearing

The highlight of the day, the final public hearing on the 2028 Goochland comprehensive land use plan, didn’t get underway until almost 9 p.m. The review process began about two years ago. It passed unanimously containing changes lamented by many speakers.
On the bright side, the supervisors acknowledged the need to revisit the Plan often to see if it accurately reflects current conditions. This represents an important attitudinal change.
John Lewis applauded the county planning staff for including vision statements in the Plan, but lamented its lack of accountability or any mechanism for measuring success going forward.
He also chided the county for amending the revisions at the eleventh hour, which, Lewis contended, gave little time for citizen review and comment.
The 2028 plan, said Lewis, concentrates more on growth management than proactive protection of existing rural character, historical and natural resources.
John Hosay mourned the potential for destruction of the simple, sustainable rural lifestyle that characterizes western Goochland. Food and other goods and services produced locally, Hosay contended, will prove beneficial to Goochland in hard economic times.
Linda Hosay pointed out that during the last depression, there were no bread lines in rural areas because country people were able to care for themselves.
Paul Costello contended that the citizen input process is broken because there is no mechanism for meaningful dialog between citizens and supervisors.
The Plan, said Costello is filled with broad assumptions that are the mother of unintended consequences.
Several speakers noted that without master plans Centerville and Courthouse Village will develop in ways that do not benefit the county and citizens.
Wat Ellerson blasted the Plan, characterizing it as a “Christmas list” of little use because it fails to catalog and explain current land use conditions in the county.
Goochland, he said, may have a large supply of building lots, but the demand for those homes is probably in Richmond and Henrico.
Several speakers contended that a build out analysis, a comprehensive list of existing zoned building lots and their location, is a vital part of a useful Plan. They believe that there could be as many raw, zoned residential lots as existing homes in the county. No one really knows. So far, all such information has been guesstimates. This would seem to be a relatively simple task for the county geographic information system.
District 2 Supervisor William Quarles, Jr. said that the Plan is not a perfect tool, but provides an “awesome opportunity” for citizen participation in government.
After two years in the crock pot, it was time for the 2028 Plan to be adopted. Right now, no one has a clue where the economy is headed. If the housing industry remains in freefall, fears about runaway growth may never materialize. This quiet time in development provides breathing room and a good opportunity to plan.
Master plans for Centerville and Courthouse Village should be at the top of the “to do” list followed closely by a build out analysis.
The 2028 comprehensive land use plan is a complicated document. All citizens should at least glance through it to get some idea of what Goochland could look like in 20 years.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sludge alert

Time to end secret sludge

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting for informational purposes only in the board room of the Goochland County Administration Building at 1800 Sandy Hook Road at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 5.
A list of applications to spread biosolids on land in the county will be available. There will be no public comment.
The whole thing is absurdly secretive.
The use of biosolids, the end product of municipal sewage treatment plants, as field fertilizer is a very controversial subject. It is also a very odoriferous part of Goochland’s rural character.
Proponents of the practice believe that treated sludge poses little environmental threat and contend that it provides an affordable way for struggling farmers to fertilize their land. The sludge has to go somewhere, they say, why not put it on fields and recycle its nutrients.
Opponents of sludge contend that its spread dramatically increases the amount of fecal coloform bacteria in area streams and wells. Sludge, detractors state, contains dangerous heavy metals that forever taint soil and water and pose a serious public health threat.
The battle over sludge has raged for years and is not likely to stop soon. The fact that sludge is applied in a somewhat surreptitious manner is shameful.
While neither the state nor local government may prohibit the spread of sewage sludge, application requires a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
At the very least, there should be a database, searchable by locality, of all sludge application permits on the DEQ website. Localities should step up to the plate and put a similar list on their websites.
Many people experience adverse health reactions to sludge and should at least have the opportunity to avoid the stuff.
As it is, the only way to know that sludge is being spread is to smell it.
Wherever your beliefs about sludge, at least support more open information about its use.
Contact your supervisors and state representatives to let them know how you feel about secret sludge.
Hon. Bill Janis
Phone: (804) 698-1056
Fax: (804) 698-6756

Sen. Walter Stosch (eastern Goochland)
Phone: (804) 698-7512
Fax: (804) 698-7651

Sen. John Watkins (most of Goochland)
Phone: (804) 698-7510
Fax: (804) 698-7651
There is also a Constituent Hotline: (800) 889-0229

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February follies

Tuesday in the Board room,

The February 3 meeting of the Goochland Board of Supervisors promises a continuation of the saga of our governing board versus citizens who are finally paying attention and tired of incompetence and half-truths.
For a complete look at the agenda, visit the county website at and click on supervisors. Don’t try to download the complete packet unless you have a high speed internet connection.
Of great interest, given all the recent commentary on regulations surrounding closed meetings, is the item announcing that the supervisors will meet in closed session at the end of their afternoon gathering to discuss the sale of the Fairgrounds Building.
We can only hope that any vote taken to sell the property is done in public. It would be really nice if each board member explained his vote to give citizens some idea of his thought processes.
According the agenda, the evening session will be devoted to revisions of the county’s comprehensive land use plan and a new false alarm penalty ordinance.
The comp plan is also on the website, again only download if you have high speed. Take careful note of the two addendums they contain interesting comments and last minute changes.
The comp plan itself has all sorts of useful information. Unfortunately it also seems to be replete with favors for friends from one end of the county to the other. Some of the accommodating language is subtle, other parts quite blatant. This is an unfortunate reversion to the “old” way of doing things.
Presentation of the plan revisions will be brief. Unless citizens prepared in advance by at least reading the plan, the discussion, if there is any, could be hard to follow.
It will be interesting to see how the supervisors react to public comment on the eleventh hour changes to the proposed 2028 plan.
Another item of interest for the afternoon session is what seems to be a Code of Virginia section dealing with rights of local employees to contact elected officials. The agenda entry includes no explanation, just the following:
Ҥ15.2-1512.4* * Rights of local employees to contact elected officials* Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prohibit or otherwise restrict the right of any local employee to express opinions to state or local elected officials on matters of public concern, nor shall a local employee be subject to acts of retaliation because the employee has expressed such opinions.
“For the purpose of this section ‘matters of public concern’ means those matters of interest to the community as a whole, whether for social, political, or other reasons and shall include discussions that disclose (i)evidence of corruption, impropriety, or other malfeasance on the part of government officials; (ii)violation of law; or (iii)incidence of fraud, abuse or gross mismanagement. (2006, c.597)”

If you have some free time, try to attend either the afternoon or evening sessions. Let the board know you are paying attention.

Go play in traffic

The soccer field debacle

Little people in brightly colored uniforms more or less chasing each other and a soccer ball around a grassy lawn on a balmy spring evening is one of the many life savors of Goochland.
But wait, what is wrong with this picture?
Not fifty feet from these precious wee ones traffic whizzes by on Fairground Road with not even a guard rail to slow out of control vehicles. Starter soccer players use “the front yard” of J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College, which does not want any guardrails obstructing its sign and will rescind its permission for use of the “field” if a rail is required.
This is the reality of beginning soccer for local kids who participate in Goochland United Soccer Association (GUSA) programs.
Facilities for older players, scatted among several locations in the county, aren’t much better.
The current flap about unacceptable levels of methane seeping from the capped landfill that lies under heavily used soccer fields at Hidden Rock Park is the latest chapter in a long story of indifference to soccer by county officials.
Failure to disclose the methane problem in a timely manner violates the government’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare if its citizens.
According to an Order by Consent issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on June 30, 2008, Goochland County was ordered to install equipment to remediate excess levels of methane gas escaping from the closed landfill, which is now part of Hidden Rock Park. Failure to comply with regulations governing the closure of the landfill also earned the county a fine of $11,270. The work to fix the problem is supposedly underway now.
The Order bears a notarized signature of former county administrator Greg Wolfrey indicating that he knew about the excess methane levels last May. Even though many GUSA players used the fields on top of the capped landfill until well into the fall, the county failed to notify anyone about the problem or possible risks.
This is just the latest incident in the sad story of the county’s treatment of GUSA.
A private non-profit group run by parents and other caring folk, GUSA provides an organized soccer program for interested kids of all ages and skill levels. Run totally by volunteers, GUSA keeps costs low and provides scholarships for the economically challenged. The numbers of county children who participate in GUSA programs is exploding. It is run by Goochlanders for local children and serves more children than other county sports organization.
For most of this century, GUSA has been trying to get the county to provide more field space. Indeed, the annual appearances of GUSA officers and players in uniforms at supervisors’ meetings have become a rite of spring.
GUSA officials do more than put their hands out to the county. About five years ago, a proposal to use land at JSRCC for a soccer complex was rejected by the supervisors because of the cost of a needed parking lot and lack of irrigation for the fields. They told GUSA to use the HRP fields, which the board declared adequate.
Upright vent pipes installed when the landfill was closed were located at the ends of the HRP soccer fields until they were relocated by the county a few years ago. The soil initially used for the fields was so full of rocks and other debris that players were often injured. After much complaint, the county added better soil, seeded the fields and found a way to provide some irrigation to improve grass quality.
Before that, the fields were in such bad shape that every week GUSA parents worried that referees would declare the fields unfit for play. Few existing fields are lighted, so play must stop when the days grow short. This puts GUSA players at a competitive disadvantage to those in jurisdictions with lighted fields.
At a supervisors’ workshop in late 2007, GUSA president Bob Dewar and Bob Marcellus of Manakin, a member of the Virginia Youth Soccer Association and GUSA volunteer, presented the group’s case to the supervisors, again.
Last summer, a breakthrough seemed to have occurred when the county purchased a tract of land roughly east of the middle school for a dedicated soccer complex. Its location near power and public utility lines meant that lights and real restrooms would be feasible.
A request for bids was supposed to have occurred in late summer so that the new fields would be prepared before winter set in.
To date, not a teaspoonful of soil has been moved to prepare fields and the new soccer season will soon begin.
Methane concerns at HRP only add to the dismay of the GUSA officials who believed that the county had finally come through with fields.
When the Richmond Strikers, a large regional youth soccer organization, asked the supervisors to amend West Creek zoning rules to enable it to use vacant land there for fields, the board moved quickly to grant the request. While some county children, who live mostly in the east end, play soccer with Strikers, most of that organization’s players live outside the county. Strikers agreed to share field space with GUSA, but it too is hard pressed for field space.
Yet, the same board can’t quite seem to get on board to help GUSA that works with its own kids.
“We’re not saying please make this a one way street give us everything we need,” Dewar told the supervisors in 2007. “We see this as a partnership. We’ll go out and find organizations who want to put sponsorships into an area where they know several hundred families will be spending Saturday morning. That will also allow us to build concession stands so we can fund equipment and infrastructure ourselves.”
A soccer complex, said Dewar, would allow GUSA to expand it offerings to include younger children and adult leagues, that require lighted fields.
Why hasn’t work started? Given the economic downturn and construction slow down, this would be an excellent time to build the soccer complex.
It would be great if there is some way that the county, when soliciting bids, could give preference to local excavation contractors and put Goochland businesses to work at the same time.
Failure to anticipate the need for playing fields — every youth sports group in the county is squeezed of field space—is more evidence of inept shortsighted local governance.
The county repeatedly misses opportunities to acquire land for playing fields and other public facilities, like schools, libraries and fire-rescue stations. When developers want to rezone land, the county should be ready to “horse trade” for land in places without public facilities. That approach could be more effective than the current cash proffer system in building infrastructure to serve a growing population.
Breeze Hill on Fairground Road, for example, would be an excellent location for a county sports complex. That land is flat, open and centrally located. Instead of all the shenanigans about a back entrance on Sheppardtown Road that characterized the rezoning process for that land, substantive discussions about soccer fields out front would have been of more benefit to the county. If done right, the developer would have been satisfied too. Happily, new language in the proposed comprehensive land use plan finally encourages the county to ask for land in return for zoning concessions.

This is yet another instance of county government failing to act in a coherent and responsible manner for the benefit of its own people. GUSA was promised fields this year, but none exist. Failure to notify GUSA about the high methane levels is inexcusable.
The indifference of county officials toward GUSA clearly tells the county’s soccer community to go play in traffic.