Benedictine screams for attention
During local election years an issue emerges from left field to dominate campaign discussions. These items generate huge quantities of smoke that obscure far more important matters.
In 2007 discussion about overzealous and improper enforcement of zoning regulations about the size of campaign signs obscured substantive subjects. The Tuckahoe Creek Service District, for instance, has had a dramatically negative impact on the future of Goochland County.
So far this year, clamor over an application for a conditional use permit to allow Benedictine High School to relocate from its current site near the Virginia Museum to property on River Road, which has been owned by the Benedictine Society for some time, is front and center.
On Tuesday, September 6, the supervisors voted 3-2 (Jim Eads, district 5 and Ned Creasey District 3 against; Rudy Butler District 4; board chair William Quarles District 2 and Andrew Pryor District 1 for) to defer a decision on the matter for 90 days. This means that a lame duck board will vote on this matter.
The rationale for the delay, until after the November 8 election, was to combat a well-orchestrated misinformation campaign that targeted all parts of Goochland via mailed flyers and electronic telephone messages.
The mailed flyers contend that Goochland taxpayers could be saddled with the cost of road and sewer improvements for Benedictine. Those statements are false.
Goochland roads are paved and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) with minimal input from the county. Should the existing on site wastewater treatment plant fail the county would condemn the property. That action would close the school until the problem was fixed. Benedictine would either replace or repair the treatment plant or close down.
As the property is not currently taxed this would have little impact on county finances.
Following the vote, Michael McDermott of Maidens contended that counsel for Benedictine, Darvin Satterwhite, also does legal work for Butler and Pryor, which constitutes a conflict of interest. McDermott said that the vote should be taken again without input from Butler and Pryor. His request was ignored by board chair William Quarles, District 2.
Quarles struggled to maintain control of the proceedings as the audience clapped in support of some speakers.
The public comment period then degenerated into a free for all as local minstrel Jim Connor expressed his support for Benedictine in song accompanied by banjo. Eads interrupted Connor in the rudest way possible and members of the audience jumped into the fray. (Please listen to the recording of the event at www.co.goochland.va.us under the board of supervisors’ tab recordings for the evening of September 6.)
Connor further commented that if Goochland is going to treat Benedictine students like dirt they can find a better place to go.
Speakers made arguments for and against the move. Increases in traffic; concerns about sewage and water use and alteration of the character of the River Road corridor were cited by many citizens.
Others contended that the extraordinary character of the Benedictine corps of cadets will be an asset to the county.
Some stated that Benedictine is running out of money and Goochland County could be left holding the tab if its runs out of money.
That logic is flawed. If Benedictine runs out of money, it will close and the property be sold to pay its debts. If the water and wastewater facilities do not meet county health department standards, it will be closed until those deficiencies are corrected.
At least one speaker condemned the faction of Benedictine alumni that hired a firm to try to manipulate public opinion in the county by making false allegations about the use of Goochland tax dollars.
One gentleman asked about the cost of replacing the existing on site wastewater treatment plant and impact on the sheriff’s office and fire-rescue providers. He opined that if the alumni opposed to the move used the funds spent on the disinformation campaign to support the school, Benedictine would be in better fiscal shape.
Questions about the amount of water used were also raised. The application contends that the students at Benedictine will use far less water than the per student figure supplied by the state board of health. There is little agreement on the amount of water per student that Benedictine will need. The property is limited to 10,000 gallons of water per day. All student body numbers are based on that amount.
Several “factual” estimates “proved” that there will be adequate water to supply a larger student body, which is expected to grow slowly over the next two decades.
Other projections seem to indicate that the ten thousand gallon per day water limit for the property is barely adequate for the existing student body. One speaker asked why water use statistics at the existing Benedictine facility in Richmond were not used in the application.
Creasey pointed out that the disinformation campaign and inaccurate information flying around is disturbing and reflects poorly on the character of those behind it.
Indeed, the flyers, funded by an anonymous organization calling itself Sprawl Busters, arrogantly assume that Goochlanders are stupid and easily manipulated. Given the angry response from citizens throughout the county, they were correct.
The ugly conflict between Benedictine alumni factions has no place in Goochland government and reflects poorly on Benedictine.
Important questions were raised during the public comment period and hopefully, their answers will help the supervisors make a better decision.
However, we still don’t know why these questions were not addressed during the application process so all needed information was available when the application was before the supervisors.