Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

The Year that was
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor and Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jan 2, 2013, 12:57

photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Locals got a special sneak peak at the region on the silver screen.

When the clock struck twelve on Monday night, it marked not just the transition from one day to the next, but from one year to the next. The year that ended was a busy one for the region.

At the end of 2011, residents were watching the streets of Old Towne Petersburg, where Steven Spielberg was filming “Lincoln,” a major motions picture telling the story of the fight to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

Much of the action was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg and locals got a sneak peak during a special premiere event hosted by Petersburg Area Regional Tourism and Colonial Heights.

“The film offers us an incredible opportunity in terms of getting our name out in the world market place that we would never be able to do otherwise,” Martha Burton, with PART, said at the premiere at the Southpark Mall in November. 

In reality, Lincoln spent three weeks of the last month of his life in Hopewell, Chesterfield, Petersburg, Prince George County, Dinwiddie County and Colonial Heights, watching the last throes of the Civil War.

PART is launching the “Walk in Lincoln’s Final Footsteps” initiative, which will allow visitors to experience the same sites Lincoln did while he was in the area. A number of other marketing efforts linking film and history are also planned.

Shortly before local residents started lining up to see the area on the silver screen, they were lining up at polling stations to cast their ballots for the president, representatives to the house and an up for grabs senate seat. Hopewell, Colonial Heights and Petersburg were also voting for city council and school board representatives.

With Virginia’s status as a battleground state cemented early on, the state played host to a number of prominent visitors throughout the fall. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Paul Ryan, Michelle Obama and Ann Romney all put in repeat appearances, sometimes very close to home. Michelle Obama spoke at VSU and Ann Romney visited small businesses in Chester. Joe Biden appeared at the county fairgrounds in Chesterfield. 

Former Governor George Allen and Former Governor Tim Kaine also spent time in the area as they competed for the Senate seat Jim Webb has occupied.

“No Tolls” became a rallying cry in Southside Virginia this year as a proposal to install a toll plaza on I-95 at mile post 22 in Sussex County riled residents.

Hopewell, Colonial Heights, Prince George County, Petersburg and Dinwiddie have all passed resolutions opposing the tolls and a number of business associations, including the American Trucking Association and the Virginia Trucking Association, have joined in dissent.

A number of opposed localities, including Prince George and Petersburg, have hired an environmental attorney to represent them in the ongoing dispute. 

High notes were also struck in the realm of transportation as the first passenger train to run between Washington D.C. and Norfolk in 35 years pulled into the station in Ettrick and Colonial Heights kicked off Boulevard revitalization efforts with the groundbreaking for a new court house, a project that was over ten years in the making.

Both Prince George County and Hopewell experienced busy years of their own.
photo by Mike Davis President Barack Obama spoke at the Rolls-Royce plant in March.

2012 Year End Review:Hopewell

By Caitlin Davis

Senior Staff Writer

From a “Million Dollar Mile” to from the revitalization of downtown to new faces on City Council, 2012 had it’s share of news stories for the city of Hopewell.

The one miles stretch on I-295 that runs through Hopewell was put in the spotlight in 2012. Sheriff Greg Anderson and his deputies patrol the mile-long stretch of highway and monitor the speed and safety of the motorists who use it. The large amount of revenue generated by the program became the focus of national attention, with AAA Mid-Atlantic questioning the real motivation behind the program, which netted $2 million in 2011.

“Is this in the name of traffic safety or is it a revenue generating machine?” AAA-Mid-Atlantic’s Martha Meade asked in an April release, that also claimed the program targets out-of-state drivers..

The program ended up in court in March when Commonwealth Attorney Richard Newman made a motion to have the I-295 ticket revenue processed under state law rather than through the Hopewell Sheriff’s Office.

Newman maintained the city code regarding the prosecution of traffic tickets is unconstitutionally vague and causes confusion for residents.

The motion was overturned and tickets are still processed by the Sheriff’s office.

Lawmakers in the capitol also set their eyes on the program, including a bill in the state budget that diverts ticket funds into state coffers. Senate Bill 500 states that when local fines and fees collected exceed 40 percent of total revenue, the state will require 50 percent of the excess revenue to be transferred to the state’s literary fund.

The I-295 safety program had a record month in July, issuing 1,562 tickets.

“The motoring public wins, the state wins,” Anderson said in September. “We are doing a great thing. I have no doubt about that. We are going to continue being out there and we are going to continue to save lives.”

Last January, former Hopewell police officer Mark Baggett, 34, was arrested on one felony count of forcible sodomy against a 38-year-old woman in Hopewell on Oct. 13, 2011. Later in the year, two more counts of aggravated sexual battery were brought before the courts. In October, Baggett was convicted of three counts of aggravated sexual battery and sentenced to six years in jail.

“He violated the public trust,” Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane said in October, after the conclusion of the court case. “When you disgrace the badge so many of us wear we have zero tolerance for this. He deserved punishment.”

The court also saw cases from current and former members of city council. Brenda Pelham was cleared of all 13 conflict of interest indictments in September for voting for school matters while being employed by the school system.

In September, 2011 Pelham pleaded no contest to three conflict of interest charges. Judge Samuel Campbell presided over the case and moved to dismiss the other 10 charges.

“I thank God first of all for getting me through this trial,” Pelham said after the trial. “And for the people, my friends and my family, that were there to support me.”

Another notable court case in 2012 involved 26-year-old former Marine, Brandon Raub. Raub was taken into custody in August after some of his Facebook posts were perceived as threatening. While Raub was held at John Randolph Medical Center, protesters arguing that Raub’s detention violated his first amendment rights assembled outside hospital.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Protesters gathered outside John Randolph Medical Center and advocated for the release of former Marine Raub.

Judge Allen Sharrett dismissed the petition holding Raub, stating there was not enough evidence to continue to detain him.

The judges filling the seats at Hopewell courts made news stories of their own in 2012. Judge Kenneth Nye stepped down amid complaints made in an anonymous letter published in Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly in April. An investigation proved nothing and Nye returned to the bench for a brief period. Nye soon retired and on June 6, Bruce Clark, Jr. was sworn in as the new 6th General District Court Judge.

In February, veteran city council member and civil rights leader Rev. Curtis W. Harris stepped down from his seat on council after 26 years.

“Twenty-six years, that’s my time. It’s been a long time,” Harris said in a statement read before the Hopewell City Council in February.
contributed photo Sen. Mark Warner invited Curtis Harris, who stepped down last year after 26 years on Hopewell City Council, to attend the 2012 State of the Union address with him.

Harris’s decision came in the weeks following a petition David filed by David Silvestro to have Harris removed from City Council. The petition stated “We the undersigned registered voters residing in Ward 2, of the City of Hopewell, sign this petition to seek the removal of Curtis W. Harris, as the Councilperson elected to represent Ward 2, for neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties.”

The petition failed in court.

In April, Judge Allen W. Sharrett appointed Roosevelt Edwards, Jr, to the seat vacated by Harris, and he was sworn in shortly thereafter.

The Ward 2 seat was the object of competition in Nov. as six candidates vied for the spot. Edwards won reelection, but rivals Yolanda Stokes and Silvestro filed petitions with the court challenging the election results, claiming that the numbers from the polls were not reflective of the outcome of the election.

Three judges, Sharrett, Chief Justice of the 16th Circuit, David Beck, Chief Justice of the 15th Judicial Circuit and Daniel Bouton, Chief Justice for the 16th Judicial Circuit, heard the case and unanimously agreed to dismiss the petitions filed by Stokes and Silvestro.

In August, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling came to Hopewell to present a $7,500 check to Hopewell’s Downtown Partnership.

The $7,500 grant was made possible by CSX Transportation, which contributed $5,000, and the Virginia Department of Housing and Development, which contributed the rest of the funds at $2,500, as part of the Virginia Main Street Project. The project received an additional $500,000 in funding from the General Assembly. The Downtown Partnership was eligible for the grant as a Main Street designated community.

“When you revitalize downtown areas you improve part of economy and downtown efforts,” Bolling said during the check presentation. “And you improve the quality and make the community more livable and more workable.”

After controversy among both residents and council members, $4.1 million in renovations began on the Beacon Theatre.

Currently, the Beacon is still under renovations by J.W. Enochs, Inc. and is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

The Hopewell Marina is also being renovated after council voted in September to move forward with the $1.5 million project which is also being completed by J.W. Enochs, Inc.

Hopewell High School also celebrated a new appearance as the two year, $24 million renovation project wrapped this year.

With the renovation project came a real-estate tax increase for residents of the city. During a council meeting in May, a 4-3 vote passed the increase, which represents the second installment of the $0.09 increase over a period of three years, every other year, planned to pay for the Hopewell High School Renovations.

Hopewell City Public Schools also welcomed a new Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Dr. Kim Evans, and new principal at the high school, Dr. Rodney Berry.

A unanimous city council vote in October put the Osage Bio Energy Plant in Hopewell up for tax sale. Vice-Mayor Wayne Walton made a motion to authorize the City Attorney, City Attorney David Fratarcangelo to initiate legal actions to initiate the tax sale.

The total tax sale is for the amount of $1,676,824.06, a figure derived from the assessed value of the property. The taxes that have to be collected on the property are delinquent.

In October, Fratacangelo said the only interest the city still has in the property is the tax lien.

“Hopefully the city will get the money owed,” Fratacangelo said. “I hope someone will come along and do something and make use of that property.”

2012 Year End Review: Prince George

By Sarah Steele Wilson

Newsroom Editor

Prince George County celebrated a number of economic development achievements this year.

The Rolls-Royce facility in Prince George County had a busy year. President Barack Obama visited the facility on March, 9, attracting a crowd of approximately 1,600 people to the shop floor.

Obama unveiled a proposal for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. He said the $1 billion plan would aim to revitalize American innovation and manufacturing by creating a network of facilities where business leaders and educational institutions would work together, similar to the mission embodied by the then soon-to-be-opened Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, just around the corner from the Rolls-Royce plant where the president spoke.

“We’ve got to build these institutes all across the country,” Obama said. “I don’t want it just here at Crosspointe. I want it everywhere.”

In November, Rolls-Royce officially announced its plans to begin construction of a second manufacturing facility at the Crosspointe location. The planned $136 million, 90,000 square-foot facility will employ 140 highly skilled workers who will produce turbine blades and nozzle guide vanes for Rolls-Royce engines.

The company hopes to see some of its suppliers locate near them on land they own in Prince George County, a goal Tom Loehr, executive vice president for Crosspointe, said would be spurred along by construction of the second plant.

“We’re in some discussions just now with suppliers considering locating here...,” Loehr said in November. “I would look to see an uptick in activity around supply co-location.”

After breaking ground in 2011, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing that the president praised opened in September, 2012. The $17.5 million facility, where companies and universities work in partnership to conduct research and develop manufacturing applications, opened just around the corner from Rolls-Royce, one of the organizing members of the partnership.

House Majority Leader and Virginia Representative Eric Cantor (R-7) visited the newly opened facility in November to learn about the public private partnership that fuels the operation.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Eric Cantor visited the recently opened CCAM facility in Prince George in Nov.

Prince George County also celebrated several openings of its own in 2012. In October, the county opened the doors to the newly completed Animal Services and Adoption Center in Disputanta.

The new, $2.5 million structure replaced a facility that had been in use since 1975 and had not passed an inspection by the state Office of Veterinary Services since 1998.

A new recreation facility also opened in the renovated Old North Elementary School. Parks and Recreation director Keith Rotzoll said that he hopes the facility will provide a new forum where the county can offer expanded programming and new options for the county’s seniors.

The opening of new facilities demonstrated the county’s growth, which led to a land purchase that prompted some lively discussions during Prince George County Board of Supervisors meetings in 2012.

The question of whether or not Prince George County should borrow $1.5 million from the Utility Fund to purchase 167.23 acres of property dominated several meeting.

Located adjacent to the existing county complex, the Buren property would be an attractive site to place future facilities the county might need, including an expanded court house and additional playing fields.

Despite public outcry, the board voted three to two to purchase the property.

At their second meeting in October, the board voted to work with Charlottesville-based firm Land Planning and Design Associations to develop a master plan for the propety.

During their first board meeting of the new year on Jan, 8, the board has tentative plans to hold a work session to discuss plans to establish playing fields on the property.

Some of the public dissent regarding the purchase of the Buren property was related to the school division’s struggle to close a $1.8 million shortfall in their budget. County residents spoke in support of using available funds to help the locality’s  school system.

Both boards worked together to whittle the gap down from $1.8 million to $1.277 million, a sum the Board of Supervisors voted to award to the school division, in addition to the $13,526,254 in local funding initially budgeted.

The year was not without tragedy for the county, which lost a soldier a soldier and three students.

Cpt. Jesse Ozbat, 28, a graduate of Prince George High School and Virginia State University, died in May while serving with the Army in Afghanistan. His unit was attacked with an improvised explosive device. 

In July, 10-year-old Grayson Payne Austin, a student at Walton Elementary, was killed in a boating accident on Butterworth Pond.

Marvin Massenburg, a 17-year-old senior at the county High School, was killed in September, when his car plunged into Blackwater Swamp as he attempted to pull to the road side to allow a police car responding to a call to pass.

Clacy Sullivan, 12, disappeared after falling into a water filled quarry near his home in Oct. His body was located the next evening during a candle light vigil held in his honor.

In 2012, Virginia selected U.S. 460 Mobility Partners (a partnership of Ferrovial Agroman, S.A. and American Infrastructure) to finance, design and build the new Rt. 460. The 55-mile, $1.396 billion stretch of highway will travel through Prince George County.

While the county has long been concerned about safety on the existing 460, given the number of fatal crashes that have occurred on strip of highway running through the county, residents of the area have also voiced opposition to current plans to have the new highway connect to the old highway in the New Bohemia area.

Prince George has instead pushed to have the new, toll road connect directly to I-295.

Some of this year’s issues should persist next year.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson The Commonwealth Center for Advanced manufacturing opened its door in Sept.

Opposition to I-95 tolls, requiring the state to notify affected localities upon receipt of an application for a group home and consider local recommendations as conditions for approval of the applications, and requiring the new Rt. 460 to connect directly with I-295 or I-95 rather than first reconnecting with the old Rt. 460 in the New Bohemia area were some of the main points on the county’s legislative agenda.

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