It’s a matter of timing
By James Jacenich “¢ Staff Writer
MONTEREY – “Now is not the time,” said Highland County supervisor Jerry Rexrode in response to a request for money and a letter of support for a feasibility study to establish a tourist trail in the Alleghany Highlands. “Maybe six months from now and I would support it,” he said.
At Tuesday night’s supervisors’ meeting, the trail idea concerned officials because of pending litigation faced by the county.
Rexrode said he does not oppose tourism or money
spent to enhance tourism in Highland, but repeated it was the wrong time to commit to the project.
“We need to resolve a lot of issues at stake,” he said, referring to the Highland New Wind Development utility project making its way through the application process with the State Corporation Commission. “Some people may say to the SCC, “˜We have got this and we can’t have that.'”
Rexrode said he was concerned support of a tourist trail would imply a choice for tourism and against industrial wind turbine development. He said the county could have both, but that may not be how others see it.
Lawsuits add to concerns
Supervisors approved a conditional use permit for a wind turbine farm in western Highland County, but several lawsuits were filed opposing the permit and alleging fault with the approval and review process. So far, the county has prevailed in circuit court. The cases have been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, but the court doesn’t have to hear the appeals, noted county attorney Melissa Dowd.
It may take a year before the court hears the cases, and then, she says, the most that would happen is that the permit’s application process would start over and any procedural errors corrected by supervisors.
The legal appeals are not sufficient to stop the SCC application process or the eventual construction of the turbines if the SCC approves, said Dowd. “Even if the appellants are successful, it may not change the outcome,” she added.
Dowd explained the appellants “have to specify errors made at the circuit court level” for the Supreme Court to hear the cases. “The appellant will have to identify questions for the Supreme Court to determine. I would not expect a resolution within a year. We should know within six months if the Supreme Court will take up assignment of errors.”
Dowd said case law was clear. “The Supreme Court is not permitted to substitute their judgment for that of the local governing body.”
“It would come back to the board of supervisors?” asked Rexrode.
“If we got the process wrong, the courts would say go back and do it again and get it right,” said Dowd.
The pending litigation nevertheless concerned Rexrode in the context of supporting the tourist trail. He moved to table the request for money and a letter of support for the trail. “We need way more information,” he said.
Supervisor Robin Sullenberger disagreed. “This is a feasibility study,” he said. The purpose of the study is to get more information, he noted. Sullenberger supported sending a letter favoring the project, but said there was no money available in the county budget to pay its share of the study’s cost.
Supervisors voted 2-1 in favor of tabling a decision on the request for a letter of support and contribution; Sullenberger was opposed.
Tourist trail idea explored
A tourist trail is being touted as a project from the Alleghany Regional Commission.
The development phase of the trail concept would cost $30,000 ($15,000 from a grant and $15,000 in matching local funds) split between the participating communities. Highland’s share is $3,050, according to John Hull, regional economic resources planner for the Roanoke Valley-ARC.
After the initial study, additional money would be needed for signs to mark the trail, but ARC hopes grant money would come from sources such as ARC’s construction grant program, the Community Development Block Grant program, the Alleghany Foundation grant program, and the Virginia Tourism Corp.
“The tourism trail concept would be a driving tour that would connect several tourism sites in the greater Alleghany Highlands region and would potentially market every tourism asset in the greater region,” according to minutes of the Aug. 15 ARC Tourism Trail Grant meeting held at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, which was attended by Highland County Chamber of Commerce director Carolyn Pohowsky.
A similar trail is in place in southwest Virginia. Called “The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail,” it connects major heritage music venues in the Appalachian region such as the Blue Ridge Music Center, Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, and the Carter Family Fold.
Possible themes for the Alleghany Highlands trail could be a Highlands Rail Heritage Road, Mineral Springs of Virginia’s Highlands, or Virginia’s Outdoor Capital, Hull suggested.
The initial concept grant proposal would not be awarded until later this year and the money would not be spent on a consultant until next summer, but a commitment is needed now, said Hull in an e-mail to supervisors. “Keep in mind this amount ($3,050) can come out of your next year’s budget cycle,” he said.
At the ARC grant meeting, Pohowsky said tourism is important to Highland County and referenced a recent chamber survey that showed “a surprisingly large proportion of individuals who moved to Highland County did so after attending local festivals such as the Maple Festival.”
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