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Virginia
McAuliffe and Saslaw, at Richmond home of Joe Morrissey, say Democrats need him on their team

Two of the men who run Virginia’s Democratic Party came to the Richmond home of Joe Morrissey on Wednesday to host a fundraiser for him and make nice with a politician who ousted a Democratic state senator in a primary.

In June, the former lawmaker and Richmond mayoral candidate defeated state Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is leading fundraising efforts for Democrats in Virginia this year as they try to retake the legislature, and Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw of Fairfax County both worked on behalf of Dance.

On Wednesday, they mingled with Morrissey; his wife, Myrna; and his supporters as they ate barbecue around the pool at the couple’s North Side home and the Morrissey children played in the yard.

McAuliffe, speaking to the group, said he and Morrissey worked together on criminal justice issues, and recalled Morrissey joining him and other lawmakers at a Capitol ceremony when McAuliffe announced a development in his effort to speed up the restoration of voting rights for felons.

“I’m here for Joe. This is an important race for us. This is an important year for the Democrats,” McAuliffe said. “This will be, folks, the first time in 26 years that we will be able to control the House, the Senate and the governor’s mansion.”

“We’re going to win this, and guess what. We’re going to raise the minimum wage, we’re going to get commonsense gun restrictions overnight, we are going to make Virginia a new state.”

Morrissey, describing himself as a “moderate Democrat,” recalled working for Saslaw’s Senate campaign in 1979 and told a humorous story about McAuliffe, years earlier in Dewey Beach, Del., assisting a bar bouncer by representing him before a local constable.

“Terry says, ‘I’m his attorney,’” Morrissey said, and the man was “acquitted at 2 o’clock in the morning,” after which the bouncer and McAuliffe returned to the bar.

“He never tried another criminal case in his life and he’s batting 1,000,” Morrissey quipped, receiving applause from the audience.

On a serious note, Morrissey said his top priorities in the Senate will be helping fight drug addiction, finding ways to help people with mental health problems who are in the court system, and pushing for Virginia to restore parole.

“I want to restore hope. I want to give people incentive,” Morrissey said. “I want them to know, if you’re in prison and you do well, you take advantage of programs, you get an education, then when you come out, OK, there’s something there for you.”

Democrats are hoping to retake control of both chambers of the General Assembly in the Nov. 5 election, which would allow the party to pass its agenda along to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to become law. Morrissey is important to the party because Democratic leaders need him on their team if the Democrats narrowly control the Senate, which is currently in Republican hands, 20-19, with one seat vacant pending the election.

In the possibility of a 20-20 tie, Democrats could still get their agenda through the chamber next year because the Democratic lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, would break most tie votes. But if Morrissey, who calls out Democrats with whom he disagrees, were to defect, he could stop the Democratic agenda on any issue he chose.

“Joe is a hard worker and the people in the Senate district, they’re definitely going to get their money’s worth,” Saslaw said. “We are looking forward to having him in our caucus. Joe is extremely bright.”

The fundraiser was emceed by radio host John Fredericks, who was the 2016 chairman of the Trump presidential campaign in Virginia but is a Morrissey ally and McAuliffe booster. Morrissey’s “Fighting Joe Morrissey Show” airs in the Richmond area on WJFN (100.5 FM), which also broadcasts Fredericks’ show.

The relationship between Democratic leaders and Morrissey is one of necessity, Fredericks said in an interview.

“If it’s 20-20, the next day Joe Morrissey becomes the most powerful man in Virginia,” Fredericks said.

At the fundraiser, Fredericks told the group that Republicans have “zero chance” of holding control of the Senate on Nov. 5 and said Morrissey has the ability to bring both parties together.

Several Richmond City Council candidates showed up Wednesday, along with a contingent of lobbyists who regularly attend such events for state lawmakers.

Morrissey also has a residence in the 16th Senate District, where he slept during the primary campaign after tucking in his children at the family home outside the district. The district covers parts of Chesterfield, Prince George and Dinwiddie counties; parts of Richmond and Petersburg; and all of Hopewell.

Dance outspent Morrissey in the primary, and he later said he won via personal contacts with voters and a signed letters to many of them.

In addition to his populist appeal, Morrissey’s career is known for a scandal that led to him spending nights in jail while serving as a delegate in 2015. He was convicted of misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor involving relations with a then-17-year-old law firm employee who is now his wife.

Morrissey, a lawyer, has a disciplinary history with the Virginia State Bar and in July the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld a three-judge panel’s decision to revoke his law license.

Waylin Ross, a former legislative aide to Morrissey when Morrissey was a delegate, is on the Nov. 5 ballot as an independent. There is no Republican on the ballot.


Local
James River gets B- grade again after record rainfalls in 2018 dampened recent progress

Efforts to improve the health of the James River were dealt a minor setback after record rainfalls last year led an increase in dirty stormwater runoff and a decline in oyster and shad populations.

In its biennial State of the James report, the James River Association gives the river an overall health grade of 60%, under its comprehensive assessment of its water quality and various efforts aimed at improving the health of the river’s watershed, which covers about a quarter of the state’s landmass.

William Street, CEO of the nonprofit river association, said some health indicators for the river showed signs of improvement and offset the negative impact of the state’s rainiest year since 1889, helping maintain the B- grade the association gave the river in 2017. (A revised version of the 2017 report lowered its initial 62% score to 60%.)

“This is a positive sign for the resilience of the James, but it is a departure from the steady improvements that we have seen since we first issued the State of the James in 2007,” Street said.

“As the river faces a growing population and a changing climate, the 2019 report shows that the James remains a river at risk,” he said. “We must stay vigilant in order to reach a fully healthy James River and all that it can provide to our communities and to future generations.”

The report measures the river’s health by evaluating fish and wildlife populations, natural habitats, pollution reduction and actions taken to protect and restore the river.

In addition to the decline in shad and oyster populations, which fell by 10% and 12%, respectively, according to the report’s measurements, grades for bacteria, phosphorous and sediment reduction fell slightly, between 1% and 7%. The quality of the river’s tidal waters also decreased by 14%.

“Record rainfall in 2018 tested the resiliency of the James River ecosystem, but the 2019 State of the James report demonstrates steady, long-term improvement in river health that continues today,” Dr. Greg Garman, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Rice Rivers Center, stated in a news release.

“The report documents positive overall trends in several areas but also shows where we need to redouble our restoration efforts.”

With the goal of achieving an A grade for the river by 2025, the report says Virginia has made strides in enacting new water quality control measures and investing in $400 million in clean water projects since 2005.

The report gives a 3% and 8% in stormwater and wastewater pollution control measures, respectively — a 6% increase in the health of the James River watershed’s streams and a 16% increase in the acreage of underwater grass habitats that are key for small fish, crustaceans and waterfowls.

James River Association officials said Wednesday that they will call on the administration of Gov. Ralph Northam to increase funding for clean water and conservation programs by $255 million in the next state budget.

More information about the report can be found at stateofthejames.org.


Plus
Verizon reevaluating plans for new cell phone towers in Henrico's west end after public outcry

As Verizon looks to improve wireless service in western Henrico County, some Tuckahoe-area residents are upset over the company’s plans to build 20 small cell towers near their homes.

County officials say the new towers will address concerns about the company’s spotty service in the area and pave the way for faster, next-level technology. The company did not have to secure zoning approval for the plan under a state law passed in 2018 that streamlines development of so-called fifth-generation (5G) wireless service. But some Tuckahoe residents say Verizon and the county have not done enough to inform them about the project.

Several residents said Verizon has seemed reluctant to share information about its plans, which could give the company an edge in becoming the first in the area to offer the next-generation service that would make connecting phones, devices, self-driving vehicles and other machines to the internet much faster.

In the George’s Bluff and River Road Farms neighborhoods, MacGregor Gould said he and his neighbors learned about the project after his wife recently noticed a Verizon contractor placing flags where the towers are expected to go.

“It’s going to lower my property value significantly,” Gould said of one tower that he and his neighbors are expecting will be built close to the front of his house at the intersection of Carterwood Place and Carterwood Road.

Joe Emerson, the head of the county’s planning department, said Henrico initially approved permits for the project at the end of August. A Verizon spokeswoman said the company has started working toward installing several towers.

The county declined to provide a map of the cell tower sites.

Verizon had scheduled a community meeting for this Thursday, but postponed it until later this month so that several Verizon engineers could be on hand at the meeting, according to Tuckahoe Supervisor Pat O’Bannon.

Mary Kulp, who also lives in the neighborhood, said she and her neighbors are now “cautiously optimistic” that they can persuade Verizon to consider different locations for a few of the towers that are in plain view of their homes.

O’Bannon said Verizon committed to holding the public meeting after she forwarded numerous messages from concerned constituents over the past two months. “When people called me, I tried to explain what’s happening. I guess I’m flattered that they think I can stop this or something,” she said.

Weak cellphone service has been a problem in that part of her district for several years, particularly for a few people who worry that calls to 911 could be dropped due to poor reception, O’Bannon said. Both she and Jennifer Britt, a Tuckahoe resident, said people there are divided over Verizon’s plans.

“I think we have to accept that it’s going to happen. We just want them to work with us on trying to maintain the aesthetic of the neighborhood and to conceal them,” Britt said of Verizon.

Verizon had been negotiating with the Avalon Recreation Association to acquire property for the placement of a 200-foot cell tower there to improve service, but failed to reach a deal earlier this year. After negotiations fell through, Verizon came to the county this summer with plans to spread 20 towers less than 50 feet tall throughout the area.

In a statement, the Avalon board of directors said a majority of their members voted against allowing the tower on their property because it “was not in the best interests of Avalon or its membership.”

Verizon spokeswoman Jeanine Brew Braggs said the company’s work has begun.

While the new towers will be installed with 4G equipment, Braggs said Verizon will be able to fit the towers with 5G technology once Verizon is ready to roll it out in the Richmond market.

Even if the private club had made a deal with Verizon, O’Bannon said a few smaller towers would have been needed because 5G wireless service’s high-frequency waves require multiple nodes rather than one large tower to cover an expansive area.

Because of the change in state law last year, the county needed to give only administrative approval for the work as long as the towers are no taller than 50 feet. Emerson, the head of the county’s planning department, said the new law took away some of the oversight it would have if the county could still require a provisional-use permit for these kinds of projects.

“These small-cell requests are not subject to that [provisional-use permit] process, and the applicable state code clearly states the applicant may only ‘voluntarily’ submit conditions to address potential visual and aesthetic effects,” he said. “The county has taken great care to avoid conflicting with the state code.”

The residents of Tuckahoe are not the only community contending with the new telecommunications law.

In July, The Virginian-Pilot reported that community leaders in Virginia Beach are also concerned about the local government losing control over what telecommunications companies can build and install on public property in neighborhoods and along its beachfronts.

Communities around the country are also noticing the changes in federal and state laws and regulations, as national industry leaders and politicians argue that 5G development is becoming increasingly important as China appears ready to catapult ahead of the U.S. in technological advancement with the proliferation of its own 5G networks.

Arthur Scott, associate legislative director and political outreach manager for the National Association of Counties, said local governments around the country want better internet and wireless service in their communities, but worry that the top-down regulatory approach by the federal government and state legislatures could “wreak havoc” on the local decision-making process.

As companies like Verizon look to develop their own 5G networks, Arthur said that there could be a noticeable increase in the development of small cell towers and infrastructure in public places, and that it could upset local residents if they are not given a say in how it’s deployed.

“You’re essentially removing ability of local residents of having any say in what is or isn’t allowed in their community,” he said. “If residents aren’t happy with decisions being made, they can vote out board members. They can’t vote out Comcast or Verizon.”

“Simply usurping local zoning authority is not the right way to go about it.”

Verizon’s community meeting is scheduled for 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 at Derbyshire Baptist Church.


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Business
Architectural firm taking over space at Historic Tredegar used by National Park Service's Civil War Visitor Center

After nearly 20 years, the National Park Service’s Civil War Visitor Center at Historic Tredegar is moving.

Taking over the historic Pattern Building, where the visitor center has been since June 2000, is the Richmond-based 3north architectural firm.

The firm expects to move later this year into the 13,500-square-foot building, located next to the new $25 million American Civil War Museum.

The Civil War Visitor Center will close at 5 p.m. on Oct. 13 for a month while it relocates across the entrance plaza into the museum’s Pavilion Building. The 3,000-square-foot Pavilion Building, which opened about 15 years ago, is attached to the historic Gun Foundry Building that the museum had used before its new space was built.

The visitor center is slated to reopen Nov. 13, the park service announced this week.

“The move to the Pavilion building will allow us to maintain a more sustainable arrangement over the coming years, while continuing to tell the complete story of Civil War to Civil Rights personified here by Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site and our valuable partners at the American Civil War Museum — continuing the dialogue associated with these significant stories, people and places,” said Doyle Sapp, superintendent of Richmond National Battlefield Park and Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site.

The park service said its visitor center is used to introduce and orient visitors to the Tredegar Iron Works story as well as to the 3,700 acres of preserved battlefields across Richmond and in Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield counties.

Christie Ann Bieber, the American Civil War Museum’s interim chief executive officer who is filling in while Christy Coleman is on a three-month sabbatical, said the museum is pleased the visitor center is remaining on the riverfront campus. The museum looks “forward to continuing our important work together for many years to come.”

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Jay Hugo, 3north’s founder and managing principal, said he is excited to move his firm into the historic building. It will be the first time in decades that the building is being used by a commercial business.

“The opportunity to move into the Pattern Building was one we could not pass up,” Hugo said. “Being directly on the river in such a landmark location — near many of our most important projects — is a unique opportunity. We look forward to engaging our clients, business and community partners in the new space as a dynamic hub for creative thinking along the riverfront.”

3north knows the Historic Tredegar complex well. The architecture firm designed the 29,000-square-foot American Civil War Museum, which opened in early May, and the Pavilion Building.

The firm signed a five-year lease for the space with NewMarket Corp., the Richmond-based petroleum additives firm that is the parent company of Afton Chemical Corp. and Ethyl Corp. NewMarket owns the site and has preserved the Tredegar Iron Works property over decades.

The Pattern Building, originally used for storage of cast iron patterns, had been used for the Valentine Riverside museum from May 1994 until the summer of 1995. It closed after the attendance never met expectations.

3north’s current offices are at 201 W. Seventh St. in the former Corrugated Box Co. warehouse building in the Manchester district of South Richmond. The firm has been there since 2005 after renovating that space.

“When we moved to Manchester in 2005, we were looking to be part of a historic neighborhood and contribute, even if in a small way, to its revitalization,” Hugo said. “And while we’ve had a great run at the Corrugated Box building, the timing just felt right for a change.”

Hugo said the firm is working through plans now for its new space.

“We plan to take what we’ve learned about creative office space to the next level, while being respectful of the building, its history and natural character,” he said. “We are also currently thinking through potential partnerships with other creative shops and community groups that would allow us to fill the building with an active and engaging mix of uses.”

The company’s projects include the renovation design work for the Quirk Hotel and the Rice House and the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center. It opened its first office in 1999 at 3 N. Lombardy St. — thus its 3north name.