Concerns and questions from residents prompted the Patrick County Board of Supervisors to request updates on the project to reopen the local hospital and efforts to expand broadband.
Jeanette Filpi, Foresight Hospital and Health System’s Director of Development read a statement from the company during the Jan. 23 meeting.
In part, she stated, “you should know that Foresight’s Patrick County team has been meeting regularly on this important project which continues to be one of Foresight Health’s top priorities. This has never changed during our ownership tenure.”
Filpi said Foresight remains committed to the project, and like many, hopes to see the hospital become operational sooner rather than later.
“I’m sure every time a Patrick County resident drives by the hospital campus, they look hopefully up the hill to see if any progress has been made,” Filpi said. “We are sure that it is frustrating that from the street at least, not a lot of progress can be seen.”
“There are many components of hospital development that are not viewable such as decisions regarding the programs to be offered, reviewing local
salary levels, and developing policies and procedures for both the hospital at large and the mental health unit. We have made substantial progress in all these areas,” she said.
For instance, she said the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) license for the hospital’s 10-bed mental health unit was approved by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and has been sent for final approval.
In the interest of full transparency, Filpi said Foresight has encountered issues with internal renovations, supply chains, and finding key personnel to move the renovation efforts forward.
“We are working to resolve the issues within our control,” she said. “We admit that we underestimated what would be required to get the hospital ready, which has caused consistent delays. We are disappointed and understand that you are disappointed as well. Please stand with us as we continue to resolve these issues.”
Sean Adkins, the county’s economic director, discussed the broadband project.
“To be kind of frank, it’s the same update that it was in October,” Adkins said. “I told kind of everybody that even in the moment we got the grant and now we entered the regulatory period. Now, it’s going through the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to be approved.”
Adkins said the project is on schedule to break ground in September.
He noted former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration said there would be universal broadband access by the end of 2024, “and that includes our project.”
While he understands the frustration, Adkins said the regulatory portion of the project is the most boring and infuriating.
“I guess the only hiccup would be right now, they have to appoint two new judges in that process, but we’ve talked about them and sent letters and talked to our elected officials to make sure everybody’s on the same page,” he said.
Representatives from Riverstreet Networks and Charter Spectrum will attend future meetings to discuss the status of the project, Adkins said, adding that Charter may attend the next meeting. He said he anticipates Riverstreet will attend meetings later in the spring.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard concerns from Kurt Bozenmayer about his difficulties to obtain information on county government activities.
“I have spoken to the Board of Supervisors in the past about lack of communication with the public, especially about meeting dates and the status of broadband implementation,” he said.
Bozenmayer said he was pleased to see Adkins was scheduled on the agenda to present updates on broadband and the hospital.
“I visited the county website to seek information about when the Broadband Committee meets. There is information on meetings of the Recreation Committee and the Planning Commission, but I could not find one mention of the Broadband Committee or when it is scheduled to meet. Does the broadband committee still exist,” he asked.
Before the meeting, Bozenmayer said he found the Broadband Committee has a Facebook page. The most recent post was in January 2020.
“I wanted to see if there was any mention of the Broadband Committee or activities in the minutes of the EDA (Economic Development Authority), and guess what – the EDA minutes have not been posted since February 2022,” Bozenmayer said. “Given the high level of interest expressed by much of the public regarding broadband, the hospital, and the EDA, I find it somewhat frustrating that there is so little information available on the county website.”
According to County Administrator Geri Hazelwood, “It is the department head’s responsibility to update the EDA meeting minutes on the county website.”
*Heard from Malcolm Roach about potential solar farms.
“I called some friends of mine up in Pittsylvania who sat on a board, and they had a similar problem. Instead of writing rules and regulations which left the door open for companies to come and meet those rules and regulations and then there’s no way to stop them from having a solar farm, they just banned solar farms from their county,” he said.
Roach asked the board to consider similar action and noted the U.S. 58 expansion project has ruined the county’s beauty.
“That’s what we’re going to have across Patrick County if you allow hundreds and hundreds of acres to be sucked up by solar farms. I don’t think that amount of revenue is worth it,” he said.
*Denise Stirewalt, of the Peter’s Creek District, read an email sent by John Rudolph who encouraged the board to think hard about solar farms.
“I believe the solar industry is not all that they claim. Destruction of the land, an eyesore, effect on wildlife, leaving waste that is hard to dispose of after their useful life, not reliable due to weather, and more,” she read.
In his letter, Rudolph warned the board to keep in mind that companies want to make money and will paint a “rosy picture” of the project. “Other counties in Virginia have not allowed this type of project and if half of what was reported in the paper by proponents is true, this should be an easy choice. I don’t think any of you would want this in your backyard near your water supply,” Stirewalt read.
Rudolph stated in the letter that he believes any monetary gains to the county would not be worth it in the long run.
Stirewalt said the county has received no applications for solar farms.
“The ordinance was put in place because we understood that a utility company purchased a large tract of land from a local landowner. That’s when solar farms started coming into the conversation and rumors,” she said.
Because the county did not have an ordinance in place, Stirewalt said the county had to put something in place quickly in case it did receive an application.
“In the ordinance, you notice the Board of Supervisors has the final say on whether a solar farm is approved,” she said, adding a proposed project is first considered by the Planning Commission.
Stirewalt said the revenue sharing portion was an amendment added to the ordinance in the event an application ever came before the board, “and we would have some funds coming in as a result.”
Roach asked if the board could legally deny a proposal if it met all of the county’s requirements.
County Attorney Mark Popovich said he was unable to answer the question without the circumstances of a hypothetical situation.
“If they meet everything you’re requesting, it’s kind of hard for you to say no because I don’t want you,” Roach said.
Stirewalt said all the hypotheticals and discussions of solar farms are new and stressed that she “will never vote” for a solar farm.
Doug Perry, of the Dan River District, said 12 counties have approached Patrick about using the ordinance as the basis for their own.
Roach said he’s concerned the board won’t be able to legally fight a solar company if the county is taken to court for saying no when a company meets all the requirements to create a solar farm in the county.
“That’s why I’m concerned about the language being written as airtight as possible,” he said.
Stirewalt asked Popovich what would happen if the county banned solar farms from the county and one decided to come in anyway. “Would what we decided stand legally,” she asked.
Given the push from the state to promote solar farms and clean energy facilities, Popovich said there may be pushback from the state.
“My concern would be even if the county were able to ‘ban’ it right now, the state could swoop in and suddenly overrule any rule we have. They’ve done that before with” others, he said.
*Heard the County Administrator’s report.
*Heard the Supervisors’ reports.
*Appointed Ronald Lester to serve as the Smith River’s representative on the Department of Social Services (DSS) Committee.
*Awarded the contract for waste disposal services to Republic Services for three years.
*Allow $10,000 to be spent for a study of the landfill and all associated duties.