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Broadband, economic development, recycling and solar energy discussed at Region 4 Meeting

The 2017 round of VACo Regional Meetings kicked off on June 7 in Brunswick County, where more than 40 county officials engaged in a robust dialogue with State Senator Frank Ruff on pressing issues. The main topic centered on the availability of broadband and wireless services, and how that impacts education, economic development and the creation of new jobs. Senator Ruff said, “The biggest complaint I get” is lack of broadband internet service in rural areas, adding that we “have to find a solution.”

Representatives from 10 counties were in attendance, including VACo President Mary Biggs, President-Elect Bill Robertson, and VACo Region 4 Representative and Charlotte County Supervisor Nancy Carwile.

After introductions, Melody Foster, regional planner with the Commonwealth Regional Council, presented the challenges counties in Region 4 encounter when meeting state-mandated targets for recycling rates (Foster’s Presentation). One problem is finding a willing buyer for collected recycled materials. Nancy Carwile noted that “some localities are being paid, some are paying” for recycling services.

Following the presentation, Senator Ruff discussed creating more opportunities for high school students to gain workforce skills and attend college. He encouraged attendees to get involved in the Great Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP). GRASP serves 76 high schools throughout Virginia with both counseling and financial aid “in the development of an education plan after high school.” He added that a key component to creating more opportunities for young kids is access to the internet. He pointed to efforts by the Tobacco Commission, rural electric cooperatives, and the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation to build the necessary infrastructure for both wired and wireless internet access.

VACo staff then gave an update on recent market and regulatory forces leading to a surge in industrial scale solar installations. More than 50 Renewable Energy Permits by Rule (PBR) for solar installations covering hundreds and sometimes thousands of acres in area are seeking approval from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Up next was the Roundtable Discussion as counties shared their issues and concerns. In addition to the issues discussed by the presenters, members shared concerns regarding inadequate funding for K-12 education, lack of access to natural gas, and the need for additional funds for both road maintenance and construction, among other issues. VACo staff will include all these items for discussion by their respective VACo Steering Committees when developing the 2018 legislative program.

VACo will next visit Louisa County and Region 7 on June 22. Then Washington County will host the Regions 12 & 13 Meeting on June 29.

Thank you Brunswick County for hosting the Region 4 Meeting.

VACo Contact: Joe Lerch

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