Supervisors: More Study Needed on Route Options for Railroad

May 3, 2016

Source: Jim Ridolphi | Mechanicsville Local - Hanover Local - RTD Suburban News

HANOVER — Just the mention of high-speed rail draws a crowd here, and that was certainly the case as a number of residents packed last week’s meeting of the Hanover County Board of Supervisors.

The board considered a resolution regarding the proposed high-speed rail between Richmond and Washington, D.C., a proposal that has drawn criticism from a number of county residents.

Early this year, county administrator Cecil R. “Rhu” Harris Jr. presented a letter to the Virginia Department of Rail, stating the county’s support for the western route option regarding a proposed high-speed rail route.

Other options included installing a third rail in Ashland or doing nothing at all.

Apparently, that letter has been a point of contention since its issuance and the resolution was an attempt to clarify the board’s position. At least, that’s how Henry District supervisor Sean Davis sees it.

Davis said the letter was issued without his, or most of his colleague’s knowledge or approval.

“The board was not made aware that Rhu had sent this letter out,” Davis said. “Once we heard about it, I said this was not accurate.”

The recently approved resolution, in his mind, was a better reflection of the board’s position.

“Rather than seeing this as a reversal in position, I see it more as the board taking action to correct something that was inaccurate,” Davis said. “More than revising its position, the board has made public its accurate position. The original position stated in the letter was not a position supported by this board.”

Harris and then-board chair Wayne Hazzard, South Anna District, attended liaison meetings in Ashland regarding the project and the alternatives prior to issuing the letter, according to Davis.

When board chair Aubrey “Bucky” Stanley, Beaverdam District, first learned of the project, he vowed to conduct further studies and to protect western Hanover landowners as talk of the new rail line surfaced.

In April, Stanley and Ashland representative Faye O. Prichard held an informational meeting at Patrick Henry High School attended by more than 600 people.

Last week, the chair recommended approval of a resolution that withdraws the county’s support for the western route and suggests further study on the project.

“We rescinded the county administrator’s letter of Jan. 7. That is a big part of it,” Stanley said.

The chair said the original resolution cited new information gleaned at the public meeting that offered a fourth solution that entailed making improvements to the current tracks in Ashland.

Stanley said he removed referrals to that option because of unknowns surrounding those improvements.

“I guess we really don’t know what that means,” Stanley said. “I know what it means to me, but it may not mean the same thing to the folks doing the survey.”

A packed house of citizens listened as supervisors discussed the options and noted this resolution is the first step in a long process regarding high-speed rail.

One Ashland resident who opposes the third rail option said the project could have a huge impact on the town.

“Ashland has been an attractive place for people to come,” said Mike Booth. “We live on the tracks because we like it and our properties produce revenue. You put a high-speed track out there and revenue is going to drop. Maybe Hanover County doesn’t realize that . . . and maybe they don’t care,” Booth added.

He favors another alternative route that locates the line east of Interstate 95.

Prichard voiced her concerns. “What troubles me about the current options from DRPT is that we don’t really know what any of them mean,” she said. “I’d like to see some concrete answers before we take any position. It’s important for me that we not vote for something that we don’t understand.”

Prichard said an issue that has divided portions of the county should be a rallying point for both sides.

“In this process, the folks in Ashland and the western part of the county need to present a united front and take care of the county, take care of each other, and make sure that whatever option we adopt is best for us all as a whole.”

The resolution passed unanimously and concluded, “. . . the Hanover County Board of Supervisors after consideration of the proposed alternatives rescinds the County Administrator’s January 7, 2016, letter and seeks to partner with the residents of Hanover County and the Town of Ashland to identify the best alternative for our community to provide safe and efficient freight and passenger rail service.”