Category Archives: Infrastructure

Bacon Bits: Hydroponics, Seawalls, and Emotional Support Critters

The future of Virginia agriculture? Shenandoah Growers, an indoor agriculture company, is undertaking a $100 million expansion of its three locations in Virginia over the next year. The facilities not only grow vegetables and spices in greenhouses, they package and ship the produce, reports the Daily News-RecordLocating the greenhouses next door to the packaging facilities speeds the movement of produce from farm to market, preserving freshness. The website of the Rockingham County-based company describes its grand ambitious: “We are leveraging our indoor bioponic growing technology, national customer network, and distribution channels to be the world’s leading consumer brand of affordable, organic fresh produce.” 

Thirty-one billion bucks for seawalls? Protecting Virginia coastal communities from sea-level rise by building sea walls would cost $31.2 billion to build 4,063 miles of hardened infrastructure, according to a study by the Center for Climate Integrity. That price tag is exceeded only by the cost for Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina. Don’t take it too seriously. This is more environmental doom mongering, which the Virginian-Pilot of course accepts uncritically. The calculations are based on the unrealistic assumption that adaptation to rising sea levels takes the form of building sea walls. For example, the study tabulates the cost of building 645 miles of seawall in Accomack County, 299 miles in Gloucester, 231 miles in Mathews, and 218 miles in Northumberland — an economically idiotic approach to dealing with rising tides and flooding in sparsely populated areas. For the seven densely populated cities of Hampton Roads the cost would run $4.6 billion — a large number but doable, if spread over many years.

Tide turning against “emotional support animal” scam. Virginia landlords have long been frustrated by tenants who skirt lease restrictions by faking disability certifications to qualify their pets as emotional support animals. Continue reading

Norfolk to Create Special Service Districts for Flood-Prone Areas

The City of Norfolk has created a new mechanism for citizens to adapt to flooding and eroding coastlines. Neighborhoods now can vote to form “special service districts” that raise property taxes for projects dealing with flood mitigation, dredging, water quality improvement, and coastal protection, reports the Virginian-Pilot.

Property owners can initiate projects by submitting a petition with signatures from 30% of the homeowners in a proposed district. Once the city has estimated the cost of project, the service district and tax must be approved by 75% of the affected property owners and also by owners of at least 50% of the property value. If the neighborhood votes yes, the district still requires City Council approval.

The Pilot cited the low-lying Hague neighborhood on the edge of downtown Norfolk that might use a district to jump-start much-needed stormwater improvements and floodgate construction.

Bacon’s bottom line: The creation of special service districts represents a huge step forward in building resilience into Virginia’s low-lying communities, although it is only one reform among many that must be made. Continue reading

Moral Hazard and Sea Level Rise

Ann Phillips. Photo credit: Free Lance-Star

Why aren’t Virginia localities acting more aggressively to protect themselves from rising sea levels? You don’t have to believe in catastrophic global warming to acknowledge that sea levels are creeping steadily higher worldwide or that subsidence caused by shifting tectonic plates and shrinking aquifers is aggravating flooding in Virginia’s Tidewater.

A big reason for the complacency, says Navy Adm. Ann Phillips, is that people think someone will bail them out. Virginia’s coastal-adaptation czar, appointed by Governor Ralph Northam, drove home the point last month at a College of William & Mary forum. Reports the Free Lance-Star:

“As I talked to people about what options are, in passing, to deal with the future, I have a sense that many homeowners feel that the cities are going to bail them out. And that the cities feel that the states should bail them out, and that the state thinks the federal government should bail them out.”

Continue reading

Staying Within the Debt Capacity

I am following up on an earlier post discussing the capital budget recommendations of the Governor and the Commonwealth’s debt capacity. Jim Bacon’s recent post discussing Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne’s worries about increasing debt also dealt with this general issue.

Guided by Secretary Layne, the Governor’s introduced budget was relatively conservative in its capital provisions and the authorization of $568.4 million in additional tax-supported debt. As predicted in the earlier post, the General Assembly came under a lot of pressure to add to the package and responded accordingly.  The final budget bill, signed by the Governor in early May, authorized the issuance of an additional $1.1 billion in state-supported debt.

The major projects added by the legislature were the replacement of Central State Hospital ($315 million), a top priority of the Governor; “renewal” of Alderman Library at UVa ($132.5 million); and demolition and replacement of Daniel Gym at Virginia State University ($82.9 million). Also included in the introduced and final total packages was $248 million, primarily for Virginia Tech, which was tied to the Amazon deal.  Including the authorizations provided by the 2018 General Assembly, the 2018-2020 Appropriation Act authorized the issuance of an additional $2.1 billion in tax-supported debt. Continue reading

Want More Affordable Housing? Try Free Markets.

More apartments needed… Affordable housing complex approved in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Exclusionary regulation at the local level is the root cause of unaffordable housing, and a rollback of exclusionary regulation is the best long-term solution, argue Salim Furth and Emily Hamilton, research fellows at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

“Contemporary American land use law embodies the bad idea that private land ought to be publicly planned. In practice, these plans routinely exclude low-income families by indirect means, causing income-based segregation,” they write in an attachment to April 2, 2019, testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.

Exclusion is widespread: most jurisdictions, through zoning ordinances, ban apartments and manufactured homes in all but a few locations. Single-family homes are usually allowed, but only in specified areas and often on lots larger than many buyers want. As a consequence, those states that give the most power to planners and the least authority to property owners have abysmal housing growth rates. When wages rise in those states, rents and home prices soar.

Continue reading

Of Trash and Truckers

by Bill Tracy

Trouble, trouble, trouble.  We got trouble in River City.

“River City” in this case denotes certain municipalities in Northern Virginia, Georgia, and Colorado serviced for trash disposal by Manassas-based American Disposal Services (ADS). After years of exemplary service, ADS has seemingly lost the ability to pick up trash on a reliable basis. Fairfax County and Home Owners Associations are scrambling to review options to hold ADS accountable for its contractual obligations. My HOA has a temporary agreement with ADS to reduce trash pick-ups and change to a less demanding pick-up schedule.

ADS insists this is not their problem. Quoting Supervisor John Cook (Fairfax),  American blames a nationwide problem recruiting employees to drive its trucks. On a national level, the National Trucking Association reports, the U.S. was short approximately 48,000 truck drivers in 2015. An estimated 890,000 new hires will be needed over the next decade, with the potential for a shortage of 175,000 drivers in 2024 if the trend continues. Continue reading

Extreme Weather Event, Extreme Weather Event, Go Away…

Now, we’re told, we have a new reason to fear climate change: Record rainfalls are straining the capacity of combined-sewer overflow (CSO) systems in Richmond, Lynchburg and Alexandria. In heavy rains, the antiquated systems, which combine stormwater runoff and wastewater, release untreated wastewater into the river.

“We’re on the frontlines dealing with climate change,” Grace LeRose, program manager for the Richmond public utilities, told The Virginia Mercury. “We’re seeing bigger and more frequent storms that are going to tax our system even more.”

In  May and June the city experienced 23 inches of rain, the highest ever recorded. That year, contends the Virginia Mercury, was indicative of a longer-term trend. There was a 33% increase in the number of heavy rainstorms in Virginia, and an 11% increase from the largest storms between 1948 and 2011.

Of course, you can make statistics say anything you want them to, so I thought I’d do some checking. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Highs and Lows

Digital gold rush. How lucrative are data centers for Loudoun County? The prosperous Northern Virginia county expects to collect $200 million in fiscal 2020 from the property tax on computer equipment, up 35% over 2019, according to the Washington Business Journal. Last week, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors adopted a $3.2 billion operating budget that featured a “significant cut” to the real estate tax rate, an across-the-board pay raise for county employees, and $100 million more for county schools. Data centers are worth roughly $1,000 a year in lower taxes to Loudoun homeowners.

And at the other end of the fiscal spectrum…

Digging out. In the wake of the worst financial crisis suffered by any Virginia locality since the Great Depression, the City of Petersburg is building back its fund balance, The FY 2020 budget of $75.8 million will run a $2.6 million surplus this year and the city is budgeting for $3.6 million next year. The city still has a long way to go before reaching a fund balance of $18 million, healthy enough to fund the General Fund for three months, but it represents a dramatic improvement since FY 2016 when the fund balance collapsed to negative $7.7 million. Tax and utility payments remain high, but at least the city has a functioning government.

And in the “Them That Has Gets” department… Continue reading

Loudoun Data Centers Drive Electricity Demand

Dominion Energy has filed an application to build two new electric substations in Loudoun County to serve a growing population and the boom in data centers…. mostly the data centers.

A typical data center consumes about the same amount of power as 7,500 residential households. There are more than 100 data centers operating in Loudoun now, according to the Washington Business Journal, with many more in the development pipeline. Their power demand is equal to that of about 750,000 homes. Loudoun County expects its population to grow from about 400,000 residents today to nearly 500,000 by 2045.

Dominion’s proposed 230-kilovolt switching stations will have dedicated circuits for future data center customers. Data center demand is forcing a reconfiguration of Virginia’s electric grid. In addition to the substations, Dominion needs to build or upgrade electric transmission lines to Northern Virginia. Needless to say, none of these projects are popular. Everyone likes the tax revenue they generate, but no one wants electric grid infrastructure in their back yard.

Amazon in Northern Virginia: 5 Positives

The road to the Silicon Swamp is paved with gold.

1-The Future. In 2011 Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Software is Eating the World.” The eight years since Andreessen’s essay was published have served to vindicate, validate and verify the accuracy of his thesis. Yet while software eats the world, it doesn’t necessarily dine in the same old restaurants.  Car making used to be centered in Detroit. Now Silicon Valley is the new Detroit. Not only are upstarts like Tesla centered in The Valley but traditional car manufacturers are heading west too. As Andreessen noted, traditional non-technology companies all need to become software companies in order to survive. Metropolitan areas with strong software skills will attract not only technology companies but non-technology companies as well. Embrace software or be eaten by it. The future belongs to those who code.

2-Ecosystem. Silicon Valley isn’t Bentonville, Arkansas. No one company dominates Silicon valley and therein lies its enduring strength. The Valley is an economic growth machine fueled by start-ups, spin-outs, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and oceans of venture capital. The idea that NoVa’s benefits from the Amazon deal start and stop with Amazon is myopic. Talented employees will come to National Landing, work for Amazon, and then leave to start new ventures. The 25,000 Amazon jobs should be seen as a starting point rather than a final outcome. In fact, startups founded by Amazon veterans like Fugue are already operating in the area. Continue reading

Sow the Wind and Reap the Whirlwind

Environmentalists have created a monster. They have engendered a climate of hysteria by hyping risks for everything from global warming to coal ash, water quality to environmental racism. They have mastered the art of throwing every conceivable objection against the wall to see what sticks. They have perfected the strategy of question, question, delay, delay, obstruct, obstruct, sue, sue. Now, in the Spotsylvania County controversy over a solar farm, their tactics are biting them in the hindquarters.

After a nine-hour meeting at which more than 100 people spoke, reports the Virginia Mercury, the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors delayed yesterday a decision on whether a 500-megawatt solar facility will be built in the western part of the county.

A large majority of the hundreds of people packing the Spotsylvania County auditorium opposed the sPower project, which would be the largest east of the Rocky Mountains and would almost double the amount of solar energy Virginia is currently producing. The concerns expressed seem utterly without merit, as far as I can tell. Yet hundreds of Spotsylvania citizens have convinced themselves that the 6,000-acre solar farm with 1.8 million solar panels would pose a hazard to their community. Continue reading

Why Does King William Need a $11 Million Cash Reserve?

King William County cash reserves — how much is too much?

by Bob Shannon

We often listen to Pols cite the “gouging” we poor rubes are being subjected to. Members of Congress & our state legislative bodies –even local Pols get in on the game — tell us that big banks, big insurance companies, big brokerage firms, big pharmaceutical companies, big this or that are gouging us … and, by golly, the Pols are going to do something about it. Absent our Pols’ intervention, we would be bowled over by institutions cheating us at every turn.  

What they don’t talk about is the gouging they do themselves. No better example of this is what we have happening right here in King William County. A theft of epic proportions is taking place right in front of us.

Local governments need a reserve fund for a  time when the economy contracts and the local government needs funds to continue operating. This fund is supposed to be for the purpose of paying the ongoing routine costs of local government.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Scandal, Scandal, Scandal… and Dental Care

The Old Dominion is looking a lot like the Ante-Bellum Dominion. So, how are Virginia’s political scandals playing out nationally? Not very well. Headline from the New York Post: “Virginia is for Losers.” Lead story in the Wall Street Journal: “Virginia Faces Leadership Crisis as Attorney General Apologizes for Using  Blackface.”

The PC police strike again. But there’s no let-up in the racial identity wars. A fraternity and a sorority at the University of Virginia have been criticized for holding parties in which people dressed up wearing Native American attire in one instance and sombreros and maracas in another, according to the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily. The Inter-Fraternity Council issued a statement condemning the attire as “prejudiced and culturally insensitive.” “The IFC condemns these actions and any others that appropriate cultures.” Continue reading

The Art of Streetscaping

Naples, Fla., a city of some 20,000 inhabitants, is one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. Reputedly, the jurisdiction has the second highest proportion of millionaires. Modest lots within walking distance of the beach sell for a couple million dollars, and tear-downs are common. The landscaping in residential neighborhoods is as manicured as the Japanese Imperial Palace. With a formidable tax base to spend upon public works, one would expect the public spaces in a place like this to be attractive — and the bits and pieces of Naples that I have seen in the past 24 hours do not disappoint.

We had occasion to stroll along 5th Avenue — less famous than its New York counterpart, but far friendlier. Indeed, Naples’ 5th Avenue is one of the most inviting streets I have seen anywhere in the United States. It compares favorably even to the great streets of Europe. The local authorities have done everything right. While Virginia communities are unlikely to have as much money to lavish upon brick crosswalks or the year-round sub-tropical climate to support such lush flowering plants, they can learn a lot.

First, look at the bones. 5th Avenue has four lanes, two of which are dedicated to on-street parking. The line of parked cars creates a barrier between moving automobiles and the sidewalk, separating pedestrians from motorists. Not that safety is a huge consideration — the lanes are fairly narrow, so the cars don’t drive very fast. Equally important, the street has a broad sidewalk, creating abundant space for plantings, benches, artwork, and outdoor restaurant seating. Continue reading

Virginia’s If-You-Don’t-Build-It-They-Won’t-Come Economic Development Strategy

Kevin Costner bet the farm in “Field of Dreams.” But “build it and they will come” is not a sound economic development strategy.

The City of Emporia, one of Virginia’s poorest cities, has poured $25 million into the 1,600-acre Mid-Atlantic Advanced Manufacturing Center. To date the industrial park has yet to attract a tenant. Over the past decade, Virginians have sunk more than $100 million into land acquisition and development for industrial “megasites” in the hope of luring major manufacturing investment, reports the Associated Press. So far, the Old Dominion has little to show for it. Continue reading