Category Archives: Property rights

Behind Dominion’s Shift to Renewables

Image credit: Style Weekly

By Peter Galuszka

Ever wonder why Dominion Energy found religion and announced a major shift to renewable energy?

The answer is that modern, high technology businesses want it and the Richmond-based utility wants to respond to their desires.

This one of the themes in this recent cover story I did for Style Weekly that explores how Dominion’s major shift in direction is part of several dynamics that are pushing solar wind and other renewables instead of keeping on with fossil fuel.

Here’s the reporting in a nutshell:

  • Virginia’s economy is being driven more by data centers, giant box-like warehouses loaded with servers that can handle tremendous amounts of data. Northern Virginia, the incubator of the Internet, already handles about 70% to 80% of the global Net traffic and has a mature and still growing network of data centers.
  • The Northern Virginia experience is shifting downstate. Henrico County now has a partially construction data center run by social media giant Facebook. Centers have been announced or are being planned in Southside and Southwest Virginia.

Continue reading

Elmer Gantry In Lynchburg

Jerry Falwell, Jr., and wife Becki

By Peter Galuszka

The resignation of Jerry Falwell Jr. amid a series of scandals may have a strong impact in Virginia where his late father built an extraordinary, ultra-conservative evangelical university in Lynchburg that later became highly politicized lightning rod supporting President Donald Trump.

Falwell has been caught up in a number of controversies including limiting speech on campus, going after The New York Times for trespassing when it reported he insisted that student ignore wearing anti-viral pandemic masks and so on.

What happened with Falwell Jr is as  an American story as apple pie topped with a Cross. It might have some straight out of the pages of Elmer Gantry.

After touting strict school policies that forbid students from drinking alcohol, watching “R”-rated movies or engaging in pre-marital sex, Falwell was pictured aboard a NASCAR mogul’s yacht half dressed with a semi-clad, pregnant woman who was said to be his wife Becki’s assistant. Falwell was holding a wine glass with a liquid in it but Falwell said it wasn’t wine.

Shortly afterwards, he gave an interview to the right-leaning Washington Examiner stating that his wife had been involved with a multi-year sexual affair with Giancarlo Granda, a former Miami Beach pool boy whom Falwell funded to set up a hostel business. Continue reading

What Needs To Be Done After the ACP

By Peter Galuszka

For six long years, Dominion Energy and its partners in the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline have waged war against Virginians as they have pushed their way forward with the 600-mile-long natural gas project.

Their strong-armed methods have created untold misery and expense  for land-owners, members of lower income minority communities, nature lovers, bird watchers, fishermen, and many others.

When some declined to let the ACP to trespass on their property for survey work, they ended up in lengthy and expensive lawsuits. Others spent hundreds of hours on their own time and dime fighting Virginia regulatory agencies who all but seemed to be in the pocket of the ACP.

And so it goes. For what? So Dominion and its partners could make billions of dollars, some of it paid for by electricity ratepayers, for a project whose public need was always in doubt. On July 5, the ACP threw in the towel.

I put together this commentary in The Washington Post suggesting what might be done to prevent this from happening again: Continue reading

What It Is, Is Not Journalism

Photo credit: Bob Brown, Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I never thought that I would agree with Jim Bacon on the slant of the RTD’s news coverage, but an article on evictions today just really irritated me.

It was the usual article about activists demonstrating at the Richmond courthouse and protesting evictions. (At least the demonstration on Thursday was peaceful; no smashed windows, no pepper spray, no arrests.)  The article was a cut and paste job, recounting the familiar history of the how many evictions are pending and how a moratorium on evictions has been lifted. It concluded with several quotes from college-age demonstrators talking about the corrupt capitalist society. (I had another flashback to the 1960s). Continue reading

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

By Peter Galuszka

Back in the winter of 2015, Craig Vanderhoef, a former Navy captain, got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox at his retirement home near Afton in Nelson County. A letter from Dominion Resources noted that it wanted to survey his land for a new 600-mile-long natural gas pipeline.

On two occasions, he wrote the utility telling them no. Then he got another surprise. A sheriff’s deputy knocked on his door to serve him with papers notifying him that Dominion was suing him to get access to his property.

In short order, about 240 Virginia landowners were on notice that they too might be sued for Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The county sheriff was notified that he, too, was being sued, although it was an error.

Thus, the stage was set for one of the nastiest environmental and property rights battles in Old Dominion history.

It centered around the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would run from Harrison County, W.Va. across the rugged Appalachians, down through some of the most peacefully bucolic land in the Virginia., to Union Hill, a mostly African-American community in Buckingham county and on into North Carolina, running through the Tar Heel state’s mostly African-American concentration along its northeastern border with Virginia. Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. Continue reading

Who Pays The Unpaid Bills? Watch Out.

By Steve Haner

This was published this morning in The Roanoke Times and then distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

There may be a second wave of COVID-19 disease coming, but the secondary effects of various pandemic economic decisions may hit us sooner. Rent and utility bills customers can delay paying because of the crisis will eventually come due.But for whom?

The Legal Aid Justice Center looked at U.S. Census survey data that indicated many Virginians have fallen behind on their rent and did not expect to pay their next bill. It predicted an “eviction catastrophe” as eviction and foreclosure bans end, and lenders and landlords rush into newly reopened courts for judgments.

“The Governor should use emergency powers to immediately enact a moratorium on evictions or should allow localities to enact their own until the General Assembly can address tenants’ mounting debt. The General Assembly should create relief for tenants who are significantly behind in rent payments through a waiver or rent cancellation plan,” the advocacy group asserted.

Governor Ralph Northam took up the call, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hold off eviction proceedings a few more weeks, until June 28.   Continue reading

An Enormous Bill is Coming Due in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

We had a long discussion in this space earlier about whether the Virginia Supreme Court Order of March 16, 2020, that suspended writs of eviction and residential unlawful detainers was constitutional.

The June 8 extension of the original order was especially troubling because by that order the courts were open for business to all plaintiffs except residential landlords.

Regardless of individual views of constitutionality, that order constituted unmistakably a taking of private property.

For purposes of this discussion assume:

  1. the taking of the property of the landlords in order to stem the effects of COVID was for public purposes and thus constituted a taking for public use; and
  2. the method of the taking was not impeded by any barrier of constitution or law.

Under Article I Bill of Rights, Section 11 of the Constitution of Virginia Due process of law; obligation of contracts; taking or damaging of private property; reads in part: Continue reading

The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

By Peter Galuszka

The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.

The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.

Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”

The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Continue reading

Gunning Up Virginia’s Cops

By Peter Galuszka

 In 2014, the Sheriff’s Department of York County and Poquoson got their very own tank-like vehicle, called a “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP).”

Fully armored and tan in color with steep sides, it looks like something out television footage of the war in Iraq where U.S. troops needed to get through mine-infested streets and terrain safely.

But why do such generally sleepy communities such as these need a high-powered armored car? Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Digs told The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press that it isn’t meant to “intimidate people” but can be useful during adverse weather when trees are down. Really? Wouldn’t a pickup truck work?

The newspaper story is important since it combs through what Virginia law enforcement got after the “1033”Defense Department program started to sell surplus military gear to local law enforcement in 1997.

It notes that military surplus sales in Virginia went from $216,000 in 1999 to $853,824 in 2019, according to Defense Logistics Agency statistics. The latter number included the cost of another MRAP so Virginia Beach could get its very own armored truck. Over time, the City of Portsmouth got 87 M-16 assault rifles. Other goodies include night vision glasses. Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notes from the Right Wing Echo Chamber

By Peter Galuszka

On Wednesday, I was standing next to the Capitol grounds in Richmond watching brightly decorated cars and pickups drive on 9th Street, their horns blaring.

I was attending the drive by protest rally on assignment for Style Weekly and happened to speak to Jason Roberge, a Spotsylvania County resident who is one of several Republicans hoping to oust U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former covert CIA officer who represents the 7th Congressional district.

Roberge was there to protest what he says is Gov. Ralph Northam’s “terrible job” in temporarily shutting down businesses to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus. The rally was part of a series of protests across the country that are being set up on cue from right-wing activists.

Roberge told me: ”I hear he’s (Northam’s) down on North Carolina beach while this is going on.” As he spoke the House of Delegates was holding a special session under an outdoor tent nearby while the Senate presided at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Northam at the beach? It turns out that the conservative echo chamber has been peddling a story, firmly denied by Northam’s office, that he was at his house in Manteo, N.C. not far from the beaches at Nags Head during the special General Assembly session. Continue reading

Dare County, N.C., closes its borders

By DJ Rippert

From Outer Banks to Outer Mongolia. Dare County, N.C. issued orders last week closing its borders to non-residents. Dare is a coastal county just south of Currituck County, N.C., which borders Virginia. Many Virginians know Dare County from Outer Banks vacations in towns such as Duck or fishing trips launched from Manteo. Checkpoints into and out of Dare County are apparently now manned by law enforcement officers who will check IDs to ensure that travelers are residents of Dare County or have pre-authorized transit permits issued by Dare County. As of last week there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dare County, and it seems county officials want to keep it that way.

Is it legal? Some are questioning whether officials in Dare County can legally enforce a prohibition against non-residents entering the county. Apparently they can. North Carolina law, specifically N.C. General Statute 166A-19.31, allows local officials to control access and ingress to their jurisdiction during times of emergency. Given the Coronavirus outbreak, local officials in Dare County have decided to invoke that law.

We want your taxes but not you. Dare County has many vacation homes owned by non-Dare County residents. These homes are typically expensive and generate a material amount of tax revenue for the county. Originally, non-resident owners of these homes were allowed entry into the county by showing their tax receipts for the property along with valid ID. Yesterday that changed. Dare County is now excluding non-resident property owners from entering the county.

Commentary. I was originally predisposed to giving Dare County officials the benefit of the doubt regarding the border closure. For one thing all those expensive and unoccupied beach homes could be targets for burglars taking advantage of the Coronavirus outbreak. However, my perception changed when those same officials decided to bar entry for non-resident property owners. These are people who have invested in the county, who pay taxes to the county and who should have every right to go to their properties. I have no idea if Virginia law would permit the same type of buffoonery from our local officials. Let’s hope not  However, even if such actions are allowed, I hope no Virginia jurisdiction would follow the selfish, arrogant and small minded actions of the officials in Dare County, N.C.

More Mobile Homes, Please

Smitty’s Mobile Home Park in Norfolk

by James A. Bacon

The good news is that the poverty lobby has recognized that mobile home parks provide a valuable source of affordable housing in Virginia. The bad news is that… the poverty lobby wants to help.

There are about 600 mobile home parks in Virginia. The average sales price for a single-width mobile home is about $53,000 (not including lots), a fraction of the $280,000 median price for a single-family house. These parks provide affordable housing for tens of thousands of Virginians — more than 11,400 in Central Virginia alone.

One way to approach mobile homes in Virginia is to say, “Fantastic! A source of affordable housing. How can we open up more land for development of mobile home parks? How can we increase the supply and give poor people more options for where to live and whom to rent or buy land from?”

Another way to approach mobile homes is to look at the negatives. It turns out that many are in disrepair. Figure that — homes owned by poor people are in disrepair. Not only that, Christie Marra, director of housing advocacy at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, tells Virginia Public Media (VPM), many trailer parks have less than desirable surroundings. “They didn’t have street lights, they didn’t have paved roads, they didn’t have up-to-date electricity or sewer systems.” Continue reading