Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Irons in the Fire: Petersburg Shouldn't Stick Taxpayers With This Sand Trap


Feb 27, 2007

Petersburg has got more problems than Reese's has pieces. The school system, for instance, is in such bad shape -- only one of the city's nine schools has full accreditation; the system spends less on teaching and more on administration than most of its peers -- that Virginia's Superintendent of Public Instruction recently sent an emissary to run things for a while.

Nearly half the residents of Petersburg rent their dwellings. The city has one of the lowest life expectancies in the state, and one of the highest illiteracy rates. Crime is rampant. Taxes are among the highest in the state. People have been fleeing for years.

But fear not -- the City Council has a plan.

It's going to open a golf course.

Last week the council voted 5-1 in favor of a proposal to borrow almost $4 million to reopen the Lee Park Golf Course, which has been shut since 2003. Talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

To make matters worse, City Manager David Canada says the golf course would lose money for the first few years, requiring infusions of cash from the city's general fund.

Golf. An idea this crazy makes Charles Manson look almost as judicious as Charles Schwab.

MUNICIPAL golf courses are dubious affairs in the best of circumstances. If there is sufficient demand for golf to support a course, then the operation of it ought to be left to private enterprise, or to private clubs. Taxpayers shouldn't subsidize what private parties can pay for. And if there is not sufficient demand to support a course, then the taxpayers definitely should not subsidize one.

This has nothing to do with golf per se, which is no doubt a fine game. The same principle would apply to a public pistol range or a public bowling alley or a public swimming pool. Government doesn't ex- ist to provide recreation; that is not its purpose.

Nor is this meant to deny there are any arguments for having a golf course in Petersburg. There are a few. The high school and Virginia State University would benefit from a golf course. So would some of the 200 kids who allegedly showed some interest in golf by showing up for some lessons at the Lee Park softball field last year. But for $4 million, Petersburg could give each one of those kids a full set of clubs, lessons, and two tickets to the Masters at Augusta National -- and still come out ahead. (What's more, there would be no general-fund obligation in future years.)

There are arguments for rearranging deck chairs, too: They look better when grouped by color and placed in parallel rows, passengers can reach unoccupied chairs easier when they're placed two-by-two, etc. Still -- is that the most urgent issue aboard?

This isn't a question of any complexity, like what to do about Iraq or how to solve the nation's long-term health-care crisis. As Petersburg resident and former White House aide Linas Kojelis noted, news about the cost of reconstructing the golf course preceded by one day the headline in The Progress-Index, "Little Progress Seen in Scores: Finding, and Keeping, Qualified Teachers Is a Major Problem." As Kojelis also observed in a statement prepared a few weeks ago: "My golfing friends say that municipal courses are proverbial 'cash cows.' If this is so, why haven't private firms been clamoring to own or operate this course? Why couldn't the city issue a [Request for Proposals], inviting qualified private firms to buy and manage this course?"

FOUR MILLION bucks would pay for a lot of teachers and classroom computers. Or a lot of firemen. Petersburg could stand to raise its pay for firemen, who start out at $27,362 a year -- less than in surrounding localities (and less than they deserve). Or cops. Or building inspectors.

Would a golf course be nice? Sure. But spending that much city money on one also would be absurd, irresponsible, and stupid. As Petersburg resident Jeffrey Fleming told the city council: "I've always wanted a Corvette. I can afford one right now, but if I bought one, other things would suffer, like rent and utilities."

Just so. City leaders shouldn't stick the voters with this frivolous sand trap.

Ward Four meeting

The Ward Four meeting will be on March 22, from 6:30 until 8:30 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel.

Agenda to follow.

~Mady and the HPLA Board

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Recreation VS. Infrastructure


MARCH 6, 2007 7:30PM Union Train Station BE THERE

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reconstructing golf course will cost $4 million


PETERSBURG — Duffers may not be able to hit the links at Lee Park Golf Course quite yet, but if they want to ensure that it does open they may want to practice a short speech.

Council will hold a public hearing two weeks from now to hear about an appropriation of $4 million to reconstruct the golf course.

The golf course has been closed since 2003. Previously, the course was 6,037 yards; the newly redesigned course will be 663 yards longer.

Click Here!
Assistant City Manager Eric Campbell said that the redesign makes the 18-hole course completely new. He added that the course will be completely irrigated once it is constructed.

“The old course didn’t have irrigation which really may have helped in its deterioration,” Campbell said.

Other features Campbell mentioned during the meeting include a fee structure of between $20 and $30 with specials and discount rates for Petersburg residents.

“This will also provide another positive activity for the youth of the city,” Campbell said.

During the meeting’s public information period portion, 11-year-old Ian Christian asked council for more activities for children his age.

“We need more things to keep young people like me off the streets,” Christian said. Specifically, Ian asked for a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, skating rink and movie theater.

Linwood Christian, Ian’s father and a frequent speaker at public meetings, said that his son had decided to address council on Sunday.

“We were coming back from New York and he said that he thought he would speak to council because he doesn’t think there’s very much for children his age to do in Petersburg,” Christian said.

Christian and Ian left before Campbell could describe some of the aspects of the course that might draw children Ian’s age, including a U.S. Golf Association programs and possibly the popular and well known First Tee program. According to its Web site, First Tee works to impact the lives of young people through educational programs that promote character development and life enhancing values through the game of golf.

Campbell added that the golf course, which is owned by the city, will eventually operate as an enterprise fund and be self sustaining, but that for the first few years it will need to have some funding from the general fund.

Jeff Fleishman, president of Golf Business Advisors, said that in July 2006 when the city held a work session on the development of the golf course he had estimated that it might take $2.9 million to $3.9 million to develop the course.

“Since that time we went out to bid and arrived at a plan that puts the course reconstruction at $2.8 million,” Fleishman said.

But he added that there would be a significant number of other items and associated costs before the first golfer could tee off.

City Assistant Director of Public Works Ron Reekes said some of those 44 items include tee boxes, a golf cart contract, ball washers and paving of the parking lot area.

The total estimated cost to open the course for use to the public is $4 million.

Several residents spoke at the meeting regarding the prospects of opening the course again.

Linus Kojelis said that while golf courses are a hallmark of successful cities, he isn’t convinced the city should spend the money on the golf course.

“My understanding is that municipal golf courses are cash cows,” Kojelis said.

Downtown business owner Patricia Dillard said that while golf isn’t her cup of tea, she believes that with Fort Lee having a golf course, there wouldn’t be a need for the Lee Park Golf Course.

“We also have a harbor that needs to be developed that could draw people to the downtown,” Dillard said.

Others, however, said they were excited by the prospect of the reopening of the course.

“This is one thing that can’t be put downtown,” Charles Dubois said. “But it will improve the quality of life.”

John Hart said that he was starting to get excited about the idea of going for a round of golf at Lee Park.

“I’m ready to buy a membership,” Hart said.

Council will hold a public hearing during its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at Union Station to receive further public comment on the appropriation of $4 million for the construction of the golf course.

• F.M. Wiggins may be reached at 732-3456, ext. 254 or

Archaeologist, historians present Pocahontas Island’s hidden treasures


PETERSBURG — With Pocahontas Island visible through several tall windows, a presentation on the island was given Saturday morning.

In the Western Room of Union Station, two historians and an archaeologist presented some of the information and artifacts that helped grant Pocahontas Island a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historians Ashley Neville and John Salmon found and recorded much history about the island.

Pocahontas Island, which originally was connected to Chesterfield County by swampy ground, was planned in a grid format in the 1750s that was retained to this day.

Over the course of about 70 years, the island grew in population slowly but became filled with high-density homes. The island also became home of the highest concentration of freed blacks in the South.

Many of the historic buildings on Pocahontas Island were destroyed after a tornado hit in August 1993 but two antebellum homes remain.

The Jarratt House, on Logan Street, is the only brick home on the island to survive the Civil War. Artifacts and documents date the house to about the 1820s.

Not far away from the Jarratt House is a home on Witten Street that is traditionally known as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Although there was no written history of this building being a stop, for practical reasons, it seems likely due to the island being a hub of transportation and commerce.

Before the Civil War, Pocahontas was the terminus of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad and shipping traffic also ended in the area, as the area is the farthest point a ship could travel up the Appomattox River.

Dr. Matthew Laird of the James River Institute for Archaeology presented a sample of over 30,000 artifacts found on the island during a series of test digs from December 2005 to April 2006.

For the last 6,000 to 8,000 years humans occupied the region at least on a temporary basis.

The artifacts will be housed in the Virginia State Preservation Office in Richmond.

This project was funded by grants from the Cameron Foundation and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

(Posted by Mady)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Not just in Petersburg

Gaping Reminders of Aging and Crumbling Pipes
from The New York Times

A sinkhole caused by a broken water main in Brooklyn last year swallowed an S.U.V. Nationally, such incidents have become more frequent.
Published: February 8, 2007

PORTLAND, Ore. — After a sinkhole swallowed a sewer-repair truck here on the day after Christmas, the truck’s crew crawled to safety, muddy and mystified.

Last summer in Irving, Tex., a 2-year-old boy disappeared near a sinkhole. One theory was that he was kidnapped. Another was that he was lost in the sewer system that had broken open and caused the collapse.

In December, firefighters in Brooklyn rescued a grandmother carrying groceries who fell into a hole that opened beneath her on a sidewalk. And in Hershey, Pa., a damaged storm drain caused a six-foot-deep sinkhole in Chocolate Town Park, nearly sinking the town’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

Local and state officials across the country say thousands of miles of century-old underground water and sewer lines are springing leaks, eroding and — in extreme cases — causing the ground above them to collapse. Though there is no master tally of sinkholes, there is consensus among civil engineers and water experts that things are getting worse.

The Environmental Protection Agency has projected that unless cities invest more to repair and replace their water and sewer systems, nearly half of the water system pipes in the United States will be in poor, very poor or “life elapsed” status by 2020.

“I’m not exaggerating,” said Stephen P. Allbee, a project director in the agency’s water division who helped make the projections. “It’s a really, really big public issue, and it’s going to be with us for a long time.”

Local geology or underground hazards are blamed for many sinkholes: weak limestone in Florida, old mineshafts in Pennsylvania. But increasingly, the authorities say, as America’s cities grow older and basic repairs are put off, when the ground gives way the problem is bad pipes.

In its 2005 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” the American Society of Civil Engineers gave water and wastewater infrastructure across the country a D-minus and suggested it would take an investment of $390 billion to bring wastewater infrastructure alone up to par.

Estimates vary on what the costs could be, but nervous water utilities and environmental groups have been campaigning to educate the public and local elected officials to get more money for repairs. But they face an uphill battle, persuading people to pay higher water and sewer rates, and politicians to approve those rates instead of building new schools, parks, libraries and roads.

“You can’t easily go to a ribbon-cutting or have your picture taken in front of a new sewer line,” said Dean Marriott, director of the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, which oversees sewer maintenance in the city. “Everyone simply counts on them working. Most people don’t know how they work or even where the system is.”

Still, Mr. Allbee, the E.P.A. official, said age and neglect could prove as fatal to a system as a catastrophic natural event or a terrorist attack.

“You can lose that system all at once because of terrorism,” Mr. Allbee said, “but you can lose it over time by just not taking care of it.”

The American Water Works Association, whose members include more than 4,700 utilities, has begun an advertising campaign “to raise this conversation about buried water infrastructure above ground,” said Greg Kail, a spokesman for the association.

One advertisement, placed in spots from bus shelters in Miami to newspapers in Anchorage, features a picture of a faucet with the words, “Do you know how often you turn me on?” Another ad in the works will focus directly on problems with water mains, and include the phrase, “Don’t let me break down in front of you.”

“The concept is to personify the infrastructure,” Mr. Kail said. “We’re not trying to scare people. We’re trying to make them aware that this is a real concern that deserves our attention to keep it from being a crisis in the future.”

The bulk of the water and sewer lines beneath American streets were installed in three phases: at the end of the 19th century, in the 1920s, and just after World War II, echoing periods of population growth in cities and expansion into suburbs.

A burst of environmentalism in the 1970s, including passage of the Clean Water Act, led to improvements in water and sewage treatment facilities and increased federal scrutiny of the water supply. But the condition of underground water and sewage pipes, many of which were built to last only 50 to 75 years, has not always received the same attention. At the same time, demand has increased.

“The pipes age, and the population increases,” said James W. Rush, editor of Underground Infrastructure Management, a trade magazine for public utility administrators. “Those are the two factors that are always at work.”

Portland has had a boom in downtown development, adding demand to its water and sewer systems.

The city is in the 16th year of a 20-year, $1.4 billion, federally mandated project to reduce sewage overflows into the Willamette River from about 100 days a year to 4 days or less. Signs in the city promote two enormous sewer and storm water lines being dug as part of the project, one on the west bank of the Willamette that is 14 feet in diameter and another on the east side that is 22 feet in diameter.

“I’ve walked them,” said Mr. Marriott, the Portland official. “You could roll a marble from one length to the next — beautiful, beautiful work. What goes in them is stuff that used to go in the river.”

Overflows are a problem in many cities, and fixing them is not cheap; Portland has some of the highest water and sewer rates in the country. Mr. Marriott said the average residential sewer bill in Portland has risen to about $45 a month from about $14 in the early 1990s, when the city began the mandated improvements.

Once the project is completed, he said, rates will probably stay high so that the city can fix other problems, like the sewer pipe decay that officials believe most likely helped cause the sinkhole in December, the one that swallowed the sewer truck.

Mack McEachern was there on that chilly morning. First the water in his apartment on Southeast Oak Street stopped running. Then the boiler in the basement began to fade. Water-utility workers came to check an exterior main. The city inspected a clogged sewer line. Something was wrong with the system, but what?

Mr. McEachern recalled how he stood outside and watched the big sewer truck start to pull away, supposedly without having pinpointed the problem.

Then, he said, “The ground shook.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Concert series returns to Petersburg Sycamore Rouge to host performances

From the Progress-Index

PETERSBURG — A five-piece tango band, a Celtic bluegrass quartet and a swinging jazz vocalist are among the acts that will help revive a local concert series that has been on hiatus for a few years.

“We didn’t ever disband,” said Ron Moring, president of the Southside Virginia Community Concert Association. “We have just regrouped and reformed to accommodate our new environment.”

The SVCCA has partnered with the Southside Virginia Council of the Arts, the Petersburg Jamestown 2007 Committee and Sycamore Rouge — a unique performing-arts venue in Old Towne — to bring back its once popular concerts.

The series kicks off at 8 p.m. Saturday with jazz singer Stephanie Nakasian on the Sycamore Rouge stage.

“Those who haven’t experienced this will be reinforced,” Moring said of the concert series.

The nonprofit SVCCA began bringing musicians to the community in the late 1970s. There were performers for all ages and musical tastes. As many as 1,400 people would pack the Petersburg High School auditorium to hear the diverse acts.

But in 2005, faced with a shrinking audience base and competition for sponsorship dollars, the association was forced to halt its concerts.

Two years later, though, things are different. The Petersburg arts scene has exploded, providing the perfect backdrop to bring the series back to a new audience.

“As fate would have it, the time was right with downtown blossoming,” Moring said.

Sycamore Rouge — which has a seating capacity of 100 to 200 people — will host the acts this time.

Christopher Shorr, the venue’s artistic director, said the partnership is ideal for all the organizations involved.

“This is a great opportunity for us to keep doing what we’re doing but with more resources,” he said.

“All organizations in this area have limited resources with the economy of our community. It’s essential for growth and progress to join forces so we have the resources to enable bigger projects.”

SVCCA board members hope the association will grow through corporate sponsorship and community support, according to Moring. They hope to attract audiences from across the region.

Future events could include performances by the Virginia Opera and the Latin Ballet of Virginia.

“We’ve opened up so many doors already,” Moring said.

• Julie Buchanan may be reached at 722-5155 or
Southside Virginia Community Concert Association schedule

• Stephanie Nakasian, jazz vocalist. Saturday. $12

• Celtibillies, mix of Appalachian and Celtic music. March 17. $12

• Dick Morgan, jazz pianist and Petersburg native. April 6 and 7. $25

* A special concert co-sponsored with Virginia State University

• QuinTango, tango music with violins, cello, bass and piano. May 19. $12.

All concerts are at 8 p.m. at Sycamore Rouge, 21 W. Old St., Petersburg. Call 957-5707 for tickets.

For more information on becoming a donor or benefactor of the SVCCA, call 712-0370 or e-mail

State of the Lawn Address

Good evening Mayor Mickens, Members of City Council, Mr. Canada and Mr. Dawson:

I am here tonight as a representative of the Historic Poplar Lawn Association, of which I am on the Board of Governors. Last week, the Historic Poplar Lawn Association had its first meeting of 2007. We were pleased and honored to have in attendance one of our Historic District’s City Council Representatives, Mr. Brian Moore; our City Manager, Mr. David Canada; the Assistant Director of Public Works, Mr. Ronald Reekes; a representative from our Sheriff’s Department, Sergeant Gray; and several representatives from our police department, including Captain Seidel, Corporal Hall and Corporal Richardson, who is training our neighborhood in the Neighborhood Watch program. I wish to publicly thank them for their involvement in helping us to improve our community.

Over the past year, we have had some setbacks and difficulties in our neighborhood, most recently, of course, we had the tragedy of the fire on Harrison Street. We also had an armed robbery in one of our neighbors’ homes, break-ins, muggings, issues with prostitution and drugs. I do not need to rehash the details of these problems right now, because our neighborhood has constant interaction with the police, our city representatives, the city manager and city employees. Our neighborhood is undoubtedly persistent, and tonight I would like to acknowledge the results.

In the past year, we have had significant improvements in Central Park. The city, at times working with some of our neighbors alongside them, has made our park safer though significant brush and debris removal, uncovering areas where unsavory acts had been taking place.

After nearly three years following its falling, the destroyed bandstand was finally removed from Central Park this year. That rubble pile was more than an eyesore, it was a place for people to hide, sleep and conduct illegal business, and we are grateful for its removal.

After six years of HPLA board members’ work pestering the city, we had the old, useless and unattractive remnants of trashcans in our park removed and new trashcans installed. These are temporary trashcans as we work with the city’s budget constraints to gradually have these receptacles replaced with historically appropriate trashcans.

With Council’s actions, our historic district expanded this year, and our neighborhood has been reaching out to our neighbors in our newly expanded district. We have been having new faces in our meetings and our plans and initiatives are growing beyond the area around the park to locations such as Harrison Street, where, frankly, it is desperately needed.

With the help of the Public Works department, HPLA has repainted the fire hydrants in our district. This initiative is more than aesthetic. It has made our active presence known in the neighborhood. We have found that this small action has allowed for us to detect and monitor locations that have apparent problems, so we were better able to report problem locations to our city council representative and the police. The program has also created dialogue between neighbors, particularly in our district’s newest areas.

With the help of the police department, we have revitalized our Neighborhood Watch program.

This year, our neighborhood initiated Nuts for Petersburg, a peanut butter drive that we did in partnership with Central Virginia Foodbank, the food bank that supplies many programs in Petersburg. Our goal was 3509 jars of peanut butter, one jar to represent each child in Petersburg who lives below the poverty line. Many local businesses and organizations participated in Nuts for Petersburg, and we created new, strong bonds with organizations like Beta Sigma Phi sorority and Petersburg Vibe. In the end, we not only collected more than 1500 jars of peanut butter, we also, according to Central Virginia Foodbank, got the word out about hunger in our city. Central Virginia Foodbank has had several companies in Petersburg register for food drives that had never done so before.

Yes, there is a lot to do, and these successes may seem small, but they should be celebrated and those who have made them happen should be thanked:

Mr. Moore, I thank you for always taking our calls, listening to us, helping us along the way, and always showing up at our functions with your beautiful family. You are a part of our neighborhood.

Council, I thank you for voting to expand our historic neighborhood boundaries.

Mr. Canada, I thank you for the meetings, for listening to us complain, for giving us city resources to make things happen, and the promise to continue to do so.

Mr. Reekes, our thanks are probably not enough: we call you so frequently I do not think we need to look up your number anymore to make those calls. Mr. Reekes is extremely patient, gets us results and explains things to us, for which we are immensely appreciative.

I am also thankful for the help we receive regularly from the city’s Preservation Planner, Ms. Victoria Hauser. She guides our plans, fields questions, and is always available to us.

I also thank the HPLA president, Mr. Philip Cheney, Jr., who spends a lot of time doing hands-on work and research and is very passionate about the city.

We have had progress, yes, but we are just getting started, and we consider the bar to now be raised. We ask the city to continue its support of our initiatives.

We are working toward installing the approved traffic circle on Marshall and Adams Streets, improvements in lighting throughout the neighborhood, repaving of Harrison Street, repairs to sink holes and damaged infrastructure on Fillmore Street, crackdown on drug and prostitution activity, addressing abandoned and poorly maintained houses, continued replacement of street signs, gradual replacement of trashcans, and a full restoration of Central Park.

Please know that the neighbors of Poplar Lawn will be working right there beside you and reminding the city of its promises.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a parable. This story is repeated in many cultures throughout the world, and each telling is a little different, but here is my version:

There was a young man deeply involved in spirituality and looking for life’s answers. One day while meditating on the afterlife he prayed to be shown both heaven and hell. Deep in meditation, he was shown the way to two doors. He opened the first and saw a beautiful paradise with all the finest of everything he could imagine, but the people sitting around this utopia were starving, babies howled and the people fought and complained.

The people suffered and were taunted by the bounty before them because they had large tubes over their arms, which prevented them from doing anything. They could not feed themselves, comfort their own children, even scratch that nagging itch. It was horrible, this vision of hell, and the man quickly ran from it to the other door, which he thought must be heaven.

When the man opened the second door, he was shocked by what he saw. There was the same scene with the people with the tubes on their arms. But heaven, you see, was different. In heaven, the people had learned to feed each other, comfort each other, and work together.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Found in Park... and it's not a crack vial