The four men and four women seeking election to the Albemarle Board of Supervisors met in a forum Monday moderated by the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club. Four of the board’s six magisterial district seats will be determined on Nov. 5.
In all, 15 organizations with interests in local environmental and transportation issues co-sponsored the event and provided four questions in advance to the candidates. About 50 people came to the forum at Lane Auditorium in the Albemarle County Office Building.
The sponsors’ questions probed candidate positions on the U.S. 29 Western Bypass, the effect of population growth, pollution from stormwater and climate change. In addition, there were questions submitted by the audience.
“I think that the bypass is definitely an active issued in the environmental community,” said moderator Jessica Gephart. “Stormwater has also been discussed lately and the time is coming for the board of supervisors to make decisions on that. These will be the big issues on people’s minds.”
On the Western Bypass, candidates fell into three groups. Those in favor, those opposed, and those who said the decision had already been made.
Incumbent Republican candidates Rio Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas, and Samuel Miller supervisor Duane E. Snow, said they stood behind their 2011 votes to support the bypass.
“I fully support it,” Snow said. “I also support multi-modal transportation and bicycling.”
Snow said the deal made with Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton resulted in VDOT funding other long planned and supported transportation projects.
“It’s not the perfect road, but it’s what the state had $244.5 million in the bank to pay for,” Thomas said. “The plan is the plan.”
“When I ran in 2009 all of my printed materials said I was for the Western Bypass and said I would move forward with other transportation improvements in Albemarle County, and I have not wavered,” he added.
Republican Scottsville candidate Cindi Burket joined her Republican running mates in support of the Western Bypass.
“I do support the construction of the bypass,” Burket said. “This is a road that needs to be built. It would be a great disservice to the majority of Albemarle residents if this plan was not realized.”
Snow’s opponent, Democrat Liz Palmer said she was opposed to the bypass.
“This road does not meet the desired goals of the community which are to ease congestion on [U.S] 29 for local citizens shopping on the corridor and for those passing through,” she said. “With the Western Bypass, Route 29 will still continue to perform at a low level of service.”
Palmer was joined in her opposition to the bypass by independent Jack Jouett candidate Diantha McKeel, who is running to fill the seat of the retiring Dennis S. Rooker, a long-time bypass opponent.
“I am opposed to the current design and location of the proposed bypass,” McKeel said. “The studies say it is not cost effective, nor will it solve our traffic congestion.”
Democratic Rio candidate Brad Sheffield, independent Jack Jouett candidate Phillip Seay, and Democratic Scottsville candidate Jane Dittmar emphasized it was time to move forward.
“While I don’t agree with the way it was brought forward and decided upon … we are moving forward with this,” Sheffield said. “If it does get built, there is still a lot of work to be done to make this a functional road and to mitigate the negative impacts.”
Seay echoed the sentiment that it’s a “done deal.”
“I will work to make sure the impacts of construction with regard to noise, air quality and other concerns of residents and businesses are addressed and not ignored,” he said.
Dittmar said that if the community seeks a “second opinion,” a lot of issues should be reexamined.
“The way I look at the bypass, we have an artery going through the heart of our community that is clogged … and for right now the doctor has decided we are going to do a bypass,” she said. “So the real question is not are you for it or are you against it, it’s what would you do if the doctor wants a second opinion?
“If the doctor wants a second opinion, you need to look at all the vitals again, those include car counts, cost of construction, cost of any land acquisition,” Dittmar said. “Those things would have to be looked at all over again.”
Asked about the impacts of continued population growth, the candidates found a lot of common ground. Many indicated support for Albemarle’s stated goal of directing growth to the designated population centers while protecting the rural countryside.
“I took a pledge four years ago … to keep our rural areas rural,” said Snow. “We can do that by continuing to support our designated growth areas and discouraging rural development.”