PWC Supervisors Need To Cut More Red Tape and Fewer Ribbons

The Sheriff of Nottingham in Prince William County blog posted about a ribbon-cutting event that took place earlier today in my community.  In full disclosure, I was invited to participate in this as the then-president of our HOA when this project was first conceived and undertaken.

Jim, Xxxx, and Xxxxxx,

I hope this email finds you all well. I am happy to report we have completed the Swan’s Creek Stream Restoration Project! Next Friday, November 15 at 9:15 a.m., we would like to host a ribbon cutting to officially open the area. If possible, would you be able to join us? I have attached an event brief for your review.

We have invited Supervisor Caggigan [sic] and Chairman Stewart along with Prince William County Staff.

Thank you,
Jamie C. Breme
Community/Public Affairs Manager

Fluor-Lane 95, LLC
6621-A Electronic Drive, Suite U
Springfield, VA 22151

However, I declined to participate first, because never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that fixing a ditch deserved a ribbon-cutting — Tada! The re-graded slopes surrounding an outdoor creek are now open! The waters may continue to flow! (But in a way that will no longer cause erosion of property.) — and second, I had actual work to do at my job.  In my book, in cases like this you simply fix what needs to be done and clear out.  No need for pomp and circumstance.

This entire project was conceived and undertaken between Fluor-Transurban, VDOT and Southbridge with no county involvement whatsoever. Fluor-Transurban came to us to brief us on the I-95 EZ-Pass Express Lanes, asked us if we had any environmental issues that needed to be addressed since they were looking for projects in nearby communities in order to satisfy part of their agreement with VDOT, and we told them about the Swans Creek erosion problem. (We had previously brought this to the attention of the county public works department, but they never took any corrective action beyond putting it on a to-do list.)  Fluor-Transurban then looked into it more closely, determined that part of the problem was storm water run-off from I-95 as it currently existed, and worked with VDOT to get this project done.

Nevertheless, there was indeed a ribbon cutting and I can understand why Fluor-Transurban would want to publicize their good environmental work.  I can even understand why Gov. McDonnell showed up at the last minute by helicopter given his deep involvement with the I-95 Express Lanes project that will be one of his lasting legacies as governor.  But to have county officials who played no role whatsoever in this project, who probably had no clue that this was even taking place until they were asked to attend, who most likely had no understanding what this was even about and when in fact the county had let this project languish for years, is just plain silly.

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(L-R Gov. McDonnell, PWC Chairman Corey Stewart and Potomac Dist. Supervisor Maureen Caddigan)

Exactly what were they cutting the ribbon for?  This…

photo 2

photo 3

photo 4

Take note that these photos were taken AFTER the ribbon cutting ceremony.  (Not exactly open for public enjoyment.)  Also note the sign for the project.  There is no county role indicated whatsoever. That was also the case with the press release issued for the event:

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), along with 95 Express Lanes partners, Transurban-Fluor and Federal Highway Administration, would like to host a ribbon cutting and photo opportunity to mark the completion of the Swan’s Creek Stream Restoration in Prince William County associated with the 95 Express Lanes Project.

Now for the irony.  Just a few hundred yards away from today’s ribbon cutting ceremony stands our community’s new pavilion that was completed last month. This is more than a simple covered structure, it is a prime example — no, a MONUMENT — to the red tape that our elected county officials should be concerned with cutting.  This is its story…

photo 1The New Southbridge Pavilion – Occupancy Load 79 according to Prince William County

My homeowners association decided last year to construct a 28-foot pavilion adjacent to our pool and tennis complex.  We thought it would be nice to have a place with picnic tables that residents could use near our main playground.  It is only a decorative metal roof with eight columns supporting it and at most would take two and a half days to build.  Little did we realize building a house is easier in this county.

In January, we requested a copy of the site plan for this parcel from the county in order to obtain a building permit.  After reviewing all their files, the county determined they could not locate it.

We considered commissioning a new site plan, but that was cost prohibitive.  However, it was too late to cancel the pavilion since the materials had already been delivered.

In February, we inquired if there were any other options, but the county insisted on having a site plan (despite them having lost the original).  We finally located an archived copy that one of our contractors used for a different project.

With plan in hand, we applied for the permit in early March.  After completing the paperwork and paying a $298 permit fee, two weeks later the county requested additional items. We immediately supplied them and the plans were approved on March 20 by the Land Development Division.

Almost a month later, we finally received notification of initial approval, but other departments still had to weigh-in.  A pre-construction meeting was held in early May and paperwork was issued by the county’s Transportation, Public Works Watershed Branch, and Information Technology/GIS departments. We paid another $179 for the Site Development Permit Fee, an $80.15 filing fee, and received a plan number.

By now, it was approaching Memorial Day and the opening of our community’s pool.  The county informed us that despite these approvals, we still needed a Special Inspections Approval.  However, the county does not have inspection engineers who handle metal/steel so we were forced to hire a third-party engineer.  (Of course, the county provides you with a list of their “preferred” engineers — wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?)  It was mid-June by the time a firm could be retained and the required letter of engagement delivered to the county.

The rest of the summer was spent filing more paperwork, paying more hefty fees, and answering ridiculous questions such as how many windows, doors and bathrooms would this open air pavilion have in it.  The county finally issued an “Occupancy Load” of 79 for it, which would be akin to a circus clown car.  Finally, in early October, construction began.  It only took two days.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing is not an isolated incident in Prince William County.

The SweetFrog frozen yogurt shop opened in nearby Southbridge Plaza on September 14.  On July 3, they posted on Facebook they would be opening soon.  Their page for the store was started in February and in late May they posted about upcoming grand opening celebration promotions and hiring notices in June.

During a visit to the store after it finally opened, patrons heard a manager say that they should have been open in June, but the county delayed them.  That’s right.  Our so-called “business-friendly” county cost a frozen yogurt store an entire summer’s worth of business.

The SweetFrog on Smoketown Road in Woodbridge similarly posted twice to their Facebook page in early May that issues with the county were holding them up.  That store did not open until June 7 even though they were fully staffed by mid-April.

Just think if our local elected officials were as interested in cutting red tape as they were in cutting ribbons (something any pre-schooler with fine motor skills can do).  Maybe then businesses wouldn’t find our neighboring counties of Loudoun, Stafford, and Fairfax more attractive places to locate. Our Board of Supervisors needs more workhorses who want to cut red tape and fewer show horses who want to cut ceremonial ribbons.


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