Residents question park operations

Published 11:27 am Thursday, January 18, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the first of a multi-part series investigating the operations of the Heartland Industrial Park, concerns expressed by residents and responses from Heartland Regional Industrial Facility Authority leaders. Stay with The Gazette for additional reports.

By Emily Hollingsworth

The Charlotte Gazette

Citizens throughout the Heart of Virginia have expressed concern about the Heartland Industrial Park and worry that the allocation of the funds are putting the people and economic development in the county at a disadvantage. Concerns about the park’s state and regional oversight, financial and meeting records and transparency to the public have also been voiced.

The park was established by administrative leaders in six counties — Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Charlotte, Lunenburg and Prince Edward — in 2000 and is nearly 773 acres, with 402 of those acres being suitable for construction.

Kay Pierantoni, of Charlotte County, said she first began experiencing concerns in 2016 when searching for Charlotte County projects listed by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

“What I found instead was the application for the $789,000 entrance to the west side of (U.S. Route) 360

to a cow field owned by Heartland … a part that has many open spaces off the grand entrance across the road on the east side of (U.S. Route) 360,” Pierantoni said in an email.

A description of the project application, submitted by Charlotte County Purchasing Agent and Planner Monica Elder, listed on the SMART SCALE portal, had detailed three phases and estimates of schedule.

The first, with an estimated end date of December 2017, estimated $75,000 for survey and design of the property. The second phase — Right of Way and Easement Acquisition, Utility Relocation — totals an estimated $299,265, and the third phase — Construction, Oversight, Inspection, Contingencies — totals an estimated $414,932 with an estimated end date of August 2018.

The total requested funds for the project, according to the description, comes to approximately $789,000.

The application was cited as justified by representatives of the SMART SCALE project, which is represented by VDOT and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation in October 2015.

Pierantoni said after contacting VDOT, she requested Authority meeting minutes from the county.

“To my alarm, I could find no complete set of minutes. What I found were missing minutes, missing pages, etc.,” Pierantoni said. “… In the minutes of meetings that had taken place, I found little real discussion about any work the member counties were doing to get in businesses. It seemed they were waiting for someone to seek them out.”

The Gazette has reached out to a VDOT representative for comment on the project.

Following an inquiry by The Gazette to the county for meeting minutes spanning from May 2001 to July 2017, gaps in the meeting minutes took place from August 2003 to September 2005, from March 2006 to December 2007, from May 2009 to October 2010, from November 2011 to February 2014 and from August 2014 to October 2015. Meeting minutes from September 2005, October 2005 and March 2006 are listed as drafts.

When asked about gaps in the meeting minutes, Heartland Chairman Gary Walker confirmed that certain meetings were conducted on an as-needed schedule.

“There were times where we didn’t have business to take care of,” Walker said. “We didn’t have a meeting.”

“Sometimes we would meet four times a year, sometimes we wouldn’t meet at all,” Walker said. “It was just a question of how much business we had before us. We normally meet when we have business to discuss. If we don’t have business to discuss, we postpone the meeting. We wouldn’t want people to drive from Amelia and Buckingham and Prince Edward, Lunenburg to Charlotte County and not have anything for them to talk about.”

Walker said that the meetings for the Heartland Regional Industrial Facility Authority were held at the Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) office in Farmville and that the executive director of the CRC was also the executive director of the Heartland Authority.

“That stayed over there for several years,” Walker said about the CRC as location for the meetings and the organization responsible for the meeting minutes before the responsibility was given to Charlotte County. “I’m not sure exactly how many years off of the top of my head (the CRC was) responsible for the minutes and meetings and those types of things.”