By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A group of 15 protesters hoping to plead their case against the planned RSW Regional Jail to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell Wednesday came away disappointed when he canceled an appearance in Front Royal.
The protesters, all but two of them from Shenandoah County, gathered at the entrance to the DuPont automotive coatings plant at the northwest corner of Winchester Road and Shadow Drive around noon, a half hour before McDonnell was scheduled to arrive.
Their mission was to seek McDonnell's intervention in a campaign to reverse the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors' support for the estimated $89 million jail project.
"This is a boondoggle, and it's going to profit the big shots in Richmond," said Mark Prince of Toms Brook, who has been one of the most outspoken jail opponents in Shenandoah County.
But a surprised Prince learned from a reporter that McDonnell had decided to skip his scheduled appearance at the Dupont plant. Prince said he believed the governor made his decision after learning about the protest.
"I think he got wind of it, and he didn't want a confrontation with us," said Prince, who quickly noted the protest was peaceful.
But Jeff Caldwell, the governor's press secretary, denied the protest had anything to with McDonnell's change of plans.
Caldwell said earlier stops in the day at Winchester and Middleburg and other factors led to the cancellation in Front Royal.
"It was a matter of timing and logistics and the bad weather that came in crunched in the travel time," Caldwell said. "We didn't know anything about any protesters."
Nick Bukowski, a member of the Warren County Republican Committee, said he knew of other committee members who also opposed the jail. The jail, which is only a few weeks away from groundbreaking at a site a mile or so away from Wednesday's protest, has drawn little opposition in Warren County where Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron has been a strong supporter.
Nevertheless, Bukowski, like others at the protest, said he believed the project will cost more than current estimates.
"At a time of impending fiscal collapse, it doesn't make sense to spend more tax dollars," he said.
While the governor was a no-show, the protesters waving their homemade poster board signs did attract the attention of some passing motorists who honked their horns in support. They were also noticed by three members of the Warren County's Sheriff's Office, including McEathron, who stopped to check on what was happening.
"Did you all check to see who's property this is?" asked Deputy Tom Hodges.
Hodges also telephoned the County Attorney's office to find out whether the protesters needed a permit.
While he waited for an answer, the protest began to disband just before 1 p.m.
The protesters and deputies bantered good-naturedly with each other and McEathron welcomed them to Warren County.
But he also delivered a blunt message to them.
"We're glad to have the regional jail here," McEathron told Prince. "It's happening. You have to adjust to that."