Leach Run Parkway project under review

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL – A major road project planned for Warren County and the town may get close to an endangered species’ habitat.

Front Royal and Warren County representatives heard an update on the Leach Run Parkway project from County Administrator Doug Stanley at their liaison committee Thursday.

The Economic Development Authority is spearheading the project many years in the making. Town and county officials have been working with the EDA on the project. The parkway will connect Va. 55 East with Happy Creek Road. Once complete, the parkway will connect the proposed Swan Farm development, also known as Heptad, Valley Health’s proposed hospital and the second middle school.

However, a recent environmental issue has come up related to the project. The consultant is evaluating the potential impact the route may have on the habitat of the Indiana bat, an endangered species. Stanley said the parties working on the project have not determined whether or not this will be an issue.

“All we know is we have some habitat that might fit the criteria,” Stanley said.

Information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows the Indiana bat was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1967. The bats are still found over most of the eastern half of the United States.

Stanley told the committee he didn’t know the details of any study into the bat’s habitat but he expected to hear more within the next month.

Pennoni Associates’ Ron Mislowski was not available for comment Friday.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is reviewing the final design for the parkway. The county expects to receive VDOT’s comments later this month so the EDA can develop the package and advertise for bids. The county and EDA continue to obtain easements and rights-of-way for the route. The project can’t move forward until all the necessary rights-of-way and easements are acquired.

County, town and EDA officials met recently with representatives of Heptad LLC and Valley Health to discuss the project and to address concerns the property owners have with the agreements related to the dedication of rights-of-way and funding the parkway.

The Board of Supervisors and the School Board agreed to delay construction of the new middle school until next year with its opening pushed off to the 2016-2017 session. Stanley said the county is now “less under the gun.” Otherwise, the county would come under pressure to clear some of the preliminary steps in the project.

However, should the project work not begin until the fall, Stanley warned that the weather could make the shrink-swell soil more difficult to work with during the construction.

Stanley said he hopes the parties can work out remaining easement issues with Heptad and Valley, owners of large amounts of land in the project area.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is reviewing the design for the project. County officials hope to receive VDOT’s comments this month in order the complete the bid package.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com