Councilwoman seeks assurances of ITFederal intent

FRONT ROYAL – A Town Council member remains skeptical about a technology firm’s plans to build in the old Avtex Fibers site.

But other members went so far as to say at a work session Monday that council should not concern itself with the progress of the project or the firm’s background.

Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger asked members if they read a draft of a letter she wanted to send to U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte with regards to plans by technology firm ITFederal to build a facility in the former Avtex site. Most council members said they wouldn’t sign the letter with Egger, who said she would send it herself if necessary. By the end of the discussion, Egger agreed to hold off on sending any letter to Goodlatte for a couple of weeks.

ITFederal broke ground on the facility more than a year ago, with the event attended by Goodlatte and other local and state officials, but government red tape delayed the project. ITFederal only recently learned it could move forward with the next step – submitting a site plan for the project. The firm also awaited word from the Virginia Department of Transportation on whether or not the agency would award industrial access funds to extend West Main Street into Avtex.

Egger said she laid out the information from her research and then included the perception that some people feel about the situation. Councilman Jacob Meza suggested that Egger list questions she would pose to ensure that she receives a response. Egger said affirmation from Goodlatte about ITFederal would go a long way.

But councilmen Bret Hrbek and John Connolly voiced concern about council involving itself in the process at this point.

“We keep hearing from the EDA that things are moving and we’ve been waiting a long time for approvals from the (Department of Environmental Quality) and other things that we’re very familiar with taking time and I’m just as anxious to see it move forward as anyone,” Connolly said.

“We are involved,” Egger responded. “This is our town. We’re here to take care of the town and I think it’s important that we’re involved in it. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and say–“

Hrbek interjected to say that council wouldn’t ask these questions if any other private firm came to develop in the town. Egger said she would ask questions especially if pieces of information she found on a firm “didn’t match up.” Hrbek said it looked like a good deal and the property was zoned for the proposed use.

“I think, as a town, we need to know if we should be expecting this or not be expecting this,” Egger said. “We were so excited when this was announced and I think now people are starting to realize maybe this is not what we thought it was and I think we owe it to our citizens to find the answer. That’s what we’re elected for – to protect the town and the interests of the town. I mean we sold them a bunch of land for $1.”

“With the trade-off of jobs that we thought we’re gonna get,” Meza interjected.

“So,” Egger said, “I do believe it is our job to find out what is exactly going on and it could be that it’s a simple answer and the congressman can take away all the doubt and vouch for them and that would be great.”

Hrbek suggested that the EDA meet with council to discuss the matter in closed session.

“Any other business that went out there we don’t ever question – as long as they’re zoned correctly, we don’t question what their product is,” Hrbek said.

Egger asked Hrbek if it’s not council’s business when a firm doesn’t fulfill a promise to bring hundreds of jobs to town.

Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe reminded council that regulatory agencies held up the project for more than a year. Hrbek admitted that council likely jumped the gun by breaking ground before the project received necessary approvals.

“People have come to me concerned and I’ve said I’ll look into it and I looked into (it), and it’s concerning when you look into it,” Egger said. “It looks bad and I’m not saying it is bad but it looks bad and I think it would be good to have some reaffirming words from our congressman who brought the company to our EDA.”

Hrbek, looking to town police officers in attendance at the work session, said “that’s their responsibility to determine if that company’s a legit company, not ours.”

Councilman Eugene Tewalt criticized some members for “downgrading” the EDA and blamed media reports of council questioning the authority for preventing certain businesses, such as Chick-fil-A, from coming to the area.

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

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