WOODSTOCK - Half the residents in a Shenandoah County neighborhood want the Board of Supervisors to help them fix their only way in and out of their community.
Property owners recently spoke to board members during a public hearing on the Black Bear Community’s request to make their neighborhood a sanitary district. The designation would allow the community to enter into an agreement with the county and the Virginia Department of Transportation to share in the cost to repair the bridge leading into and out of the bridge over the Shenandoah River.
Black Bear lies northeast of Woodstock and east of Maurertown.
Most of the people who spoke at the hearing voiced support for the proposal. Speakers told supervisors that high water covered the bridge at least 40 times in 2018, cutting off the only way in and out of the neighborhood. Such incidents prohibit children from getting to school, speakers said.
Black Bear resident Todd Steiner thanked Supervisors Karl Roulston and Dennis Morris, representing District 4 and District 5, respectively, for helping property owners bring the proposal to the board.
"It's often been stated to me that the bridge is a private matter," Steiner said, reading from a written statement. "However, this is not true.
"This board should be concerned for the safety and general welfare of the citizens it governs," Steiner went on to state.
Supervisors should be concerned that Black Bear residents could not receive services from law enforcement or fire and rescue for 40 days in 2018 as a result of flooding blocking their bridge, Steiner said. Some critics claim that a new bridge would not solve the problem, Steiner said. However, a new bridge 5 feet higher, like the newly constructed Headley Bridge upstream, would eliminate 95% of the flooding, Steiner went on to say.
But several people at the meeting expressed their opposition to the proposed sanitary district, specifically the likelihood they would have to pay an additional tax to help cover the cost of any replacement bridge.
County Administrator Evan Vass presented information to supervisors prior to the public hearing. The county oversees two sanitary districts that supply water and sewer services to the designated properties. The sanitary district proposed for Black Bear would serve only to allow the neighborhood to work with VDOT and the county to improve the bridge and the main road leading up to the crossing.
Half of the property owners in the Black Bear subdivision signed a petition that proposes the construction of a replacement, low-water bridge serving 117 lots in sections 2 and 3 of the subdivision and using the sanitary district designation as a means to collect the funds necessary to build the project. Once constructed, the Virginia Department of Transportation would add the bridge and the main road through the neighborhood to the state system for further maintenance.
The Board of Supervisors can establish a sanitary district after members receive a petition signed by property owners seeking the designation for the subdivision. Supervisors will create the sanitary district if they find the action “necessary, practical, fiscally responsible, and supported by at least 50 percent of the persons who own real property in the proposed district. State code required the county to hold the hearing on the request once officials received the petition.
Not all Black Bear property owners want the sanitary district designation. The required petition showed that 50.4 percent of property owners signed in favor of the proposal.
Property owners would pay an extra tax each year to the county that would go toward the cost of road projects and maintenance.
The bridge, built in the late 1960s, is designed to flood during high-water events, Vass said. Property owners pay a fee to cover maintenance costs. A private engineering firm rated the bridge in fair condition in 2017. A single lane from the bridge at the entrance serves 117 lots, including 45 homes, of which 18 are occupied by full-time residents.
Edwin Carter, the administrator for VDOT’s Edinburg Residency, responded to questions about the bridge. VDOT would replace the current crossing with the same style low-water bridge. A higher bridge would allow debris to collect during flooding, Carter explained. VDOT would need to improve and take over the adjoining road to the bridge as part of the state program, Carter said. The state requires VDOT to take over enough of the road to include a minimum number of homes served. The state agency would not take over all roads in the Black Bear subdivision.
The petition states that the project could cost an estimated $3.1 million-$3.5 million. The actual cost remains uncertain and could change by the time the project moves forward if the county approves the request. No hydraulic study, design work, borings or other necessary steps have been taken, Carter said.
“All of that has to be done to get that exact cost,” Carter said.
Carter warned that should the project move forward, the existing bridge would need to be removed before a replacement is built, eliminating the community’s only access point for possibly two years.