Botetourt County’s Top 10 News Stories from 2009

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09 graphicBotetourt County experienced perhaps its most unusual 12 months in 2009, at least in the past 25 years.

Botetourt has had a growing business community to go along with its residential growth that started in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And that’s been complemented in more recent years by an expanding industrial base.

But the economic downturn that has affected the entire country and much of the world did not spare Botetourt.

And as is expected for much of the rest of the country, that economy dominates the top news story right here.

But not all was bad news in Botetourt, as readers will see as The Herald recounts what we believe are the Top 10 stories in 2009.

Plant closings

It’s hard not to consider the three plants that are closing in the county as anything but the No. 1 story for 2009.

In April, O’Neal Steel announced it was closing its welding operations near Cloverdale and putting 115 people out of work. In July, JTKET announced it would be closing its automotive steering plant in Greenfield and, in August, Johnson Controls announced it would close its EastPark plant where 44 people work.

O’Neal Steel announced its closing on the heels of an announcement by FreightCar America in Roanoke that it was ending production.

The first manufacturer to locate at Botetourt Center at Greenfield announced sluggish car sales was forcing its closing. JTEKT North America, which opened in 2001 as KOYO Steering Systems, manufactures steering systems for several automobiles. The phase down at JTEKT started in the fall and the plant will close in the first quarter of 2010.

The next month, Johnson Controls announced it is closing its assembly and manufacturing plant at EastPark Commerce Center off Alt. 220 by May 2010. The Botetourt facility has been part of Johnson Controls’ building efficiency division, which focuses on mechanical systems for heating, ventilating and air conditioning.

Plant up and running

Not all of the news about manufacturing was bad, which makes this the No. 2 story for 2009.

In late October, LiteSteel Technologies made it official that the company’s new American plant in Troutville is moving toward full production. The Australian-based company’s newest facility is a high-tech manufacturing plant that is operating in a refurbished plant that was on the verge of becoming an eyesore on Stoney Battery Road in the Town of Troutville.

The Troutville plant began production in the spring and is moving toward full production of its signature LiteSteelTM beam (LSB®), a lightweight steel beam engineered for residential and light commercial construction projects.

The $30 million plant currently has 23 employees and eventually will bring 55 jobs to the county.

High school sports

To say that Botetourt’s high school athletes have had a good 2009 might be a bit of an understatement.

It all started last winter when the James River boys basketball team and the Lord Botetourt girls basketball team advanced to their respective state tournament semi-finals before seeing their seasons end.

The Knights lost to Radford (a real nemesis for JRHS last spring, too) in their Group A division semi-final, and the Lady Cavaliers lost to Robert E. Lee of Staunton a game shy of the Group AA divisional championship game.

But there was more state play to come. In the spring, JRHS sent its baseball, softball, boys and girls soccer teams to their respective state tournaments; and the girls track team finished as runner-up to Clark County in that Group A meet. Jenna Sprinkle was the 800-meter Group A champion. The JRHS boys also won the Region C track meet, and Davon Ross earned his second state title in the triple jump.

Radford ended the JRHS girls’ soccer season in the state semifinals, and the Bobcat boys team stopped River’s boys on penalty kicks in that state quarterfinal game.

The softball and baseball teams also played in their respective quarterfinal games before falling to Virginia High and Gate City.

Lord Botetourt’s girls soccer team also advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing to Salem.

In the fall, LBHS golfer Clay O’Conner won the Group AA individual championship by two strokes at Williamsburg National Golf Club in Williamsburg.

A week later, James River freshman Korey Watts capped off an outstanding high school debut season with a second place finish in the Group A golf tournament. He finished five strokes back in the two-day tournament at the Independence Golf Club in Midlothian.

Celebrating 50 years

The county’s two high schools are celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year. The two schools and Central Academy (now Central Academy Middle School) opened in the fall of 1959. Central Academy was the new school built for African Americans at a time when Botetourt was trying to comply with Virginia’s “separate but equal” doctrine. It was converted into an intermediate school in the 1960s and became a middle school in the 1990s.

The two high schools graduated their 50th classes in June and officially began celebrating their anniversaries this fall. They schools were opened as part of a consolidation effort that sent students from five high schools to two.

Buchanan water woes

Buchanan got the bad news right at the end of March. One of its wells tested positive for being under the influence of surface water, which meant chlorination treatment was no longer enough to guarantee the water was safe to drink.

The test prompted the Health Department to issue a “boil water advisory” for drinking water and forced the mayor and Town Council to move quickly to try to build a water treatment plant that would remove microorganisms from the water supply.

The town applied for and is supposed to receive state grants and low-interest loans to pay for the $1.4 million microfiltration plant that’s expected to be under construction by the end of January.

The commercial side

All those cars going through Daleville has meant continued commercial growth despite the economy.

On the front end of that growth in 2009 was the opening of Botetourt’s second Food Lion—this one in Daleville.

The new store opened in August in Orchard Marketplace on US 220 across from Daleville Town Center. The store has about 60 associates, with 35 positions created for the new store.

Daleville Town Center, which is owned by Fralin & Waldron, had its first new home go up, and its first commercial customer was announced—Williams Supply. The home earned the EarthCraft House’s “Gold” standard of being extra energy efficient.

This fall, the Botetourt Board of Supervisors also issued a special exceptions permit so Lewis-Gale can build a medical imaging clinic in Daleville Town Center.

There have been other small businesses and stores open, too, in Buchanan, Daleville, Fincastle, and on Alt. 220; but there have been store closings as well.

The utility front

It’s left to be seen whether Botetourt residents will benefit from two legal challenges the Board of Supervisors lost this year.

The supervisors are complying with a Circuit Court ruling that is forcing the county to take bids on the franchised trash hauling business in the county. That followed a ruling in October that favored Advanced Transportation and Logistics Inc. of Cloverdale. The company wanted to bid on trash hauling services this year, primarily commercial business, but wasn’t going to get a chance to after the supervisors extended contracts for the private trash haulers when the county closed the landfill and started having trash hauled to the Salem trash transfer station.

The supervisors hope to get a more favorable ruling from the full State Corporation Commission (SCC) after a hearing examiner ruled in November that Central Water Co. should be able to keep the expanded water service territory it was granted last year.

The supervisors challenged the SCC decision to grant Central Water Co. a service territory that includes much of the south-central part of the county from Daleville to Fincastle and east to I-81.

Troutville Friends

The Town of Troutville embarked on a self-examination after Friends of the Park asked Town Council to help establish a vision and goals for the town.

Council established a Strategic Planning Steering Committee that by fall had held input sessions and discussions about the town’s future; and was working on analyzing what committee members had learned from the public in an effort to establish a work plan council and others in the town could use to reach some of the goals.

New library

Price Building got the contract to build the new Eagle Rock Branch Library in the spring of this year and by the spring of the upcoming 2010, folks are expected to be using the new $1 million facility.

The Eagle Rock Library is the first new library since the county turned two old storefronts on Main Street in Buchanan into the Buchanan Library.

The Eagle Rock Library is near Eagle Rock Elementary School just off US 220, and is a 9,600-square-foot building that will include collections of new books, DVDs, audio books, magazines, a computer lab and meeting room.

Where the rubber meets the road

Nothing keeps getting done on Botetourt’s roads, and that in itself makes this one of the top stories of the year. VDOT has no money for road improvements—well, it does have a little that’s been socked away for the past few years—so there’s little chance that much will be done in the foreseeable future to alleviate problems around the Exit 150 area. The challenges around the interstate interchange got discussed again at a public input session in August. The presumption was that there would be some money in the state transportation budget for about $20 million in work with the idea of relieving congestion at the tightly quartered intersections of I-81, US 220, Alt. 220 and US 11.

That seems less likely now as the state’s budget woes continue; and the expectation is that less than half the $20 million will be available—and some of that’s already been spent.

But, there’s no money for doing much other road work either. The biggest road project in the county was on I-81 where federal stimulus dollars are paying for about $18 million for paving some of the interstate in Botetourt, and a section of US 220 north of Eagle Rock will get some new surface thanks to some leftover dollars from other areas.