Drought conditions throughout Clarke County have caused an “agricultural disaster” and has prompted the Clarke County Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution requesting that the county be designated a disaster area. Clarke County farmers could qualify for federal assistance if disaster designation is approved by Governor McDonnell and US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
The Virginia Cooperative Extension says that Clarke County is not alone in agriculture damaged caused by this summer’s lack of rain and withering heat. Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and Page Counties all have sustained significant economic losses due to drought conditions.
“The combined effect of below average rainfall and extreme heat has caused significant agricultural damage throughout the Northern Shenandoah Valley” said Extension Agent Robert Clark in a letter to Supervisors.
The economic impact of the drought is already severe with hay yields down 35%, 65 days of lost pasture grazing and corn yields expected to be down 15%.
Livestock feed supply, a combination of hay yield and pasture conditions, was nearly exhausted this spring due to the harsh conditions last winter. Current conditions are causing farmers to feed livestock hay that typically would be put into reserve for the coming winter. The overall impact is feed supplies significantly below what will be needed.
“I’m worried about finding hay for this winter” said Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell)
The next step in the process will be for Governor McDonnell to direct the Farm Service Agency to complete a Damage Assessment report for the county which, will then be forward to the US Department of Agriculture for formal disaster declaration.
Supervisors ask DGIF to Keep Pressure on Illegal Cast Netting
The Board also approved for Chairman Michael Hobert to step up pressure on Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to prevent further illegal cast net fishing in Clarke County’s stretch of the Shenandoah River.
“The Clarke County Board of Supervisors is concerned that continued cast netting will result in the depletion of the fish populations that will negatively impact the aquatic ecosystem and sport fishery” Hobert said in a letter to Fred Leckie, Fisheries Assistant Director.
Hobert asked Leckie to “continue aggressive law enforcement efforts and to initiate and educational component to increase public awareness of the regulations and negative impact to the fish populations resulting from net casting.”
Health issues related to fish taken from the Shenandoah River are also at issue. Testing in Clarke County has revealed high level of PCB’s and other poison substances in game fish taken from the river. The Virginia Department of Health has warned the public not to consume fish taken from the Shenandoah, however, it is not clear that weekend visitors to Clarke either understand or believe that the fish should not be consumed.
“We have to protect our natural resources but we also need to protect the children who are eating these poisonous fish” said Supervisor Byrd.
New County Building Stinks
As Hammerhead Construction prepares to begin renovation work on the Clarke County Courthouse, County officials are still trying to correct defects in the county’s Government Center office building more than two years after moving in.
County administrator David Ash told the supervisors that a closed session meeting will be held next week with general contractor Brechbill and Helman Construction Company and county attorneys to see if the building problems can be resolved.
Ash said that the Government Center has heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) problems as well as unacceptable humidity levels and odors. County staff are currently attempting to control humidity levels using portable de-humidification units but the county is seeking a more permanent solution.
“The HVAC subcontractor continues to show up from time to time here but were not getting anywhere with that approach” Ash said.
The Joint Building Committee will meet on August 11 at 10:00AM.