People of Schuyler gathered at the Walton’s Mountain Museum to hear updates regarding ongoing issues in the community and to hear directly from Nelson County East District Supervisor Jesse Rutherford on Jan. 27.
Rutherford started the meeting by having a discussion on current issues facing the two elementary schools in Nelson County, Tye River and Rockfish River. According to Rutherford, both schools are facing declining enrollment.
Rutherford noted declining enrollment is a symptom of a greater problem: a dropping population in Nelson County. He said that decline is “terrifying.”
“That equates to a lot of money, that equates to empty schools, that equates to empty school buses,” he said during the town hall. “It means we’re losing our young folks. Our working populations. ... All very critical issues we have going for us in this budget session.”
Schuyler resident Kamalapati “KK” Khalsa, who attended the town hall, agreed with Rutherford’s caution for the future of the school system.
“I don’t have any children it affects, but it’s a significant issue and it’s going to be hard to solve. And as [Rutherford] was trying to allude, it’s the change in demographics in the area that are driving the whole thing,” Khalsa said.
Another issue Rutherford spoke on was the ongoing effort to bring Schuyler’s wastewater treatment plant up to code. According to Rutherford, the system, which was built sometime in the early 1900s, is in violation of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality standards and is in need of a total replacement, an undertaking which would cost millions of dollars.
According to the Nelson County Service Authority’s website, the wastewater treatment plant is facing a consent order from the DEQ to address “significant Inflow & Infiltration and effluent permit exceedances. The collection system and the antiquated wastewater treatment facility is in need of a total replacement.”
The website lists the estimate for the project at $3 million.
Rutherford said the current system only serves about 40 customers and to spread the cost of a project so large over so few people would be “unimaginable.”
“This makes us very dependent on the feds and the state government to pony up on how we handle the wastewater and the water situation,” Rutherford, who also is on the Nelson County Service Authority board of directors, said during the meeting.
In order to cover the heavy costs of the project, he said the county is seeking a grant from the federal government that would cover 75% of the project.
“With cooperation from the federal government and state government I’m hopeful we’ll get a good [resolution] by the end of the year,” he said.
Rutherford and Schuyler residents also talked at length about minimizing trespassing and swimming in the abandoned quarries. The situation at the quarries have been under scrutiny since the death of 18-year-old Henry Morin, of Hanover County, who drowned in an abandoned quarry in June 2019.
Unlike some of the other issues in the area, however, Rutherford and members of the audience noted how much better the situation had gotten thanks to efforts from the community and local law enforcement.
According to Khalsa, Schuyler residents have worked diligently during the summer to report any illegal activity they see in the otherwise restricted areas. Khalsa said residents keeping a watchful eye and reporting to the police when they see people trespassing has been key to reducing activity.
“I was a little vocal primarily when they were talking about the ongoing issue with the quarries because we … were very active in making that situation better,” Khalsa said in an interview after the town hall.
Rutherford and audience members noted during the town hall trespassing in the quarries is done mostly by college students and is an activity that has gained a lot of traction on social media.
While the meeting mostly involved problems facing the area, Rutherford was happy to have a forum where he could talk with the people in his district and work on those issues. “Historically there hasn’t been much dialogue. ... It’s going to take more than a government, it’s going to take a community,” he said. Rutherford said he plans to hold the next East District town hall in Lovingston either later in February or the first week of March.