Did a bit of “housekeeping” at a Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting Aug. 6 turn into a political coup for supporters of the Bi-County Parkway? Or was it an attempt to clarify what the board intended to do in July? It depends on whom you ask.
A misunderstanding about two resolutions passed in July and August underscore the issue at the heart of the latest controversy over the Bi-County Parkway: the potential closure of routes 234 and 29 through the Manassas National Battlefield Park.
The incident speaks to the scrutiny that the proposed parkway — a 10-mile route through Prince William and Loudoun counties — has undergone in recent weeks. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) wants to sign off on a key legal agreement on the road before his term ends this year, adding to the urgency.
Toward the end of an Aug. 6 board meeting, Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said he wanted to address a “housekeeping” item in a parkway resolution that supervisors passed in July. Stewart said in an interview that he wanted to make sure the July resolution simply reaffirmed the county’s 2005 position on the road, rather than establish new county policy.
The 2005 resolution endorsed the Bi-County Parkway and is the stated position of Prince William. It says that the county supports the closure of roads through the battlefield only if a “replacement facility” is built.
In offering the measure Aug. 6, which he called a housekeeping item, Stewart did not pass out a written resolution, as is the board’s custom.
Per board rules, resolutions are supposed to be introduced one week before they are voted on. The board did not wait a week to vote. Instead, it unanimously passed Stewart’s resolution reaffirming the 2005 position. At the meeting, Stewart said such a move was not controversial and didn’t require the board to wait.
The most controversial aspect of the parkway is that it involves the construction of a major thoroughfare through Civil War ground and the county’s protected rural area. For those in the area, the closure of Route 234 through the Manassas battlefield and the potential closure of — or traffic-reduction efforts on — Route 29 are just as controversial.
The National Park Service would like to close routes 234 and 29. And 1988 federal legislation endorses the construction of a bypass around the battlefield in their place.
Park Service officials say that the visitor experience is hampered by the traffic on both roads and that the national treasure should be experienced in a pristine state. The Park Service’s preference is significant because it must sign off on the parkway project.
In July, parkway detractors were heartened by a resolution that spelled out Prince William’s position on the closure of the roads through the parks. It said that the county would support the closure of routes 234 and 29 only if the Manassas National Battlefield Bypass, a separate road from the parkway, was built.
Despite the 1988 legislation, the bypass has never been funded by Congress. For parkway opponents, the July resolution connecting the construction of the bypass and the construction of the parkway was seen as a win.
But unbeknownst to some supervisors at the time of the vote, the Virginia Department of Transportation considers the Bi-County Parkway itself a “replacement facility,” Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) said in an interview. He heard that he had accidentally endorsed the parkway from a VDOT official, Candland said.
Candland said he and the rest of the board voted for Stewart’s measure not knowing the vote nullified their support for the battlefield bypass and put them on the side of the proposed Bi-County Parkway.
“Shame on all of us for not understanding what we were voting on,” Candland said.
Candland has proposed a resolution for Tuesday’s board meeting that he says would set the matter straight, clarifying that the county supports the closure of roads through the park only if the battlefield bypass is built.
He and Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Potomac) said the resolution would make plain what they intended to vote for in August.
Stewart says Candland is caving to constituents after his August vote. Stewart said in an interview that he was the one tricked into supporting something he opposes.
In July, he sought only to reaffirm the county’s 2005 position, not change county policy by endorsing the battlefield bypass. The July resolution was crafted by residents opposing the road.
Now Candland has “gotten some pressure from his constituents, which duped the board in July, and now he’s trying to go back on what he did,” Stewart said.
Candland will have an uphill battle. At last week’s meeting, he sought to have Stewart’s August resolution brought up for another vote, which in turn required a vote. Only Candland, Caddigan and Supervisor Michael C. May (R-Occoquan) voted to bring the issue up again. Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) abstained.
Candland declined to say whether he thought Stewart’s comment was disingenuous, and Caddigan said she did not think so.
“I don't think that’s what he was trying to do,” she said. “He thought he was cleaning it up, and he explained it. I should have been more observant.”
For his part, Candland said he’s not going to vote for anything again without seeing it in writing.
“We’ve gotten a little too relaxed in my opinion,” Candland said of procedural items. “It’s a wake-up call. We can’t do that anymore.”