Area Leaders: Communities ‘Really Bonded’ During Pandemic

Annual Chamber Breakfast Event Virtual This Year

Rockbridge area government leaders shared their thoughts on the struggles of the past year and what’s in store for 2021 during the chamber of commerce’s annual state of the community gathering. Normally a breakfast attended by community leaders, this year’s gathering was held virtually via Zoom this past Friday because of the ongoing pandemic.

During these trying times, observed Buena Vista Mayor Bill Fitzgerald, “the amazing thing is how the communities have really bonded together. The three localities are really dedicated to working together.”

Regular meetings he’s attended with his counterparts from the other two local jurisdictions – Lexington Mayor Frank Friedman and Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors Chair Dan Lyons – have proven very helpful as they’ve confronted the many challenges posed by COVID-19, said Fitzgerald.

“Despite all the chaotic events of 2020, the city of Lexington [employees] continued to show up, work diligently and make positive progress for our citizens and our community,” said Friedman. “Amongst the pandemic, the protests and the perpetual pivoting, there have been silver linings. Some are easier to see than others, but you will never see the silver lining if you are not looking.”

Friedman praised the city’s Planning Commission, planning director Arne Glaeser and the many citizens who contributed to the new and updated comprehensive plan and Jordans Point Park Master Plan. “Many thanks … for their thoughtful, progressive and energized efforts.” He encouraged everyone to visit the city’s websites and read the plans.

“The past year saw the paving and striping of Main Street, the conclusion of several water and sewer projects, and the continued work with the state of Virginia to purchase the VDOT property and work towards a South Main Street redevelopment,” said Friedman.

A silver lining of the pandemic, he continued, “is the regional cooperation among Buena Vista, Rockbridge County and Lexington. The Rockbridge Area Outdoor Partnership has received several grants and continues great work to enhance the outdoor experiences and feature the outdoor opportunities in our community.”

Back in March, Lyons recalled, “the localities reacted to the pandemic with a unified front. We dusted off a pre-existing plan [and proceeded to implement it.” Even before the CARES Act federal funding arrived, the county’s Economic Development Authority put forward a plan to provide relief to area businesses, he said. The county, for its part, enacted spending and hiring freezes to cope with the sudden downturn in tax revenues.

The county and BARC Electric Cooperative are making a concerted effort to extend broadband internet service to remote parts of the county as the pandemic makes plain the necessity of such a commitment, noted Lyons. Early in the year, a $2.2 million broadband grant was awarded; this amount was later supplemented with $770,000 in CARES Act funding.

With everyone avoiding inside gatherings for much of the year, there’s been a renewed focus on outdoor recreation. Lyons pointed out that visits to Natural Bridge State Park surged in the fall and that a new pedestrian bridge over the South River is being built, at long last, to reconnect a portion of the Chessie Nature Trail that was severed when floodwaters from Hurricane Isabel destroyed the previous bridge 17 years ago.

Looking back over the past year, Lyons said, “I’m most proud that we have all pulled together during this time.”

Also speaking during the virtual meeting were the Rockbridge area’s representatives in the General Assembly, state Sen. Creigh Deeds of the 25th District and Del. Ronnie Campbell of the 24th District. (see separate story)

Friedman closed his remarks by alluding to what transpired in our nation’s capital this past week. “The violence we have seen in recent days in Washington is unacceptable and irresponsible,” he declared. “I implore everyone here to embrace the words of Gandhi: ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ In the future there are far better things and I ask you to do your part to be part of the solution as we work towards a more perfect union. Be thoughtful, be inquisitive, be kind, be respectful and be humble.”

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