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William Byron takes the checkered flag to win the United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday.

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All hail the bales: decorating contest winners

The Grayson County Fair will return on Aug. 11-12, once again held at Bottomley’s Evergreens warehouse in Elk Creek.

One of the fun features each year is Grayson LandCare’s hay bale decorating contest, with awards presented to the top three finishers based on community votes. The hay bale creations are placed throughout the county to promote the fair.

Last year’s winner was the Grayson County Department of Social Services’ ”happy camper” entry with 75 votes. Second place went to Grayson County High School’s Future Farmers of America with 67 votes, and third place went to Mike and Kitty Watson’s caterpillar with 50 votes.

Other entries came from Bridle Creek United Methodist Church, the McKnight Family, Carter Bank & Trust and Independence Farmers Market.

Fair organizers are encouraging people in the community to start thinking about entering contests that range from livestock shows and a honey competition to categories for food, flowers, field crops, baked and preserved goods, arts and crafts. There’s even an annual dog show.

For more information, visit

Police seize meth, gun, ammo

INDEPENDENCE — Two people have been charged after a search of an Independence home turned up 80 grams of methamphetamine, an illegally owned firearm and ammunition.

On Feb. 28 at approximately 11 a.m., members of the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office searched a residence at 414 Beulah Lane in Independence, according to a report from Sheriff Richard Vaughan.

Cody Kyle Bourne, 33, of the residence, was arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, felon in possession of ammunition, possession with intent to distribute more than 10 grams of methamphetamine, and possession of a firearm while possessing a Schedule II drug.

Amber Shaffer Bunn, of 400 Mourning Dove Lane in Elk Creek, was charged with being a felon in possession of ammunition, and possession with intent to distribute more than 10 grams of methamphetamine.

Both Bourne and Bunn were transported to the New River Valley Regional Jail and held without bond.

Members of the GCSO Crime Suppression Unit, Sgt. Bradley Hoffman, Investigator Ronald Williams, and Patrol Cpl. Chris Shaw conducted the investigation.

County could create wireless authority

INDEPENDENCE — The Grayson County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing at its April 13 meeting about establishing a wireless internet authority for the county.

Tom Revels — Grayson’s liaison to internet service provider Gigabeam and project manager for the county’s universal broadband project — laid out a case methodically before the board, citing multiple reasons a wireless authority would be of benefit.

“As you know from prior discussions, the primary goal of the county’s communication infrastructure plan is to provide reliable and redundant service assets across the entire county and to attempt to our best ability to eliminate the voids and the disconnects in communication that exists,” he said.

Revels said the three areas a wireless authority could achieve are universal access to broadband service for all citizens — which he defined as access that is an option but not a mandate — reliable cell service, and having state-of-the-art 911 communication capabilities across the county.

The proposed wireless authority would help the county realize these goals more effectively, according to Revels. “We all know we’re in the midst of a project with AEP and Gigabeam that includes fiber and some wireless internet broadband services. But we’ve learned a lot of lessons from that project thus far,” he said. “And we believe the wireless authority will allow the county to take advantage of state regulations.”

Revels also noted that an authority would have the ability to focus on securing more funding and services. “There are statutes specifically established to govern wireless authorities that counties establish to develop partnerships with additional vendors that can bring new technology and new approaches to overlay on the services that are now being offered to the county, to try to fill in the holes that exist” in the area, he said.

“A wireless authority will also give us greater access to grant funding that’s coming now from the state and federal governments,” Revels noted. “And there is a new round of funding that will be coming from the feds in ‘24 that a wireless authority will position us very effectively to hopefully access.”

He assured the board that the wireless authority could be set up without adding any additional personnel to the county budget. Initially, the board of supervisors members would serve as the board for the authority. “And as project manager of the current broadband project, I could serve as the project manager under the wireless authority,” Revels said.

Supervisor At-Large John Fant addressed this suggestion in a follow-up phone call from the newspaper. “We’re already county employees and we’re already paid,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a growth in additional cost.”

He did note that the wireless authority might want citizen advisors from each district for additional input, but that the board would be in charge of the authority’s financial decisions. However, Fant said, these ideas are still in the planning stage.

Partway through the vote to hold a public hearing, Wilson District Supervisor Zeke Anderson expressed some concerns about the idea. “Anytime we create another authority, we’re creating another layer of governmental bureaucracy and that seems to be where we’ve been for the last year trying to solve the [broadband] issue… I am in favor of having a public hearing, but I guess my concern is if folks from the public come, they may be like me — they don’t even know what to ask.”

He asked if any information would be put before the citizens prior to the meeting.

Revels noted that this was “just an introduction” to the idea. “We will put information on the county’s website. We’re working on that content right now,” he said, adding that he planned to get information out so citizens could make an informed decision.

“The details of how this would be set up is not in your request,” said Anderson. “It’s just a hearing to discuss whether we authorize the authority to have discretionary spending, or if we’re just going to work as a pass-through who serves on that authority. Those things are still part of the discussion for the hearing?”

“That’s correct,” said Revels.

Fant noted that the formation of regional authorities, which the Virginia General Assembly once authorized, “has now been delegated down to allow counties to be able to have authority. And so, having an authority for the county to be able to focus on county assets and county capability or different technologies and accessing different funding is really what it’s all about.”

Fant said that the county’s Broadband Committee will hear about the ideas on March 22 and there will be a presentation at April’s board of supervisors meeting before the public hearing.

The board then voted to approve the hearing.

Revels emphasized that he is willing to field questions directly from the public, and can be reached at 980-253-0681.

Electric bills going up $20 per month

State regulators approved an average monthly residential bill increase of $20.17 for customers of Appalachian Power so that the company can recover increased fuel costs.

The State Corporation Commission, which oversees the state’s public investor-owned utilities, approved the increase following the request from the utility in the fall, which initially sought a bill increase of $33.24 per customer before the company volunteered a mitigation plan.

The approved increase had been in effect on a temporary basis since Nov. 1. The commission is also reviewing bill increases for natural gas customers amid rising supply costs.

The commission noted inflationary pressures in issuing its final order, but added “We are deeply concerned about the significant rate increase requested in this case, and its impact on customer bills. The impact of the increase is worsened by its introduction during the winter months, which are typically higher usage months, and by other recent APCo rate increases.”

With the mitigation plan, which calls for recovery of the increased fuel cost over a two-year period starting Nov. 1, 2022, instead of a one-year period, the bill increases allow the company to recover $279 million for its fuel factor — or costs for fuel to generate electricity.

“When the company made its annual fuel factor filing last year we asked that the fuel cost be spread over two years knowing the increase would be difficult for many people and customers,” Teresa Hall, an APCo spokesperson said by email on March 6. “We are extremely pleased that this request received approval.”

The fuel factor approval and the mitigation plan came with the support of the Office of the Attorney General.

“Even with the two-year mitigation approach, there will be rate shock to all classes of customers from the 88% increase to the fuel factor,” wrote Scott Herbert, assistant attorney general, in a letter to the commission. “There are no good options for customers in light of the substantial increases in the company’s fuel costs, and Consumer Counsel supports the mitigation proposal volunteered by the company”

The approval also came after Dana Wiggins, director of outreach and financial advocacy for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, a ratepayer advocacy group, testified during the case that bill impacts will be felt by the company’s customer base, who earn incomes lower than the state median.

By phone interview, and referencing a recent Supreme Court of Virginia decision to allow APCo to recover coal-plant-retirement costs, Wiggins said these increased fuel factors costs, which are passed on to customers with no changes, make it “all the more critical” to scrutinize the cost increases utilities seek.

As part of the approval, the commission will also conduct a retroactive fuel audit of the company from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2022; the results will be included in the utility’s next proceeding on setting the fuel factor rate. As part of the audit, the commission will analyze APCo’s coal fuel procurement activities, which the company told the West Virginia Public Service Commission in October had become difficult.

In the company’s request for the fuel factor increase, the utility — which must decarbonize its grid by 2045 under the Virginia Clean Economy Act — said its growing use of renewable energy such as solar and wind will reduce fuel costs. At that time, about 6% of the company’s power supply came from renewable energy.

Temporary benefits for assistance programs ending

Several medical, food and financial assistance programs administered by the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) and the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) are set to expire due to recent changes in federal legislation.

The programs, which have provided additional benefits and eligibility waivers to many Virginians, were offered on a temporary basis to help households cope with hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, the agencies said in a news release.

However, the recent passing of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act 2023 announced the end of the continuous coverage requirement on March 31 and the approaching end of the federal public health emergency (PHE) on May 11.

States will soon return to normal processes, including:

Virginia Medicaid

Continuous health coverage will end March 31, with disenrollment beginning no earlier than April 30. Virginia will return to normal enrollment processes, including redeterminations and processing reductions/closures of health coverage. Medicaid renewals will continue over a 12-month period. Members should make sure their contact information is up to date to ensure receipt of important information during the transition back to normal operations.

Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT)

Final P-EBT benefits will be issued in August, in accordance with the end of the federal public health emergency.

Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) for College Students

Expanded eligibility requirements will end June 10, in accordance with the end of the federal public health emergency. Issuances occur on the 1st, 4th and 7th of the month.

Additionally, temporary benefits for the following programs have recently ended:

Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

The period of continuous coverage ended, and Virginia Initiative for Education and Work (VIEW) requirements resumed Jan. 1.

Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) Emergency Allotments

Emergency Allotments that raised eligible SNAP households’ maximum benefit ended Feb. 16. Households will receive benefits without the additional supplement beginning March 2023. Issuances occur on the 1st, 4th and 7th of the month.

VDSS and DMAS said they are working together to provide information and resources to prepare Virginia families for the upcoming program changes.

“Along with a dedicated unit of trained staff to support customers during this program transition, VDSS and DMAS have also partnered with health plan providers, community organizations, local schools, institutions of higher learning and stakeholders to ensure eligible Virginians have access to all available resources, receive assistance in navigating systems, and are able to retain access to food assistance and quality health care coverage,” the news release said.

VDSS Commissioner Dr. Danny Avula said the agency offered Virginians enhanced monthly benefits and expanded access to benefit programs for as long as federal law allowed. Now, he said, “we are prepared to continue to help create opportunities for Virginia’s families to work towards self-sufficiency and overall well-being.”

Cheryl Roberts, DMAS director, said her department is “ready to help our members find the right health coverage — whether through Medicaid, the federal marketplace, or private health insurance — so that Virginians stay covered and stay healthy.”

Both agencies encouraged households currently receiving assistance through any of the affected programs to verify that their contact information is up to date to ensure prompt delivery of notices and communications related to the upcoming changes.

Household information, including mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses can be verified or updated in the following ways:

  • Commonhelp ( — For assistance with SNAP, SNAP for College Students, Medicaid, TANF, and P-EBT.
  • Cover Virginia ( or call 1-855-242-8282 (TTY: 1-888-221-1590) — For assistance with Medicaid or FAMIS.

Local departments of social services also are prepared to assist members with updating their contact information and provide information and resources regarding other Virginia programs.