Story by Chris Graham
Pastures District board of supervisors candidates Tracy Pyles and Don Michael are split on how Augusta County should approach the promotion of growth in its tourism industry.
“We need to put ourselves in a position to take advantage of the natural treasures that we have here at our disposal,” said Michael, the Republican Party nominee for the seat, at a candidates forum last week in Verona.
“It is my hope that we make every effort to increase tourism. It could give our economy a real boost,” Michael said.
Pyles, for his part, said it is important to view tourism dollars in the context of the local economy as a whole.
“Tourism is just one part of the equation,” Pyles said at the forum, which was sponsored by the Augusta Community Partnership.
“We need to strive for economic balance. There are few communities out there that base their entire economy on tourism. And that’s because tourism jobs are not good-paying jobs, for the most part,” Pyles said.
“It’s a nice thing to have, but I think I’d have a hard time justifying spending millions of dollars on a tourism project that is going to be questionable as to whether we’ll ever see a good return on that investment.”
The candidates also differed in their positions on the purchase of land-development rights.
Localities across the country have begun programs to purchase development rights from farmers as a means of preserving agricultural lands for generations to come.
Michael said he supports the creation of a PDR program in Augusta County.
“Over the next 15 years, 70 percent of the agricultural land in Augusta County is going to change hands. I don’t have to tell you that this is a critical time when it comes to our agricultural community,” Michael said.
“We need to take steps now to ensure the continued economic vitality of agriculture, or we’re going to pay down the road.”
Pyles questioned whether the program could ever be sustainable for the long term.
“Augusta County is in a unique situation. We have 438 square miles in land use right now. Based on what money might be made available for one of these programs, we’d barely be able to put a drop in the bucket toward doing anything to protect the future of farming here,” Pyles said.