Story by Chris Graham
Four years ago, Nancy Sorrells was the political outsider looking in at an uphill battle to win a seat on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.
Today Sorrells is the old pro – OK, not exactly.
The Riverheads District representative on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors is still very much the political rabblerouser that she was back in 2003 when she first won the seat. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s been a very interesting four years, a learning experience. We’ve gotten into some projects and really begun to see what the vision for Augusta County’s future is. And four years is enough to get it started, but not enough to finish some projects and bring an end to them,” Sorrells said in an interview this week on “The Augusta Free Press Show.”
“I think four more years – I think we can really make a difference in what Augusta County is,” Sorrells said.
Sorrells, a political independent, is facing a challenge in her first bid for re-election from Republican Michael Shull. The race, such as it is at this point, has been megaquiet – though one could certainly expect to see the megasite issue that dominated county politics last year to come front and center by the time the leaves start turning colors in the fall.
“I think Augusta County is really at a crossroads,” said Sorrells, who was outspoken in her opposition to the development of a megaindustrial site in Weyers Cave that reportedly once had the interest of Toyota as a possible home for a new North American auto-assembly facility.
“We have grown at a pace faster than the state’s pace – and that’s not a bad thing. But you can grow in the right way – and that takes a lot of planning, and it’s maybe much more time-consuming than the job of supervisor was, say, 20 years ago, when we weren’t growing at that fast pace, and we weren’t feeling the pressures from other parts of Virginia and the Eastern Seaboard,” Sorrells said.
The Riverheads District is itself feeling those pressures – despite the efforts of county leaders to try to fan new growth to the Beverley Manor, South River and Wayne districts in and around Fishersville, Stuarts Draft and Verona in the heart of the county.
“Riverheads is not the most rural district in Augusta County – but it is certainly one of the more rural ones. But yet on our edges, as we get closer to Staunton, as we get closer to Stuarts Draft, we begin to make that transition into a more suburban area,” Sorrells said.
“Riverheads has strong agriculture – and it also has the most unpaved roads, I guess the most rural look about it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s always going to look that way if we don’t take some steps to try to preserve what we have, and encourage our agricultural sector to remain strong economically. That’s the key, I think – is if we have strong agriculture, and it can be a way to make a living and contribute to the economy, then there’s not as great a pressure to chop up lots and sell them off,” Sorrells said.
Aside from the growth issue that the megasite debate of 2006 stirred up in Augusta County, Sorrells thinks there might be a bigger-picture item up for discussion as voters prepare to head to the polls in November.
“The megasite issue really got people awake to local politics. And whether you were for or against Toyota or a large industry like that coming in, I think the people deserved and really wanted to have a voice in the future that Augusta County is going to have – what it’s going to be. And I think that should be a factor as people to go to the polls this year. Do you want an open government where the people have a say in it?” Sorrells said.
“We’ve passed a comprehensive plan that has a vision spelled out in the plan. But are people going to have the opportunity to discuss that vision as we make decisions? That should be something that people ask. Are we going to have an open government where people get to participate as much as possible? Or do we bring decisions that are already made to the people – when their voice isn’t as important?” Sorrells said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.