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Franklin Co. candidates give thoughts on business park, pipeline at forum

Franklin Co. candidates give thoughts on business park, pipeline at forum

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MONETA — As Election Day draws near, the Summit View Business Park has once again emerged as one of the top campaign issues in Franklin County.

All three board of supervisors candidates who spoke at a Monday night election forum voiced concerns about the multimillion dollar effort to develop a 550-acre business park.

Lorie Smith, a Republican seeking to represent the Gills Creek District, said she’s concerned about future tax increases that will be needed to support the project. The candidate also said she does not support the aspects of the park that will not generate revenue. Plans call for public amenities like athletic fields and an event space.

Rick Smithers, who is making a bid for the Gills Creek District as an independent, said it’s “ridiculous” for a county with pressing problems like limited availability of broadband to spend millions on a business park.

John Hinkell, a candidate for the Union Hall District, said he fears the county has overcommitted itself financially with this project. Hinkell said he’s been unable to find one voter who supports the project.

The supervisor-hopefuls discussed their positions at an election forum hosted by the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Smith Mountain Lake Association. The event, which was held at Trinity Ecumenical Parish, also included candidates for the General Assembly and constitutional offices.

Questions from the audience helped to guide the discussion. In addition to asking about the business park, candidates were also prompted to weigh in on the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

At this stage, Smith said it makes sense to move forward with pipeline construction. However, Smith said she has concerns about the effects the pipeline will have on Smith Mountain Lake, which she noted is an important economic driver.

Smithers said he is opposed to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which runs near the church where he serves as pastor. The issue prompted him to run for office.

Hinkell said he is against the pipeline, and criticized the current board of supervisors for failing to take a position on the subject as a body. The candidate said he has concerns about the project’s environmental effects and also what he called unfair deals for landowners.

Smith said she’s concerned about Franklin County’s limited growth and population decline. Reversing those trends requires taking a close look at the budget and also focusing on village centers, like Westlake, which she views as a county asset, she said.

Creating an environment in which his children can raise their families in Franklin County is Smithers’ goal. He also pledged to stand against excessive or frivolous spending.

In addition to protecting Smith Mountain Lake, Hinkell identified increasing government transparency and developing sound fiscal policy among his top priorities.

Smith and Smithers are the only candidates for the Gills Creek District seat, which is being vacated by incumbent Bob Camicia. A third candidate, Patricia Bechtler, has withdrawn from the race.

Hinkell is challenging incumbent Union Hall District Supervisor Tommy Cundiff, who was first elected to the position in 2015. Cundiff was not present at Monday night’s forum.

Two other board of supervisors positions will be on the ballot in November. In the Blackwater District, incumbent Cline Brubaker faces challenger Ronnie Mitchell. Tim Tatum is running unopposed in the Blue Ridge District.

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Casey Fabris covers business for The Roanoke Times, where she has been a reporter since 2015. Previously, Casey covered Franklin County. She can be reached at (540) 981-3234 or

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