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Friday, January 08, 2010

Whatever Happened to ...

Following are some of the newsmakers and events featured in 2009.

Enforcement pleases developers

In late July, developers of The Coves at Smith Mountain Lake, a planned upscale development that fronts several thousand feet of upper Blackwater River shoreline known as the Cliffs, announced they would seek to have the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries begin to enforce Franklin County’s no-trespassing  statutes on their waterfront.
Significant numbers of lakers were affected because for decades the Cliffs were a popular summer boat-to-and-hang-out destination, where thrill seekers could experience a 40-foot fall into 70-foot-deep water.  
“We monitored the property, especially but not exclusively, on weekends, for some time,” said  Sgt. Karl Martin, VDGIF conservation police officer. “A few people ignored the posted warnings and ended up paying the resulting fines. Most honored the property owners’ request, shaking their heads in disappointment. The Cliffs was, after all, an SML attraction for 40 years.”  
John Merritt, spokesperson for the developer, praised the enforcement effort.
“The response from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Smith Mountain Lake community was overwhelmingly positive in helping to resolve what had become a public safety issue,” he said.
“VDGIF was able to establish a presence, and the jumping at the Cliffs was effectively curtailed. We appreciate VDGIF’s efforts and the cooperation of SML boaters,”  Merritt added.
Initial attempts to “post” the property were met with disdain as determined cliff jumpers tore down tree-mounted “Private Property —- No Trespassing” signs and destroyed two successive renditions of larger signs the developers installed as “permanent” warnings.
By mid-July, however, steel-reinforced signs and publicity for the intended enforcement, potential Class 1 Misdemeanor fines of up to $2,500 and/or a year’s jail time, and rumors of citations actually issued by Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Franklin County law enforcement officers convinced boaters that the Cliffs were, indeed, closed to jumpers.
As for progress at the development itself, Merritt said: “Optima Properties has been working with builders and architects through the latter part of 2009 to design a series of homes that will meet the needs of our current lot owners and potential buyers. We have seen a strong movement at both Smith Mountain Lake and other markets we are working in toward smaller, more efficient homes that emphasize green building practices and sensitive homesite development.  We anticipate that the first homes will be started at The Coves in 2010 as the economy strengthens and buyer interest in Smith Mountain Lake rebounds.”

— Jerry Hale

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Cliffs jumper fined for defective equipment

For 28-year-old Michael Kucera, the four seconds of “hang time” he experienced while jumping off the Cliffs was not worth the money and time it ended up costing him.
But, said Kucera, the second 10-hour round-trip he made from his Wake home in Middlesex County to Franklin County was. That was when his court case ended with a rather unusual outcome and when Kucera found out, “I am not a criminal,” he said.
In July while vacationing at Smith Mountain Lake, Kucera was charged by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with trespassing at the Cliffs, for years a popular gathering and jumping-off spot on the Franklin County side of the lake. Kucera said he was not aware that the property was posted and did not see a sign warning that trespassers would be prosecuted.
But a law enforcement officer saw Kucera jump from the private property and wrote him up. Kucera contended that after a half-decade of public use, VDGIF should have gone easy on trespassers in the first year the ordinance was seriously enforced. His plea fell on deaf ears. Kucera decided to argue his case in court.
“After representing myself and losing, I appealed the conviction and $100 fine,” said Kucera. “I hired an attorney for the appeal because I don’t have a criminal record and want to keep it that way.”
Kucera said his attorney procrastinated on negotiating a plea bargain, forcing his return to Franklin County for the Nov. 12 court date.
“Just before my name was called on the docket, my attorney reached an agreement with the commonwealth’s attorney and a VDGIF officer to amend the charge from a Class 1 misdemeanor trespassing to a defective equipment [violation].
“This went down in the books as a busted tail light — which tail light they recorded as being busted, I have no clue,” he added.
Kucera said he was fined $200 for the defective equipment.
That’s not all Kucera’s caper cost him. He figures with court fees and fines, travel expenses and time off from work, and attorney’s fees, the total comes to about $1,220.
But, “getting a trespassing charge amended to defective equipment … priceless,” he said.

— Elizabeth Hock

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Downed crane must come up, says DEQ

The 9- to 10-ton crane that fell into the lake, taking its operator with it on Oct. 5, must come out of the water, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.
“We look at it as debris,” said Allen Linkenhoker, pollution response coordinator for DEQ. “It can’t be demonstrated to us that it’s safe to leave that in place.”
He said there is no way to know how much gasoline or other fluids are in the crane, which is about 40 feet underwater. Linkenhoker said without assurance that there’s no way the fluids could pollute the lake, it must come out.
Linkenhoker said it also does not appear environmentally feasible that divers could remove the fluids, while leaving the crane in place, without some fluids escaping into the lake.
On Oct. 5, Roger Dale “Peanut” Goad, 55, of Henry was operating the crane, which was aboard a barge, removing pilings from an old dock so a new one could be rebuilt when the crane slipped off the barge and sank. Divers found Goad’s body about two hours later outside the crane’s cabin.
Goad was working for Plyler Homes & Docks, where he had worked for almost 40 years.
“It’s been a tragic thing,” said Erik Plyler, company president. “He was a friend and a valued employee.”
The office closed temporarily after the incident for memorial services.
“It [the accident] wasn’t just a business thing; it was a personal thing, too,” said Plyler. “He’s definitely going to be missed.”
When Plyler Homes & Docks reopened, it was without a crane for about one month, he said.
“You need a crane to build docks,” he said. “A lot of our competitors helped us out.”
Plyler said he paid fellow dock builders to drive pilings for him. Then his own crew took over the dock building.  Plyler said the assistance of fellow dock builders helped him complete jobs on time.
Plyler said insurance helped cover the cost of a new crane, which has been in service for more than one month. The downed crane was worth about $40,000, he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard, which has jurisdiction on the lake, investigated the incident. Lt. Hector Pacheco, a Coast Guard investigation officer, said the initial investigation is complete.
His review has been forwarded to the Coast Guard headquarters, where officials will decide when to release the information. Until the headquarters give authorization, Pacheco said he and other Coast Guard officials can’t comment on the review.

— Laurie Edwards

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Newer custom boat to make spring debut

Earlier this year, boat brokers Boonie and Martha Mason showed off the Longboard 23. The custom boat was designed and built by their sons, Chris and Andy, and their business partner Dave Case, in Anna Maria Island, Fla.
The Longboard 23 was built in the trio’s 12,000-square-foot facility and trucked to the lake in July. The Masons were hoping to sell the boat, which featured Honduras mahogany woodwork, a specially made bimini top and chrome accents, at the lake. Instead, the boat was shipped back to Florida and sold there.
But fear not, said Boonie. A newer version of the Longboard 23 is expected to be back on its way to the lake by early spring.
“We’ve got another newer one with more stuff on it coming this year,” said Boonie. “The new boat is similar, but there are a few little things we’re going to leave off of it and some other things we’re going to improve on.”
While new boats weren’t exactly the rage in 2009 because of the down economy, Boonie said he helped broker sales on more than three dozen boats out of Bayside Marina, in partnership with marina owner Dale Runyon.
“I think we did better [this year]. We sold almost twice as many boats this year as we did last year,” said Boonie.
And Boonie said he was looking forward to 2010. He said he already has five to six boats lined up to sell.

To see a picture of the Longboard 23, visit Bayside Marina’s Web site at www.baysidemarinasml.com/usedboatsales.html or contact Boonie and Martha Mason at 297-6144.

— Karen Dillon

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Lake movie prepped to film in fall 2010

After a few false starts, “Lake Effects” is on track to go into production in October 2010. The movie, based around Smith Mountain Lake, has been in the making since early 2008.
“We anticipate being in position to officially green light in early 2010 — the significance of which is that we can move on to the creative process, including casting,” said Sara Elizabeth Timmins, Roanoke resident and the film’s producer in an e-mail.
The film is the brainchild of Timmins, producer and creative director of the independent company Life Out Loud Films, LLC.
The idea came after she visited her parents Bill and Sue Timmins at their Union Hall home for the 2007 holidays. Living in Los Angeles at the time, Sara Elizabeth Timmins said she was stressed upon arrival. But the serenity of the lake calmed her and she decided to share that feeling with others through a movie.
Timmins said a large portion of the budget has been secured through in-kind donations from area businesses and residents. She said that will be advantageous to Life Out Loud Films when they start shopping the movie to networks and distributors.
“It is in the film’s best interest that we first assemble all of our funding from Virginia sources so we maintain more control in our negotiations,” said Timmins.
Timmins said once all the funds are secure, the group will move on to casting. Currently, actor John Diehl (“Stripes,” “Miami Vice”) and acting coach Barry Papick (“The Express,” “Labor Pains,” “Finding Forrester”) have signed on for supporting roles.
Area residents DeeDee Bondurant, a She-Doo, and Tim Ernandes, owner of WSLK 880, will play themselves in the film.

For more information about “Lake Effects,” visit lifeoutloudfilms.com.

— Laurie Edwards

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Vet author working on second title

It’s been four months since Bruce Coston’s first book was released and its already in its second printing.
“Ask the Animals” was released on Sept. 1, with a first printing of 5,500 copies. It’s a compilation of stories about Coston’s pet ownership and stories from his veterinary office outside of Woodstock.
“A book like mine, being a first-time author, that’s a very respectable first printing,” said Coston, who splits his time between New Market and Moneta.
Based on the successful sales of the hardcover and eBook, the publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, is planning to release a paperback version this year.
“And they’ve encouraged me to submit a proposal for another manuscript,” said Coston.
His goal is to have a manuscript ready by summer if time will allow it, he said.
“The things that happen in the office happen every day, so material is not the issue,” said Coston. “Time to sit down and do it is the issue.”
But he has 22 chapters that were cut from “Ask the Animals” to use as a springboard. Coston said he’s been reading over and organizing them and his thoughts to pull together another book.
The success of “Ask the Animals” isn’t easy to track, as very little information is given to the authors, and major book-sellers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon are secretive about how they rank sales, said Coston.
But he dutifully checks his book’s sales rank every day, often multiple times because ranks are updated hourly. On Dec. 29, the Kindle version was ranked No. 2  in two categories and No. 8 in one category. Those numbers are promising and exciting, said Coston.
He said the book’s success may be due to how it appeals to the population of pet owners who see their animals as part of the family, something that often falls on deaf ears.
“Too seldom do pet owners get to share that level of importance with someone else,” said Coston. “It’s not a value that everyone understands.”

For more information about Bruce Coston or “Ask the Animals,” visit brucecoston.com. Books are available locally at The General Store and Gifts Ahoy.

— Laurie Edwards

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Winery owners toast success

It’s been a fruitful year for the owners of Brooks Mill Winery. Since H.T. and Rhonda Page opened the  business nearly 12 months ago, their varieties of fruit wines have become a Smith Mountain Lake favorite.
“It’s been a successful year,” said H.T. “Our customer base is growing. Now that people are starting to find us, they’ll stop by to taste and they’re coming back to buy.”
In the past year, the couple has participated in several area wine festivals. And their wines are now sold in several stores around the lake, including Diamond Hill General Store and ShopRite. Most recently, they expanded to Fresh Market in Roanoke, where they’ve hosted several tastings.
“We’ve been well-received. It’s tough to say after the first year exactly how successful we’ve been because of the down economy,” said H.T. “But repeat sales show that we have a good product.”
The winery has added two new flavors — cherry and peach (coming in February) to their current stock of blackberry, pear and plum varieties. And that blueberry that sold out last June? More is on the way.
To keep their customers up-to-date on what’s happening, H.T. said an e-mail distribution list is in the works. They also post messages regularly on their Web site and Facebook page.

Brooks Mill Winery is located at 6221 Brooks Mill Road in Wirtz. This winter, they are open for wine sales by chance (when their sign is posted at their driveway) and by appointment. For more information, visit www.brooksmillwinery.com or www.facebook.com/brooksmillwinery.

— Karen Dillon

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Mariners Landing’s new condo tower

The foundation for LongView at The Pointe, the fourth condominium tower along the waterfront at Mariners Landing, has been poured and completed, according to Matt White, developer.
“The next step will be to start framing it,” he said.
First, White said he wants to get half the 32-unit building reserved. Currently, they have two reservations. White said they’re selling LongView as either two- or three-bedroom units, or as 113 vacation intervals, or four weeks per year.
White has registered with RCI, one of the largest timeshare exchange worldwide. He said condo owners, whether they own the full unit or a fraction, can register with RCI to trade time at LongView for a vacation at one more than 5,700 resorts worldwide.
“They’re going to have a lot of different options to do trades,” said White.
At Craddock Oaks, a 550-acre golf course community adjacent to Mariners Landing, all of the logging for the 18-hole championship golf course has been completed, as well as a portion of the road leading to the waterfront, said White.
The development will include about 700 single-family homes, as well as townhomes and condominiums. White said he did not market the development in 2009 because of the slow housing market.
“From a real estate standpoint, I think we all understood 2009 was a lost cause,” said White.
He said he plans to start a marketing campaign for the development in the first or second quarter of 2010 so he can start moving property at Craddock Oaks.

— Laurie Edwards

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Unbridled Change takes off

Unbridled Change, an equestrian therapeutic center offering mental health therapy for victims of domestic violence, educational programs for schools and organizations and riding lessons for children and adults with physical and cognitive impairments has helped more than 100 people since it began operating a little more than a year ago, aaccording to Michelle Holling-Brooks, founder and executive director.
She said the nonprofit has receieved a $2,000 grant from Target. The money will help support Unbridled Change’s “Take Back the Reins” program, an equine-assisted psychotherapy group that focuses on dealing with issues brought about by domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
“We have partnered with the Franklin County Juvenile Court Service Unit to provide eight teens, 10 weeks of equine-assisted psychotherapy designed to help them deal with the aftermath of witnessing or being victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” explained Holling-Brooks.  “Our goal with the “Take Back the Reins” program is to break the cycle of violence by helping the victims establish healthy coping skills for anger management issues, self-confidence and self-esteem issues, and also establishing what a healthy relationship looks like.”  
Unbridled Change is also partnering with Wendy’s in Rocky Mount and at Westlake to help raise scholarship funds. On the second Wednesday of the month between 5 and 8 p.m, Wendy’s donates 10 percent of their total sales to Unbridled Change. The money helps Unbridled Change accomplish its mission because 90 percent of its clients are on scholarships.
“We are really looking forward to 2010 and hoping to serve even more children, teens, adults and families,” said Holling-Brook. “We truly do rely on donations, volunteers and general support from the community to reach those women and children who would other wise fall through the cracks. Unbridled Change was founded to reach the kids that do not respond to traditional therapy approaches and are at the highest risk of continuing the cycle of abuse either as future victims or abuser.”

Unbridled Change: 719-2171, 493-0497, www.UnbridledChange.org


— Denise Allen Membreno