At press time on January 26, 2016, much of Middleburg was still digging out from under three feet or more of snow, higher in drifts, and almost six feet high in some plow berms.
Schools were still closed, but traffic was beginning to move.
The Town Manager, still digging toward the entrance to a cul-de-sac at home in Purcellville remained, as she had throughout the storm, in constant touch with Town Staff by lap top and cell phone.
The Police Department was just beginning to end a three- or four-day camp out at their new headquarters on West Federal Street.
Thanks to what Police Chief A.J. Panebianco described as “preparedness, hard work, and the extraordinary good sense and spirit” of the Middleburg community, the Town appears to have come through the storm with colors flying.
Flooding caused by a water main break and a residential fire outside the town limits appear to have been the only major incidents made more difficult to handle by the storm.
At press time no major automobile accidents, personal injuries, or deaths linked to the storm had been reported.
According to Police Chief Panebianco, he, Lt. Mike Prince, Marvin Simms and his maintenance team, and the town’s contractor for water and sewer services were in place and well prepared by the time the well-tracked mega-storm began to hit Middleburg, late Friday, January 22.
The Police Department essentially camped out and patrolled from their new headquarters for the duration. Though the department owns three four-wheel-drive vehicles, most if not all patrolling was done on foot as the snow grew deeper.
Indeed, by around three a.m. on Saturday, snow plows could not keep up with the snowfall and blowing snow. At one point Vice Mayor Darlene Kirk called to report a heavy duty snow plow had gotten stuck.
“People were terrific about staying off the streets,” Panebianco reported. “It’s always tempting to test one’s driving skills in the snow,” he noted, “especially if one has, as so many of our friends and neighbors do, four-wheel drive vehicles.”
“But this time there was none of that,” the Chief said. “People realized that going out in a major storm like this, not only put themselves in danger, but everyone who would have to come to their aid. Everyone was just great.”
The Chief credited the community’s trust and extensive use of the department’s web site during the crisis for helping a lot. By storm’s end well over 10,000 hits had been recorded for the site’s DOT safety guidelines alone.
With such a positive response from motorists, the department could focus on people on foot taking care of their animals, shoveling or snow blowing, watching over their businesses, or just out to take a look at the storm
Middleburg’s officers were tasked to watch for people in distress, and make sure no one found themselves out in the storm in trouble and unable to summon help.
The best and sometimes the only way to do that job was for officers to walk their beats in the snow. Not an hour passed without one officer or more moving out to watch over the Town.
At night the Chief kept two officers on duty, one always at headquarters, just in case whoever was out in the snow got into trouble on their own, got stuck, or fell on the ice.
Stewart Will of Imboden Services hunkered down at the Water Treatment Plant and stood watch over those critical facilities for the duration.
Marvin Simms and his crews, by all accounts “were everywhere.”
Bobby Kirk and his Bobcat were “invaluable to the force” the Chief reported. Kirk cleared paths to make sure the Police Department’s 4×4’s could reach the streets. Indeed, many of the narrow paths cleared early on Middleburg’s back streets were done under the worst of conditions by Kirk and his machine. In an emergency those paths would have been priceless
Jesus Sandoval and his team, who among other things help address the Town’s landscaping needs, put their shovels to another use during the storm. “Life savers,” the Chief termed them.
Especially gratifying were the large numbers of residents who, without being asked, volunteered support.
Erica Coddy showed up at Police Headquarters with what the Chief described as a weekend’s supply of food: pot roast, meat balls, pasta marinara. Mayor Davis made her traditional pot of snow-emergency chili, but this time, much to the Chief’s chagrin, the snow was so deep it was impossible to get in or out of her house. Eventually there were more offers of food than the Chief and his officers could possibly accept.
Panebianco and Town Manager Martha Semmes had nothing but praise for the grace, good sense and generosity of the citizens of Middleburg.
Semmes noted that before, during and after the storm the Town Managers of Leesburg, Lovettsville, Purcellville, Round Hill and Middleburg telephoned to offer each other support and assistance if and when it was needed.
Panebianco described his officers and town staff as “the best team I have ever served with in a long, long, long, career in law enforcement.”
January 14 Town Council Meeting
Before the storm, at the regular monthly meeting of the Middleburg Town Council on January 14, representatives of the National Sporting Library & Museum and the Cherry Blossom Cancer Foundation spoke to council, reviewing their work for the year and expressing appreciation for the support provided their organizations by both Council and the citizens of Middleburg.
Boy Scouts Ben Keith and Grant Strickland, sons of Leesburg Veterinary Hospital’s Mike Strickland, supplemented the press coverage of the meeting. All three are working on their Citizenship in the Community merit badges, and one is well on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout.
The Town’s new Treasurer, Ashley Bott, made her first official appearance at a regular meeting of Council. After enjoying the warmest of welcomes by Town Council and her new colleagues on the Town Staff, she arrived to find her new office had been diagnosed as suffering from a bad case of mold and mildew. She will make her first official report as Town Treasurer at Council’s February meeting. Town Administrator Martha Semmes expressed her special thanks to Vice Mayor Darlene Kirk and Economic Development Coordinator Cindy Pearson for their help during the period in which the town was without a Treasurer, and for their work in screening and interviewing candidates for the job.
Just in time to greet the latest snow storm, Imboden Environmental Services, the contracted manager of the Town’s water and sewer treatment facilities, reported that they had “winterized” the building housing the Town’s #2 facility and “verified proper operation of the heater.” All other facilities were reported as operating without problems.
Police Chief Panebianco reported that officer Tim Tharpe, injured while directing traffic during this year’s Christmas in Middleburg celebrations, had been cleared for light duty and, with luck, would be returning to full service soon. He also noted that Middleburg’s training of its officers for the use of body cameras had been cited in a Neal Augustein feature story on WTOP-TV. All officers on the Middleburg Force are scheduled to be using the technology in February.
Town Council has at last passed a resolution adopting guidelines governing guided tours for hire within the town limits of Middleburg. Among other things, “tour businesses” will henceforth be required to carry a $1 million liability insurance policy, be licensed by the town, operate only within the Historic District, and notify the Police Department of the route of any impending tour.
Vice Mayor Kirk has long expressed her concern about one element not covered by the resolution: the accuracy of information provided by the guides. National Park Service tour guides, she noted, must meet rigorous knowledge requirements in places like Harper’s Ferry and Gettysburg. Ironically, the issue of tours for hire in Middleburg was first raised just before Halloween by an organization that wanted to lead tours of places in the village that are “haunted.”