Weird Virginia “Snake” Actually a South Asian Worm

A weird creature found in Virginia last week, initially thought of as a snake, has been identified as a large invasive species of Asian worm.

Images posted on Virginia Wildlife Management and Control facebook page on October 28, showed a long weird snake-like creature. It was reported to be 10-12 inches long and had a half moon-shaped head. The post compared it to another spooky creature found in Virginia a couple years ago. The department was not sure if it was a “freak of nature” like the two headed copperhead they were involved with a few years ago. 

The facebook post was soon filled with comments pointing out that the creature was in fact a hammerhead worm.

The information was later verified by the Texas Invasive Species Institute. The hammerhead worm is a “terrestrial flatworm” native to South Asia. Indeed one of the commenters on the post was from Okinawa Japan and pointed out that it was found in their locality. A resident of Mecklenburg County VA also claimed to have seen the species in their yard.

The department later posted the video that was sent to their Snake Identification Hotline from Midlothian Virginia. 

According to Texas Invasive Species Institute the species hitchhiked its way to the U.S. decades ago in the horticulture trade and specimens have been found in greenhouses as far north as Maine.

Virginia is not among the state’s where the worms have been found, but they have turned up in nearby North Carolina, the institute reports.

The species of the worm is hermaphroditic which means it has both male and female genitalia. The worm can also quickly regain any damage to its tissues and can grow into multiple new creatures if cut into pieces. Everybody had the same joke about the hammerhead worm being practically immortal. There is indeed some truth to the claim. 

“Flatworms may not look that exciting, but they have an astonishing superpower: regeneration. When bits of them are amputated, these bits can regrow into complete worms — even from snipped-off fragments that represent 1/300th of the worm’s body,” Live Science reports.

For that reason, the Virginia Wildlife Management and Control officials did not kill the worm. They thought it was better to just leave it alone. 

Virginia Wildlife Management and Control department services all of Central Virginia and its surrounding areas 24/7 and can be contacted anytime, day or night at 804-617-7086 or 804-304-0464 for animal or pests related issues.

Virginia Launches the Largest Infrastructure Project in the Commonwealth’s History

Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project is set to become the largest infrastructure project in Virginia’s history. Governor Ralph Northam launched the project along with the officials from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on Thursday. 

The $3.8 billion project will increase tunnel and interstate capacity along 9.9 miles of Interstate 64 between Hampton and Norfolk, reducing congestion and easing access to the Port of Virginia and the world’s largest Naval base.

The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel was the first ever crossing built between two man made islands. Built in 1957, the HRBT will now act as a corridor between two thriving port communities. 

The traffic on the HRBT has remained consistent even during the pandemic. Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine informed that traffic volumes have been nearly 95 percent of historic average since July. 

“The world’s best designers, builders, engineers, and technology are converging here in Virginia to build your new tunnel,” said Valentine. 

“We are bringing every asset to the table to give people what they may value most—time.”

The HRBT Expansion Project will add twin, two-lane bored tunnels and widen the four-lane segments of Interstate 64 in Hampton between Settlers Landing Road and the Phoebus shoreline, and in Norfolk between the Willoughby shoreline and the I-564 interchange. The bridge is used by over 100,000 drivers daily who will welcome the relief effort. 

Governor Ralph Northam said that the project will literally bring people closer and retreated the ambition to invest in infrastructure in the region.

“We are making critical investment in the infrastructure of our region,” said Governor Northam.

“Travel will be safer and more reliable,” said the Governor. “We are supporting families, commerce, shipbuilding, tourism, our military and The Port of Virginia.”

A highly-specialized tunnel boring machine will be used to dig through the soil and construct tunnel segments simultaneously. The advanced technology is used in the construction of highly complex projects such as Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway.

The new HRBT is only the fourth roadway project to use this equipment in the United States. The machinery, currently under construction in Germany, is expected to arrive in Hampton Roads in 2021. It is expected to begin tunneling operations in early 2022 after a lengthy assembling process. 

A funding agreement with Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission announced in 2019 will provide 92 percent of locally sourced funding for the project. $200 million will be secured from the Commonwealth’s Smart Scale Program and $108 million will be provided by VDOT.

In addition to reducing congestion, the project will also give a huge boost to the economy. It is set to bring in more than 4.6 billion in investment and 28,000 new jobs.

The expansion project is set to be complete in November of 2025.

Virginia Becomes Third State to Ban No-Knock Warrants

Virginia became the third state in the country to ban the controversial no-knock warrants. The move came this Wednesday when Governor Ralph Northam signed police reform legislation that includes a ban on no-knock raids. The raids are used frequently by the police to make drug busts. 

The move came after months of protests that had engulfed the Nation following the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor back in March. Taylor, a 26 year old Black woman, was with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker at her Louisville, Kentucky home when the raid happened. The incident also took the life of a police officer as Walker opened fire first fearing an intruder. 

The incident happened because the Police executed a no-knock warrant that created confusion. The Police claim that they announced themselves and knocked for a minute before breaking inside while Kenneth Walker says he did not hear the police identify themselves despite asking several times.  Prohibition of no-knock warrants is believed to help both the law enforcement and the residents. 

Virginia started deliberations over the move in early September when the Virginia Senate passed legislation to enact several police reforms. The bill passed along a party-line vote also included banning chokeholds and higher training standards for police. 

Virginia’s move will also require law enforcement officers to get permission from a judge to conduct a warrant at night. Governor Ralph Northam also approved other legislations including limits on the use of neck restraints and reducing the use of military equipment. 

“Too many families, in Virginia and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” said Governor Northam in a press release on Wednesday. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Virginia joins two states, Florida and Oregon, and 13 local governments or police departments that have banned the warrants or restricted their use in response to the killing of Breonna Taylor. 

Lawmakers in at least ten states have now introduced or pre-filed legislation to ban or restrict the no-knock warrants. 

The new reforms generally gained support however there was some criticism from criminal justice experts. Few experts were of the opinion that the warrants are useful in dangerous situations and drug smugglers may use the loopholes in the new legislation. The law will go into effect on March 1, according to Alena Yarmowsky, a spokesperson for Northam.

7 Fascinating Hidden Gems to Visit in Fairfax

Fairfax Virginia is a great place to be if you want to visit amazing tourist attractions. From colorful and scenic views of regional parks to historic and science museums, here’s a list of hidden gems you should visit this Fall. 

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Meadowlark Garden is a true hidden gem of North Virginia. The park will have so many beautiful colors to offer this Fall. Hickories and Tulips stand out among the tall oaks and beautiful red maples. The cooler temperatures allow visitors to get the most out of the scenic views.

A Korean Bell Garden was recently added to the park. The garden offers a few Asian structures adding an essence of the unique and delicate Korean taste. The garden is surrounded by Lily pond lakes adding to the beauty of the area. 

Tickets are $6 per adult. Children under six can enter for free and enjoy a full day of soothing views. 

Great Falls Park

The 800 acre Great Falls Park located just off the Potomac River is another beautiful place to visit this Fall.

Walks bordering the Potomac River can be so soothing. Mather Gorge is always a great sight and presents beautiful picture taking opportunities.

The Park also offers other moderately difficult trails. So if you want to avoid crowds you can take one of the interior trails. 

When you pay for admission it’s good for re-entry for a week so you can visit multiple days in a row.

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

Another little gem for the fans of the beautiful view and scenic trails. Trails are marked by painted color squares in mature trees. There’s very little man-made influence here; a few trash cans and benches with some signs near the parking area. 

It’s a conservatory park meaning no vehicles firearms and camping or campfires. You’ll see horseback riders, hikers and lots of dogs. 

It’s quiet, safe without speeding bikers and a great location to visit with family.

There’s part of the canal still intact from George Washington’s time.

If you like natural woods and a peaceful environment you will enjoy Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

George Mason’s Gunston Hall

A little known attraction, George Mason’s Gunston Hall is perfect for museum lovers and history buffs. 

The Hall was once a tobacco and corn plantation owned by the Author of Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason. 

Touring Gunston Hall gives visitors a detailed account of George Mason’s life. 

Purchasing a pass gives you all-day access to hiking trails, grounds, Visitor Center exhibitions and guided tour of the home. Grounds are well kept and there’s a picnic area near the parking lot. 

Hike the scenic trails and discover George Mason’s lasting legacy here. 

Sully Historic Sites

Both a Virginia landmark and a nationally registered historic place, it is a great place to visit for the fans of Sights and Landmarks. The place also known as Sully Plantation is very intricate to the American Civil war. 

The guides are very educated about the history of the house which makes for an informative experience. It’s also a great place to take out of town guests. 

The place offers a house tour and “Forgotten Roads” which is all about the lives of enslaved people who lived here. Overall the site gives visitors a fascinating perspective of life on a Virginia plantation. 

Steven F Udvar Hazy Center

A space museum like no other, the place offers so many fascinating pieces of history. 

There’s a huge display of flying machines from Enola Gay to the Discovery Shuttle. Once you are here you’ll be spending the whole day. The place fascinates people from every age group and really sets a standard for other similar places. 

You get to see an SR-71 spy plane, a retired SST (Super Sonic Transport), the original Boeing 707, the Enola Gay and much more. 

A lot of aviation history is found here and gives visitors a sense of how much things have changed over the years. 

Mustang Sally Brewing Company

If you have had enough of scenic views and museums, you can always go out for a round of food and drinks in Fairfax.

Are you a fan of live music and great beer? Mustang Sally Brewing Company is the place for you. 

It’s a great hang out place for Families and offers a lot of parking. You can drop by with your friends and enjoy outside seating in season.

There’s also Pinball and Corn hole set up and ready to play. Great ambiance, relaxing environment, lovely music and great beer. What’s not to like? 

Tips to Stay Safe During Halloween – COVID-19 Edition

Halloween is around the corner but like every other activity this year, the Covid-19 pandemic will have to be considered, especially when trick-or-treating. The virus spread isn’t slowing down and parents are worried about letting their kids take part in Halloween activities. 

Health authorities are encouraging residents to follow CDC guidelines or even skip the activity altogether. The big question then is: How to stay safe while also enjoying Halloween? 

This year Halloween can be even more fun as there’s an opportunity to get creative and find alternatives to traditional Halloween activities. Some of the activities that can be fun and keep everyone safe are: 

Virtual Costume Parties

Going out for traditional costume parades carries the risk of virus transmission. But that can’t stop you from dressing up and showing off your costumes. Just gather all friends and family through conference calls and guess each other’s costumes. It can be a fun and personalized activity. Most importantly it keeps everyone safe. 

Creative Halloween-Themed Decorations

Social distancing guidelines don’t mean you can’t have fun with decorating pumpkins. Lighting your house according to Halloween traditions can also be a fun activity. Get really creative with your lawn decorations. Surround yourself with that Halloween like environment.

Halloween Movie Night

Movie nights are a fun activity in their own right. Add that Halloween spice by selecting an age-appropriate spooky movie, dress up in your Halloween costumes and watch it together with your family. Get everybody’s reviews and even try to recreate some of the best scenes using costumes. 

Candy Scavenger Hunt

Trick-or-treating is a no go for many families this year. But you can still have fun with your candy. Hide the treats in the house, Gather the kids and set them off on a scavenger hunt. Offer special treats to the winners and even turn it into a yearly tradition. You can even hand a Halloween themed trophy to the winner.

Stay Safe when outside

If you still plan on engaging in outdoor activities make sure that you follow social distancing rules to the maximum. Thankfully, Trick-or-treating is a low contact activity but even when interacting with people avoid contact. 

Some of the methods you can adopt to ensure safety and hygiene are

  • Wear a mask but don’t depend on themed masks as they aren’t as effective. Avoid painting your masks as they might contain toxins.
  • Practice social distancing by creating space between yourself and trick-or-treaters. You can also use gloves or build candy chutes to give out treats. You can learn how to make candy chutes here.
  • Use hand sanitizers and tell your kids to properly wash their hands before going out and upon coming back. Take the sanitizers with you and use them extensively. 
  • Stay in your locality when trick-or-treating. Keep an eye out for virus transmission rates and most impacted areas. Steer clear of high-risk areas. 
  • Keep community gatherings short even if required and stay socially distanced anyway. 

Halloween this year is going to be tricky. The best way to enjoy the holiday is to be creative and minimize outside contact. Stick to the CDC guidelines even when outside. The most important thing is you and your family’s well-being. Have fun and stay safe. 

Breaking: ACLU Loses Fight to Prevent Virginia From Collecting and Storing License Plate Data

In a blow to the ACLU, the Virginia High Court on Thursday sided with the law enforcement and allowed the Police department to continue collecting license plate data using automated scanners. 

Harrison Neal, a Fairfax county resident represented by ACLU, filed a complaint

against the collection of license plate data using Automated License Plate Readers(ALPRs) back in 2015. 

He argued that storing license plate information of  tens of thousands of residents that are not suspected of any criminal activity went against Virginia’s “Data Act” of 2018.

The major debate in the case surrounded on whether the process for keeping ALPR records constituted an “information system” as defined by state law.

In 2019, a Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge ruled in favour of ACLU and Harrison Neal. Judge Robert Smith agreed  that the “passive” use of Fairfax County Police Department’s Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) system violated Data Act. 

Smith put an injunction in place blocking the system’s use. The current ruling however rolls back that decision.

The High Court reversed the Circuit Court decision making special reference to the interpretation of “Personal Information” as defined by the Data Act. 

Justice Stephen R. McCullough gave a detailed 15-page opinion regarding the issue. The Judge wrote that the system would have to be considered a “record-keeping process” in order to violate state law. Since the data being collected doesn’t include additional personal information like phone numbers, addresses, the system doesn’t violate the law.  

It was ruled that data from the license plates alone isn’t enough to adversely affect the data subject. The officers must connect to a separate database from the state Department of Motor Vehicles or other criminal databases to link a license plate with a name or other personal information which means that the ALPR system isn’t in breach of the Data Act. 

“The strictures of the Data Act contemplate accountability and responsibility by an agency for the data it keeps – not data it can query from other sources,” McCullough wrote.

ACLU Virginia Executive Director Claire Gastañaga reacted to the ruling in an email statement. She expressed concerns that keeping a database of private information gives Police unregulated powers to invade privacy of the citizens. 

“This personal information sits in a database for a year whether you’re suspected of a crime or not. Security and privacy can both be protected without giving police the unregulated power to collect private information ‘just because’ and ‘just in case.’” she said. 

An email from Sergeant Hudson Bull with the Fairfax County Police Public Affairs Bureau said,

“The Fairfax County Police Department will continue to provide the highest level of ethical service to our communities while safeguarding the privacy and constitutional rights of all that we serve.”

The ruling allows Police in Virginia to indefinitely keep data from automated license plate readers.

Why Is Virginia A Commonwealth?

Four U.S states; Virginia, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Pennsylvania use the term Commonwealth with their name.

To understand why Virginia is called a Commonwealth we have to first understand what is meant by the term Commonwealth. 

A Commonwealth is a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them. So it is basically a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people. 

The word comprises two parts. Common meaning “belonging to all” and  Wealth meaning “Riches”. So Commonwealth stresses the need for a government made for the common good. 

As for Virginia, the significance of the title Commonwealth is rooted in history. 

As used by Locke, the term “commonwealth” indicated that the legislature, elected by the people, was the dominant force in government.

The term as an official designation was first used in Virginia during the period 1649-1660. Virginia became a royal colony again in 1660, and the word commonwealth was dropped. 

The term was reintroduced in the first constitution of Virginia in 1776- the year Virginia gained independence from British colonial rule. The title was chosen most likely to emphasize that Virginia’s new government was based upon the sovereignty of the people united for the common good. The designation commonwealth of Virginia has been used in official records ever since. 

The title “Commonwealth” also holds political significance for Virginia. It emphasises why Virginia got independence from British colonial rule.

The delegates of Fifth Virginia Convention, a meeting held in 1776 that declared Virginia an independent state, wanted to replace the old form of colonial government with a structure that reflected their rationale for separating from England.

Leaders like George Mason IV and Thomas Jefferson rejected the idea of a hereditary Monarch. The title of a Commonwealth reflects that fundamental change from executive authority of a Monarch to a government of the people. 

So does the title of Commonwealth make Virginia different from other states? 

No it does not. The distinction is simply in the name alone. The commonwealths are just like any other state in their politics and laws. There are no constitutional implications of the title. There is no difference in Virginia’s relationship to the USA. It’s just a name that reflects Virginia’s historic struggle of independence. 

The confusion may be caused due to two factors; U.S territories that also include Commonwealth in their name and a world organization of autonomous states known as the Commonwealth of Nations. 

The territories of Puerto Rico and Northern Mariana are also Commonwealths. Both of these are not states and only have non voting representatives in the Congress. Taxation for the two territories is also different from the United States. 

Meanwhile, The Commonwealth of Nations is a body of Sovereign states comprising the United Kingdom and a number of its former dependencies. 

The Commonwealth of Virginia has nothing in common with these two types of Commonwealths. 

Virginians Can Visit These Nearby States Without Travel Restrictions

With the Covid-19 pandemic not showing any signs of slowing down, the U.S states are implementing varying degrees of travel restrictions on interstate travel. 

These restrictions may include a 14 day mandatory or advised quarantine period. Many states are keeping a list of “high-risk” states. People coming from these states may be subjected to certain travel restrictions including quarantine periods. 

If you are a Virginia resident, here’s a list of states that allow you to visit without quarantining. 

Maryland

There are no travel restrictions or quarantine requirements in Maryland. The Maryland Department of Commerce does have a Masks on Maryland program to ensure safety of its visitors.

West Virginia

WV is another nearing states that will allow Virginia residents to visit without quarantining. Virginia residents can travel the mountain state while following a statewide indoor face covering requirement. General guidelines asking tourists to travel responsibly are in effect. 

Kentucky

Kentucky has put the states with Covid-19 infection rates higher than 15% on a high-risk list. People travelling from these states should undergo a 14-day quarantine. 

Good news for Virginia residents is that Virginia is not on the current list of 11 states. 

Pennsylvania

The Keystone state also has quarantine restrictions in place. The Department of Health advises visitors from states with a high amount of Covid-19 cases to complete a 14-day quarantine. 

Virginia however is not on the 25-state list. 

North Carolina

North Carolina has not imposed any travel restrictions on the visitors and there aren’t any quarantine requirements either to visit the state. Those who plan to travel though should check with the local governments to determine any restrictions in place. 

Details of destinations with restrictions on place can be found here

Tennessee

The state south of Virginia welcomes visitors to its mountains, music, food, rivers and other attractions without having to quarantine. However, the visitors are encouraged to follow CDC guidelines when visiting Tennessee. 

Washington DC

D.C health officials added eight states to the list of locations considered “high-risk” for travel on October 19. High-risk states are those where the seven-day moving average of daily new COVID-19 cases is 10 or more per 100,000 residents. 

This takes the total number of states on the list to 39. Visitors travelling from these states will have to complete a 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in Washington DC. 

Maryland and Virginia though stay exempt from the order. The current list will be in use until Nov 2. 

According to a Transport Security Administration report 6.1 million passengers were screened at U.S. checkpoints during the week of Oct. 12 through Oct. 18.  It is the highest number of people screened since the start of the pandemic in March. 

The spike in travellers means the public should adopt a more cautious approach. While businesses are reopening and travel restrictions being lifted public health experts still urge people to stay at home.

Virginia Mail-in Ballot Deadlines

Election day is less than two weeks away and Virginia voters, particularly those opting for a mail-in ballot, have a lot to keep track of between now and November 3rd. 

Voter registration process was completed last Thursday after a system outage forced a 48 hour extension to the original cut off date of 13th of October. 

For all the registered voters planning to vote by mail the next date to keep in mind is October 23. It is the cut-off date to request a mail-in ballot. It must be noted that putting in a request isn’t enough, the local elections office has to actually receive the requests by 5p.m on 23rd of October. 

The fastest way to apply for a mail-in ballot is through the state’s citizen portal. Mail-in ballots have been very popular this election with the State Department of Elections issuing 926,000 absentee ballots in the first week of early voting.

Once the application is received at the Voter Registration Office, ballots will be mailed to the applicants within two business days. Virginia is one of the states allowing for ballots to be received after election day as long as they are postmarked by November 3. However, the ballot must be received by the Office of Elections by noon on Nov. 6. Voters are required to mail them accordingly. 

Ballots can also be put in a ballot drop-off box at any early voting location.

Virginia also offers two ballot tracking tools for mail-in voters. Voters can track their ballot on it’s way to them and also confirm whether the ballot has been received or not. Keeping track of the ballot will help voters in ensuring that their vote is counted. 

The absentee voting process for Military and overseas citizens is different. Such absentee voters may receive their ballots by email, but the ballot must be returned to the Virginia Department of Elections by either U.S. mail or commercial courier. The department must receive the voted ballot no later than 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.

The voters must also understand the proper way to fill out their vote-by-mail ballot in order for it to be counted. Most of the instructions on what to do will be provided on the ballot. Voters will be required to fill out the information highlighted on the “Envelope B”. 

One puzzling aspect of filling the ballot is the witness requirement. Traditionally absentee voters are required to have a witness present when filling out mail-in ballots. But given the circumstances created by Covid-19, finding a witness can put people at risk. Thankfully, Virginia was one of the eight states to strike down the witness requirement back in August. 

The deadline to send an application for mail-in voting is fast approaching. Voters are well advised to apply for a mail-in ballot ASAP.

Loudoun County Top in Virginia for Deer-Vehicle Collisions, State Farm Data Shows

Fall is upon us and for Virginia that invariably means a lot of Deer collisions. As the fall begins, the deer start roaming more and more and can often be found on the roadways. Like every year the residents have to be vary of these collisions. 

According to the 18th annual deer-vehicle collision study released by State Farm earlier this week, drivers in the United States have a 1/116 chance of colliding with a deer or another animal. However, that risk is higher for Virginia with a likelihood of 1/92 of colliding with an animal on the road. According to the data from State Farms insurance records, 67% of all the collisions from July 1 2019 to June 30th 2020 involved deer. Meanwhile West Virginia remained the most likely state for deer collisions(1/37) and California the least likely(1/642). 

Virginia ranked 12th on the list with most collisions occurring from October through December.

According to 2019 crash data provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, Virginia saw an 11% increase in deer crashes and a 16% increase in injuries compared to 2018.

A total of 6,523 crashes involved deer collisions, with the majority (53%) of incidents (3,477) happening in the last three months of the year. 

The State Farm release also reflects on the impact of Covid-19 on the animal collisions. Owing to fewer drivers on the road there has been a 20 percent decrease in collisions. 

The data from 2019 showed Loudoun county to be top of the list for such collisions with most incidents occurring in November. Loudoun County with 317 deer-related crashes is followed by Fauquier County and Montgomery County with 254 and 214 collisions respectively. 

We are now in the deer mating season which is traditionally a higher risk period for deer vs vehicle collisions. Approximately half or more of all deer-vehicle accidents occur in this period. The peak of which starts from the end of October. Even though there will be less traffic on the roads this fall, caution is important to avoid any potential hazard of deer collisions. Some of the prevention measures can be 

  • Driving at a speed that allows you to pull the brakes in time if an animal comes in your way. 
  • Constantly lookout for any stray animals and avoid sudden change of lanes. 
  • Be extra cautious from Dusk to Dawn as these are high risk times for deer related accidents. 
  • Last but not the least, always wear a seatbelt to ensure safety. 

In case of the unfortunate event of a collision, the American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends the following steps

  • Call the police
  • Avoid the animal you collide with, as a wounded animal can hurt you or itself 
  • Put the Vehicle’s hazard lights on
  • Move the vehicle to a safe location out of the roadway
  • Contact your insurance agent

Fall is a time for a lot of fun activities in Virginia. However, it’s important to stay cautious of the increasing rate of deer crashes. Drive safely, keep yourself and the Virginia deer safe.

Exit mobile version