Spotted lanterfly (via Magi Kern/Unsplash)

Fairfax County officials have a simple message for anyone who spots a spotted lanternfly: kill it immediately.

Native to China, the invasive insect can spread far and wide through its egg masses, making its way to Fairfax County via a recent shipment to a grocery store in Annandale. Loudoun County has also confirmed multiple sightings, but its presence has not reached the level of an infestation — yet.

“This is a relatively new pest in the area and the county is concerned about the potential impact this pest may pose,” Joan Allen, chief of the county’s forest pest management branch, told FFXnow.

Allen says that while the county has not found evidence of an infestation, the county has received several reports of a hitchhiker spotted lanternfly.

The insect can cause serious damage to home and commercial gardens, according to county officials. It thrives on more than 70 plant species, including grapes, apples, stone fruits, and tree-of-heaven. Officials say the state’s peach, apple, grape, and wine industries are most threatened by the insect.

The spotted lanternfly releases a sticky substance called honeydew that attracts wasps and ants. This substance can also encourage mold to grow on plants and trees, which can cover leaves, stunt plant growth, and ruin crops.

Although the insect has been in Virginia since 2018, its recent emergence has prompted the city of Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, and Warren counties to institute a spotted lanternfly quarantine. This effort is intended to slow its spread to un-infested areas of the state.

Businesses must receive a state permit and inspect articles to ensure that they do not contain any life stage of the spotted lanternfly, according to Fairfax County. This quarantine has been in effect since May 2019.

The insect has different colors during four different nymph stages. The county offers the following description of the insect’s changing appearance.

There are black and white nymphs; red, black and white nymphs; and adults. Adult lanternflies have gray-brown forewings, a black head and black spots. When at rest the hind wings, which are crimson in color, can be partially seen through the semi-translucent forewings, which gives the lanternfly a reddish cast. The lanternfly’s abdomen is yellow with black and white bands on the tip and bottom.

October is egg-laying season for most of the insects. Egg masses are typically covered with a light gray wax that looks like mud when it dries.

From this month through July, the county encourages residents to scrape egg masses from trees and trunks with adhesive bands. Scrapings should be discarded in containers of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Stump treatments, hack and squirt treatments, foliar sprays, and basal bark sprays can help during the other parts of the year.

For now, any spotted lanternfly should be killed immediately.

The first spotted lanternflies in the United States were found in Pennsylvania in 2014, according to the National Capital Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management.

Four years later, Virginia officials documented the state’s first lanternflies infestation in Winchester. A quarantine was enacted by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to slow the spread of the infestation.

Photo via Magi Kern/Unsplash

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Fairfax County Courthouse (via Google Maps)

An incident report from the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office alleges that two of the county’s top prosecutors clashed with security guards when asked to undergo a security screening to enter the Fairfax County Courthouse.

The sheriff’s office states in the Sept. 28 incident report that Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and his chief deputy displayed “disrespect and unprofessionalism” that was “unsuited for an officer of the court.”

When asked to go through metal detectors at the courthouse at around 9:37 a.m. that day, Descano reportedly asked why two uniformed law enforcement officers didn’t go through security. When told by two security officers that law enforcement was exempt, Descano said “That’s bullshit!” and then asked “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the top law enforcement officer in the county,” according to the incident report. 

The courthouse routinely requires security screening of all employees and attorneys at the request of the Courthouse Security Committee, which is chaired by Chief Judge Penny Azcarate. Descano reportedly stated that he was exempt from the security screening because of his position.

Descano’s office declined to comment on the incident report. FFXnow has not viewed security footage that the incident report purports corroborates the “visual part of the incident.”

It’s unclear whether Descano and his chief deputy were aware of a new screening policy that appears to have contributed to the verbal altercation.

Under the new security policy, which began on Sept. 1, on randomly selected days, every person entering the courthouse must take part in security screenings.

This requires all individuals to walk through a magnetometer and for all bags, briefcases, purses, parcels, and electronic devices to be screened by an X-ray machine, according to the county’s website, which did not provide information about the new policy until yesterday morning (Wednesday).

A Fairfax County Circuit Court clerk declined to comment on all of FFXnow’s questions, including why the new policy was put in place, why uniformed law enforcement officers are exempt, and how it differs from the court’s previous procedures, including an option that allows attorneys to bypass security screenings.

According to the report, Kyle Manikas, the chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney, took issue with a security search of his lunch bag when a knife was detected in the metal detector screening.

“This is fucking bullshit, I know you are doing your job, but this is bullshit,” Manikas reportedly said, as quoted in the incident report. He was described as “physically upset.”

A butter knife was found in the bag.

The incident report concluded that the security officers experienced “disrespect, curse and abuse, and unprofessional conduct.”

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report. Photo via Google Maps

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Stacy Langton (Photo via FCPS/YouTube)
Mother protests sexual content of book at Fairfax County School Board meeting (via FCPS/YouTube)

Fairfax County Public Schools has pulled two books from its shelves after a local mom complained to the school board that the titles contain graphic sexual content and pedophelia.

A spokesperson for FCPS confirmed to FFXnow that “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe have been temporarily pulled from shelves.

Two committees under the supervision of the school system’s library service coordinator will assess the suitability of both texts for high school libraries. The committee will include representation from staff, students, and parents, according to the spokesperson.

The recommendation of the committees will be put forward to the Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services who will make a final decision as to whether FCPS continues to provide access to these books in our high school libraries,” the spokesperson said.

Stacy Langton, a Fairfax County mother, held up content from the books at a heated Sept. 23 school board meeting. The material — which was blurred in a recording of the meeting — included details of a man having sex with a boy, oral sex, masturbation, and nudity.

“Pornography is offensive to all people,” Langston said. The recording also muted Langton’s descriptions of the books’ content, which she said includes a scene in which a 10-year-old boy recounts sucking an adult man’s penis.

A Patch review of the two books disputed that characterization, reporting that “Lawn Boy” — a coming-of-age novel about a Mexican landscaper — contains no scenes of adults having sex with minors and that the illustration that drew objections in “Gender Queer,” an autobiography, appears in the context of the author’s teenage fantasy.

Another county resident and former FCPS teacher — Adrienne Henzel — said she was appalled by what she described as “homo-erotic material” supported by county taxpayer dollars.

FCPS Pride, an employees’ group that represents the LGBTQIA+ community and formed in 2015, said the inclusion of books that represent “oft-excluded communities such as LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized groups” help feel students more welcome and safer. LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and questioning, and asexual.

“These books are ‘mirrors and windows’ as  they ‘tell a story’ to give a window on a community that a reader may not belong to, and they share a narrative with which a given student may identify,” said Robert Rigby, co-president of FCPS Pride and an FCPS high school teacher.

Rigby told FFXnow that FCPS Pride is thankful for librarians who have established catalogs and collections that include all communities — especially marginalized ones.

Langton’s comments drew several objections from Springfield District board member Laura Jane Cohen, who noted that there were children in the room and that the books are available only in high schools.

She was cut off when she went over the three-minute time limit for public comments and refused to leave the podium for the next speaker, prompting the school board to take a five-minute recess “to clear the room.”

The incident was picked up by several conservative-leaning national news outlets and flagged by Asra Nomani, vice president of strategy and investigations for Parents Defending Education, a recently formed nonprofit organization that fights what it calls “indoctrination” in education. Read More

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Lightning (via Breno Machado/Unsplash)

(Updated at 7:20 a.m.) A transformer blowing out? A meteor? Or just really loud thunder?

A big boom was reported across a wide swath of Fairfax County from Reston and Herndon to McLean around 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday, leaving many residents confused regarding the possible source.

The sound was likely caused by loud thunder that accompanied a storm that was crossing the area at the time. 

The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department reported that it dispatched units to the 13000 block of Woodland Park Road in Reston at approximately 10:59 a.m. after a building there was struck by lightning.

One McLean resident told FFXnow by email that she heard “a loud boom/explosion that did not sound like thunder” around about 10:35 a.m.

“We are on Brook Rd between Rt 7 and Old Dominion Dr.,” Diane Van Tuyl wrote. “My friend in Great Falls on Towlston Rd also heard it. She felt rumbling and some shaking.”

Other residents took to social media to share their bafflement regarding the possible source of the sound, which one user compared to a concussion grenade:

Last week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said a similar boom heard through the greater Shenandoah County region was a fireball

This time, meteorologists with the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang say they’re reasonably confident it was a particularly powerful lightning strike that happened during atmospheric conditions that allowed it to be heard from miles away.

Photo via Breno Machado/Unsplash

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Although Election Day is still more than six weeks away, Fairfax County residents can start casting their ballots when early voting begins tomorrow (Friday).

The county will have three sites open for voting in the Nov. 2 general election for Virginia’s governor and other state offices: the Fairfax County Government Center, the Mount Vernon Governmental Center, and the North County Governmental Center.

The county anticipates a turnout of about 50% for this year’s general election, according to county spokesperson Brian Worthy. But the Office of Elections is prepared for a turnout of 75%.

In the last governor’s race in 2017, turnout stood at around 56% when Gov. Ralph Northam — who cannot seek re-election due to term limits — ran against Republican nominee Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Party candidate Clifford Hyra.

Worthy tells FFXnow that the county is now adept at running elections during the pandemic.

“We have been holding elections since the pandemic and there is no significant impact on our operations at this point,” he said.

The Ballot

Terry McAullife (D) and Glenn Youngkin (R) are running to succeed Northam as governor, while Hala Ayala (D) and Winsome Sears (R) are running for lieutenant governor. Republican Jason Miyares is challenging incumbent Mark Herring, who is a Democrat, for attorney general.

All 100 House of Delegates seats are also up for grabs, with Democrats seeking to maintain a majority in the legislative chamber for the first time since 1999. Sample ballots for each of the Fairfax County races can be found on the Office of Elections website.

Finally, the ballot includes a bond question concerning $360 million in capital improvement bonds for Fairfax County Public Schools.

How to Vote

The Fairfax County Government Center will be open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while the other sites will be open from noon to 7 p.m. on weekdays. All sites will be open on Saturday, Sept. 18 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All registered Fairfax County voters can vote early. The last day of early voting is Oct. 30.

This year, county officials are encouraging residents to vote early using an electronic ballot-marketing machine called an ExpressVote.

The system allows voters to use the machine’s touchscreen instead of filling out a ballot by hand. Ballots are then printed by the machine, a system that county officials say will prevent voters from missing any races on the ballot or accidentally voting for more than one candidate per office.

An additional 13 early voting locations will open up on Thursday, Oct. 21. Those sites will operate from noon to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Weekend hours will be added later: from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 23 and 30, and from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24.

Voters must bring identification when they vote, though a photo ID like a driver’s license is no longer required. Accepted forms include a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or another government document with the voter’s name and address.

Voting by mail, an option now open to all registered voters, will also kick off tomorrow. Requests to receive a mail-in ballot must be received by Oct. 22.

Masks are required for voters and poll workers at polling places, according to Worthy. Voters who do not wear masks will be able to vote outside.

“Everyone will be given the opportunity to vote,” he said.

The county is still looking for bilingual election offices who speak Korean or Vietnamese in addition to include. Bilingual speakers can apply online to become election officers until Oct. 8.

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