Meadowood Barn manager Allison Mills is barely holding on. Last week, Ranger, a 29-year-old quarter horse, passed away, and with another boarder soon moving to Fredericksburg, the number of horses at the barn has dwindled to 17.
Mills, whose annual contract was renewed in April by the Bureau of Land Management, is awaiting a final decision on how BLM plans to proceed with the redevelopment of the Lorton barn. And until BLM makes a decision on its Environmental Assessment and barn renovations are complete, she is contractually restricted from replacing horses.
"I don't know how I make ends meet, but miraculously it happens," Mills told Patch. "We have no savings. Every boarder pays me a security deposit of $700, and if every boarder left, I would have to liquidate my machinery to meet those obligations. Last month, I had to borrow money from my family to meet payroll."
The loss of the two horses equates to about $16,800 per year in lost revenue. Boarders pay Mills $700 a month for boarding, veterinary care, trainers and food. Mills emailed BLM on Oct. 2 asking to increase horse occupancy at the barn to no more than 20 horses. BLM declined, in an email dated Oct. 3.
"They cited the contract, but I hired an attorney and he debunked the contract. BLM can change my contract whenever they like," Mills said.
Not so, said BLM's Diane Hendry to Patch in a phone message. "What is stated in there (the contract) and what it would take to make that change, or any change to the contract, would probably be significant," she said. "Normally, unless it would be up to 20 was stated in the contract, I would think that we would have to consider a bid process. Right now, we don't know exactly what Allison can do and cannot do…"
In July, BLM closed the public comment period on its environmental assessment report of the barn. Critics of the 42-page report say that the three development options outlined by BLM could shut down three horse-related businesses at the barn. There is a chance that the remaining horses boarded at the barn would not remain on site during construction, and as a result, could jeopardize cash flow for the businesses.
The development options are:
- Renovate the existing barn on its current footprint, while closing the facility to the horses and horse-related businesses on the property during the renovation.
- Immediately close and demolish the structure.
- Leave the structure as is, but close the horse-related businesses on the property.
Critics of BLM say the options provide only one resulting scenario: Eliminate horse boarding, riding lessons, therapeutic riding and all other horse-related businesses from the Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area.
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th) has defended keeping the barn in operation, and told Patch in July that BLM would see reductions in government-appropriated funds if horse operations cease during barn renovation. Moran did not comment on this article.
“Congressman Moran is working with (Mount Vernon District) Supervisor Hyland’s office and the local community to assist and encourage BLM to develop a reconstruction plan for Meadowood that benefits everyone involved," said Moran's press secretary Anne Hughes in an email. "This is a unique opportunity for local and federal cooperation to repair this valuable community resource. It’s important we do it right.”
Hyland's office did not respond to Patch's inquiries.