Mike Flagg managed it all – solid waste and recycling, road construction, project management, compliance with environmental regulations, crisis response, flood mitigation and Hanover’s airport, to name just a few. That might sound daunting, but for Hanover County’s retiring Public Works Director, responsibility and initiative are fundamental parts of his character.
When he was a teenager, Mike operated his own cantaloupe and watermelon farm. He farmed about 30 acres of land owned by his grandmother. To harvest the fruits, he enlisted the help of several school kids even younger than himself. “I’d feed them and pay them a little,” he recalls. He will always remember the kindness of a local merchant who refused repayment at the end of the growing season, since Mike needed the money for college. “So many people have helped me all my life,” he acknowledges.
Graduating from Patrick Henry High School in 1981, Mike paid his own way to Virginia Tech, where he earned a degree in agricultural engineering. That set him up for a tenure with the State Department of Conservation and Recreation, where he worked for over eight years.
Mike’s last year farming was 1985. “It’s a nice lifestyle if you like to work outside and be independent but it’s tough financially,” he explains. He remained involved in agriculture with his work with the soil and water programs throughout the state and Soil and Water Conservations Districts such as the one in Hanover-Caroline.
In 1996 he returned to his native Hanover as a civil engineer, reviewing building permits, site plans and construction plans. During his 27 years with the County, Mike has managed or engineered the construction of nearly every new public facility in Hanover – including but not limited to fire stations and rescue squads, the County garage, libraries, parks, the Sheriff’s Firing range and the Administration Building.
He also helped to grow the County’s road program. Mike led efforts on such projects as the first leg of Lakeridge Parkway, the extension of Telegraph Road and the bridge over the Chickahominy River, and the construction of roundabouts at the intersections of Rural Point/Studley and Creighton/Cold Harbor. With the success of the roundabout program, several more could be built at appropriate intersections over the next few years.
Mike is most proud of paving all of the state-maintained gravel roads in the County, which up until 15 years ago were many. “We had very little money to pave these roads, we were entering an economic downturn and VDOT was getting ready to claw back some funds,” he explains. “But we were able to bid them all in a package and we had a contractor that really wanted to do it and he gave us a great price.” As a result, there are virtually no unpaved state roads anywhere in Hanover County anymore.
He is also proud that his department consistently provides exceptional service for the dollar to County residents. “My people are great,” he says. “Because of them we have been able to meet all of the environmental regulations that we were concerned about not being able to meet. We’ve protected our citizens from flooding by and large because of the way we’ve managed development. When you look at communities that flood, Hanover is not one of them despite the fact that we’ve had some large rain events. My team spends a lot of time thinking about what could happen and who could be hurt if there is a flood.”
Flagg has been out there with his team in ominous situations. He recalls how Tropical Storm Gaston created a 42-acre ‘bowl’ of water that had no way to drain; the floating of septic tanks might create an environmental hazard, he feared. With the approval of County Administration, he rented pumps and with the assistance of the Fire Department they manually drained the bowl for a week. “By the time we finished pumping at the end of the week, leeches were growing in the water,” he recalls. The department later applied for and received a grant to help mitigate that hazard.
When the concrete at the Route 301 grinder needed to be expanded, but there wasn’t enough money in the budget to hire a contractor, Mike gathered together several of his co-workers together and they poured the slab as a team. When the department faced a shortage of truck drivers after COVID, Mike obtained his Commercial Drivers License to assist with waste hauling on the weekends. “Mike never asks his staff to do anything he wouldn’t do himself,” said County Administrator John A. Budesky.
Always modest, Mike says the great thing about Hanover is the solidarity and team spirit not only within his department but between all departments. “Working here has been about the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says, except for his wife Lisa, three children and two grandchildren.
But it’s time to go, he concedes. Mike is retiring on July 31. “I realize I’m not going to live forever, and I need to change my focus,” he explains. There are things to do at home – right now he’s constructing an addition to his kitchen. His wife wants to travel. His children and grandchildren live nearby and he wants to spend more time with them.
“Who knows?” he says. “I might want to go back and raise some vegetables.”