By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer
PALMYRA — The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors voted to move the partnership with Aqua forward in a split vote.
The meeting began with the lengthy public hearing on the public-private partnership with Aqua Virginia. The proposal from Aqua Virginia is to build a pipeline to Zion Crossroads and a sewer line from the Fluvanna-Louisa border to the Department of Corrections along Route 250. The plan calls for yearly payments for 20 years.
The public hearing had 15 community members speak including one non-county resident. Only one person spoke in favor and another spoke in generalities of economic development but not specifically for or against the proposal.
Residents raised concerns about mandatory hookups, cost of the proposal, costs associated with the proposal, Aqua America’s company record including Lake Monticello’s history, what possible effect water infrastructure would have on economic development and requesting a referendum.
Aqua representatives gave a lengthy presentation going through why the proposal is a win for the county. The main talking points centered around the company providing the infrastructure without Fluvanna having to borrow money upfront to pursue it alone. The representatives also highlighted high revenue projections from recent studies as the proposal being a chance for the county to receive millions in revenues from new development.
Fred Payne, Fluvanna’s county attorney, told the board he had three main problems with the proposal in its latest iteration. He raised concerns of constitutionality of the proposal, enforceability and prudence for the county.
The proposal is really five contracts. The contracts are one each for bulk water rates, sewer pipes, water pipes, water service and sewer service. Payne had no issues with the bulk water rate contract and both service contracts for the water and sewer.
He gave a few examples of issues he had with the water and sewer lines contracts.
In regards to constitutionality, his interpretation of the contract is it would be a debt to the county because of the structure of some payments. Debt incurred by the county for such use would have to go to referendum. Other areas of the contract change the debt load to ‘subject to annual appropriations,’ which passes legal muster because it does not require yearly debt.
Payne had issues with the ability to enforce the contract. An example he gave was a portion of the agreement that requires Fluvanna to enter into a sewer agreement with the Department of Corrections for ‘approximately 150,000 gallons’ of sewer treatment a day. DOC recently told the county it could only give 100,000 with another 25,000 in reserve.
An example of prudence Payne gave was the requirement of Fluvanna to secure 120,000 gallons of water service request before Aqua begins the project. That threshold requires significant commitments to meet the requirement.
There was also language that made a ‘grandfathering clause’ of current well users vague. Payne wanted language more concrete that allows existing well users to continue such use until the well fails.
Payne always requests in all county contracts that if the contract shall be disputed, it should be disputed in Fluvanna Circuit Court. Because Aqua has included a subsidiary incorporated in Pennsylvania to handle the pipe ownership and maintenance, federal district court would be the venue used.
“I cannot approve these [contracts] as to form,” Payne told the board. He does not rule if the contracts are good or bad business matter but only if the form is in the county’s interest.
Attorneys representing Aqua believed the form of the agreements could be hashed out more, even if previously stating the contracts were the final draft. Payne mentioned that whenever he previously tried to fix an issue he saw, another portion of the agreement would change.
“I’ve never had a negotiation that was such a moving target,” said Panye.
The board only had two options after the public hearing. It could have rejected the proposal or move it to the next phase which is a 30-day waiting period. In 30 days, Fluvanna can then approve it or still reject the proposal.
Don Weaver (Cunningham District) called it a bad deal, citing that after 20 years of payments and usage the county would not own the main infrastructure and would have to renegotiate another deal.
“When we spent $83 million on the high school, at least we have something,” said Weaver.
Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) also said it was not a good business deal. He said the plan would be approved regardless of the terms.
“It has been told to me this will be stuffed through before the next election,” said Ullenbruch.
His mention is of Joe Chesser (Rivanna District) and Shaun Kenney (Columbia District) who will both complete their terms as this year ends.
Kenney gave a passionate speech ending with he took an oath to serve his term until Dec. 31, 2013 and will do that.
Chesser said during his remarks, “If the legal issues [Payne highlighted] are not resolved, I will not vote for it.”
Mozell Booker (Fork Union District), a six year member of the board, said she has seen the water issue come up too often only to be pushed to another board. She said, “I am determined we will have [water] infrastructure at Zion Crossroads.”
Booker, Chesser and Kenney voted in favor of sending the proposal to the 30-day waiting period with directive to Aqua to rework the agreement to fit legal concerns. Ullenbruch and Weaver dissented.
The board’s second October meeting is before the 30-day window ends. The supervisors could call a special session to vote on Aqua or push it to a November meeting.
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