Fluvanna Supervisors Split on Future Community Water Supply

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors ended two water related votes in a tie on Dec. 2.

The supervisors had only four members because Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) is taking a leave of absence at the direction of his doctor due to a medical condition. He hopes to return by March 2016, if not sooner.

The first measure was for the James River Water Authority (JRWA) to construct a water intake facility on the Point of Fork, near Columbia. The Point of Fork is where the Rivanna River connects into the James River. The JRWA is a joint endeavor with Louisa County.

Fluvanna entered into an inter-jurisdictional agreement with Louisa in 2013. A condition of that agreement was Fluvanna would pass the necessary zoning requirements to see the intake was able to be constructed. The cost of the intake to the county is estimated at the high end to be $5 million, $10 million total between the counties.

Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) moved to approve the special use permit to allow construction of the intake facility. Bob Ullenbruch (Palmyra District) seconded. The vote was tied 2-2 with chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) joining O’Brien to approve the permit, and Don Weaver (Cunningham District) dissenting with Ullenbruch.

A motion to deny was never offered.

The public hearing for the JRWA permit was at times heated. In total, 21 people spoke with 11 urging the board to deny it. Seven people spoke for approval and three offered no position either way.

Bobbi Seay, an resident who’s property will house the facility, gave a passionate speech on the history of the Point of Fork. She ended, “You’ll never put it back to the way it was [once construction starts].”

Katy Clossin said in favor of the permit, “We are so close [to passing it]. I’d hate to see it fail at this point.”

The supervisors also had heated discussion, especially from O’Brien who asked many questions to the county’s staff to help his cause for the permit passing.

“If you want to condemn this county to no growth, to less services, let’s vote no on this,” said O’Brien.

The county’s economic director, Bobby Popowicz, told the board the county could have applied for 14 projects over the past two years. One included a brewery that was looking for raw land. He said even the 75,000 gallon treated water from the Department of Corrections would have allowed him to seek that project.

Weaver was not sold on more debt that the county would be on the hook for after approving the facility. “It’s not my money. I should be frugal with it,” said Weaver.

Booker looked at the project as a step towards greater economic development of the county. “Now we have an opportunity to move forward,” said the chairperson.

O’Brien asked county attorney Fred Payne if the inter-jurisdictional agreement the county approved in 2013 left Louisa with any legal remedies if Fluvanna did not approve the permit.

“Do we have an obligation? In my opinion, we do have an obligation,” said Payne.

He later continued, “When you entered into this contract, that ship left the harbor.”

The second permit, one for Louisa County Water Authority to build a raw water line from the JRWA facility to Ferncliff suffered the same fate as the first SUP. However, that vote came after a motion failed to get a second. O’Brien called for a vote without a second because Ullenbruch and Weaver wouldn’t second his motion to approve.

The board had little discussion after 10 residents spoke at the public hearing, six in favor, three against and one took no position.

O’Brien did say before his motion, “We have no grounds to deny this motion.”

Now the special use permits sit in limbo. One explanation of the state of the SUPs was the Board of Supervisors, and only the board, could bring the motions up for reconsideration if it chooses.

That would then be similar to how the Aqua deal was passed in 2013. That item was never denied and later was approved when it was brought back up for a vote during unfinished business at a subsequent meeting. The Aqua deal later never materialized as Aqua and Fluvanna could never agree on a final deal.

The supervisors last scheduled meeting of the year is Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. It will be Ullenbruch’s last meeting. In 2016 he will be replaced by Patricia Eager.

Eager currently serves on the Planning Commission, representing the Palmyra District. She was the only commissioner to recommend denial of both permits. They both were recommended on a 4-1 vote.

Sheridan could return from his leave and vote for the JRWA SUP but he has recused himself from the LCWA discussion. The LCWA pipeline runs through his land and he would financially gain from its approval. After counsel with the county attorney, he recused.

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

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