By Brent Wilson, Field Officer
At the November 8th Greene County Board of Supervisors the agenda contained a “General discussion of White Run Reservoir Project”. Normally the supervisors take actions or receive reports – a simple discussion is not the norm but it proved quite effective.
Vice Chair Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) began the discussion stating that information regarding the Reservoir Project reported on social media that is not entirely accurate. The fact that the reservoir project has been going on for 8 years has made it difficult, especially for new residents of Greene County, to keep up with project in terms of what has happened, why, what needs to happen and at what cost.
While true that each meeting is available on line on the county website, Flynn explained that there is no one place to get an overview of the project.
Supervisor Dale Herring (At-Large) agreed that it is hard to understand how the White Run site chosen. He agreed that there needs to be a summary of the project that highlights each step of the process.
Supervisor Jim Frydl (Midway) suggested a narrative to summarize the project is needed and volunteered to do the draft of the document since he has been the supervisor who has dealt with the project from the beginning.
The general discussion evolved into how Greene County got to the point of needing a reservoir. According to Frydl, many rural communities haven’t invested in water resource and therefore water rates are artificially low and don’t pay for the operating costs let alone provide funds to expand their system. Even grants that are pursued say that Greene County needs to charge market rates for water.
Frydl continued to explain that the county is required to meet a 50 year supply plan as required by the Army Corps of Engineers. The first site reviewed was that of Carroll Morris’ property on Route 33 but the soil was not good for the dam. This led Greene to pursue the second choice which is the White Water location.
The cost of the project has been a topic of discussion for some time. The cost is to be passed on via a rate increase for water and an increase in personal property tax that is to be done incrementally over time. Recently, there were reports of a robo-call indicating the Supervisors would vote on a tax increase at the November 8th meeting. Such a vote was not scheduled and did not occur.
There is still much work on the project to be done – designs are yet to be completed, the dam layout has to be determined, once the specifications are submitted, cost estimates can be developed and the exact funding mechanisms will be determined.
Flynn felt that the uncertainty in the community supports the need for a summary to the public of what has been done and what has to been done. Herring agreed there is a lot of material related to the project over the years that needs to be summarized into a presentation to allow the whole history of the project to be understood.
Chairman Bill Martin (Stanardsville) stated that the public wants to know how they will be forced to pay for the water supply. Martin felt that the Supervisors need to communicate better and pledged to be transparent in the process. He proposed a town hall meeting to review the history of the project and remind the citizens of Greene of the drought when the county nearly ran out of water.
Frydl indicated that doing a summary of the project would help citizens more easily understand what has happened to date. Martin thought that more needs to be done especially with the starting of live streaming of Supervisor meetings in December.
Martin asked for input from County Administrator John Barkley. He appreciates that the Board seems to be unified in wanting to provide easily understood information on the project. And while all of the information is available over the eight years of Supervisor meeting minutes, it is very time consuming to gather all of the information over the years.
Barkley recommended summarizing the history of the project and carrying forward the actions required to design, build, maintain the water supply. Frydl agreed with Barkley and reconfirmed that the dam is needed since the current water supply cannot handle new large users and thus significantly restricts the economic growth of Greene County.
Martin asked Barkley to look at a town hall meeting with the consultants once we are comfortable with the time line on the remaining tasks. Frydl offered to do an outline and to work with Barkley to develop a presentation for the public.
It is hoped that the summary would cover all the decision points over the project to date and link back to each meeting where the issue was discussed so that citizens could easily get the details of any particular issue. In addition, the tasks yet to be done with approximate times and cost should be estimated and updated as the project moves forward.
Live streaming of the Supervisor meetings start in December as a new way to get information out to the public.
In the end, the Board of Supervisors heard the concerns from the citizens of Greene County and the board is going to communicate better.
It sounds like how the system should work.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org