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Greene reps question proposed RSA water rate increase

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There were many tense moments at the Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) Board of Members meeting on Thursday, Aug. 20 surrounding a proposed water rate increase, improvements for Stanardsville’s water supply and the plan for a 50-year water supply plan for Greene County.

RSA was established as a regional water and sewer authority in 1969 by resolution from the boards of supervisors of Orange, Madison and Greene counties. Greene requested in July that Orange and Madison counties allow it to leave RSA, but both boards of supervisors voted against it.

The request to withdraw came after the RSA Board of Members voted July 16 to end the billing of facility fees for customers and to resume control of the water supply plan in Greene County. The fees were the basis for Greene County financing for the improved water treatment plant and reservoir project in Greene County.

RSA General Manager Tim Clemons presented to the board a 10-year analysis of the average annual water demand in Greene County. In 2019, the average demand was 581,000 gallons of water per day.

“While the annual max day has at times been near the capacity of the plant, the average demand is at approximately 60% of the plant capacity,” Clemons said in a report to the board.

The highest recent demand came in 2014 with an average of 613,000 per day. Clemons said if the 725 equivalent dwelling units that have been purchased went online it would add approximately 145,000 gallons of water per day to the total.

He said the Virginia Department of Health mandates construction to increase plant capacity when three consecutive months’ average daily flow exceeds 85% of the plant’s capacity, which is 979,200 gallons per day. In 2020, RSA is averaging 640,000 gallons per day in Greene.

Clemons told the board he’d like to study the feasibility of using a membrane filtration system by Pall Corporation in the current plant that could double or triple the water available for customers. This could also negate the immediate need for a water impoundment.

The current plant is rated for 1.15 million gallons per day, according to a 2010 permit from the Virginia Department of Health.

“In talking with Pall, we could get 3 or possibly 4 million gallons there for less than $10 million,” Clemons told the board. “We thought it might be something that the board would want to look at and possibly consider. It certainly would be a cost savings to our customers in Greene.”

Orange County representative and Board of Members Vice Chair Lee Frame called the system “interesting.”

“It’s been sold in San Diego and they had an emergency one hooked up in Haiti and I was looking for problems with it but I can’t find any,” Frame said.

Greene County Representative Bill Martin asked what RSA is permitted to withdraw daily from the Rapidan River, the raw water source for Greene County.

“We don’t have a withdrawal limit there; we pre-date that,” Clemons said.

Martin said he believes that if RSA increases the plant capacity and thus the withdrawal capacity that it would need to get a withdrawal permit from Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

“If we’re limited to 1.15 million gallons by the state how can we treat two, three or four million gallons?” Martin asked.

“We’d have to talk to the state about increasing that withdrawal limit,” Clemons said.

Martin asked Clemons if he thinks there’s enough water in the river when other systems use the Rapidan River as their raw water source down the river.

“I do,” Clemons said. “Mr. Martin, we’re not talking about this being a permanent thing forever. We can still eventually agree that we need to look at some kind of raw water storage but this satisfies what I hear all the time in Greene is there is a need (for water) right now.”

Frame asked Clemons whether since DEQ has not given them a permit yet, does that give RSA the right to take out any amount of water that it wants.

“Right now it does,” Clemons said.

“There’s probably some threshold,” said Board of Members Chair Steve Hoffman, of Madison.

Frame agreed.

“I have a hard time believing that you could go from a million to 10 million” gallons, he said.

The county applied for and was granted a permit for the White Run Reservoir system that expires in 2028.

Joseph Grist, Water Withdrawal Permitting and Compliance Manager at DEQ in Richmond, said it’s not unusual for localities to apply for permits and then something changes that causes the improvements not to get built.

The White Run Reservoir permit would allow for 310 million gallons to be withdrawn per month.

Grist said RSA’s Greene County plant is operating under an exclusion and thus far has not done anything that would require DEQ to put a permit on the surface withdrawal from the Rapidan River. However, if those municipalities who are grandfathered make changes DEQ will look to see if it warrants a permit to be issued. If there are changes to the plant that do not require additional withdrawal from the river but quicken the speed that the water is treated it’d be unlikely they’d need a permit.

Grist also said if they do want to increase the intake volume and wanted to do work in the river to accommodate that it would likely trigger a federal requirement and the Army Corps of Engineers would get involved. He added it often also triggers the need for the DEQ to issue a permit.

Clemons agreed, telling the Board of Members that to go to the larger amount probably would require work in the river and RSA would have to work with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We do have one at Lake of the Woods (in Orange) because it’s newer,” Clemons said. “The Greene water plant pre-dated that and we’ve not done anything there so far that’s required them to put one on; the next step, they probably will.”

Frame said RSA staff should talk with DEQ before moving forward.

“Right, I would agree with you,” Clemons said.

He said he’d get a cost for a study about Pall’s system in Greene from an engineering firm and let the board know at its next meeting.

Lynn Clements outlined several projects RSA plans to do to fix issues in the Town of Stanardsville, including: a 12-inch water main from Quinque to Stanardsville and building a water storage tank in the town; replacing about four miles of 4-inch water main with 8-inch; replacing 3,000 feet of sewer main with an 8-inch gravity sewer line; relining 10,000 feet of sewer main in the town; and upgrading 14,000 feet of sewer force mains in Greene Mountain Lake.

“These are needed,” Clemons said. “We’re coming to the board to see if the board will give us approval to move ahead with these; it totals $12 million.”

Clemons said a water rate increase is needed in the next five years beginning in 2021. In 2021, the minimum water user of up to 2,000 gallons per month would see the monthly rate rise from $14.14 to $28.54; in 2022, it would go to $30.74; in 2023, the minimum amount would be $32.96; in 2024, the minimum would go to $35.20; and in 2025, a minimum user would pay $37.44 per month. The cost per additional 1,000 gallons would rise from $5.57 currently to $12.77 in 2021; $13.82 in 2022; $14.98 in 2023; $16.10 in 2024; and $17.22 in 2025.

Frame asked to hear from the representatives of Greene about the increases.

The facility fee model that the county had proposed on those who use 4,000 gallons of water per month is roughly $4 less in the RSA plan as the rates rise, said Ron Williams, Greene County representative.

Williams asked what the customer is getting for that rate increase and Hoffman noted the $12 million for Stanardsville projects. Williams said Clemons met with Greene previously to discuss options and it seemed there were several options but Clemons did not come before the supervisors to discuss it.

“We didn’t move forward with it at that point,” Clemons said.

“Well, you cancel the meeting to come discuss those potential scenarios with the Greene County folks,” Williams said. “And then when we had the next board meeting, you elected not to show any of those things to the board. Instead, I think you planted the seed that there was some sort of financial malfeasance going on within Greene County.”

Clemons said, “I’m not aware that I planted anything.”

“It was more along the lines of innuendo, which was definitely picked up because I’ve heard comments from other board members here about that,” Williams said.

Clemons said as the Greene County representative he could have shared it with the board.

“No, I didn’t have the information, you kept the information, you didn’t leave it with us,” Williams said.

“Greene did ask for it,” Martin added.

Hoffman asked Williams to comment on the rate increase in front of them.

“The paper in front of us is a huge water rate increase and what do you propose to fund with all that?” Williams asked.

“It would (also) begin putting the money aside for future water plant and future capital improvement needs,” said Clemons of the increase that would fund the $12 million in work in Stanardsville. “I offered both of you an opportunity to come look at this with us but you never took us up on that.”

Martin said he doesn’t see a plan from RSA for Greene County.

“I don’t see a strategic vision. I don’t see how this fits with our 50-year water supply plan. I don’t see how this fits with the Greene County Comprehensive Plan. I don’t see how this fits with the Ruckersville Area Plan,” Martin said. “Maybe it does, but there’s been no discussion with anyone in Greene County on any of this.”

Clemons again said he offered Williams and Martin a chance to meet with staff to discuss it.

“Now, you need to speak to the citizens of Greene County,” Martin said.

“Now, my board needs to decide what they want to do,” Clemons responded.

“So what you’re asking the board to approve is a huge rate increase in Greene that’ll hit the citizens of Greene without a plan, without a concrete deliverable other than the $12 million for upgrades in Stanardsville,” Williams said.

Clemons said he disagrees with that.

“It’s what you’re asking to do, give a huge rate increase and we’re going to bank a bunch of money and sometime in the future we’ll deliver something,” Williams said.

Frame interjected that the Greene County representatives and RSA need to get together to work the plan rather than trying to do it at the board of members meeting.

“Look, Greene County has a water plan; we’re years into it,” Williams responded.

“And you’ve done nothing,” said Troy Coppage, of Madison.

Williams told Coppage that isn’t true.

“We have a fully completed engineering plan that RSA signed off on from an engineering standpoint but won’t sign the owner signature so the plan can proceed,” Williams said. “We’ve acquired all the land, we’ve acquired all the stream credits. We’re $11 million into this project and we’re not in the position to just switch gears and change over to something that RSA doesn’t even have planned and plotted out yet.”

Martin said he can’t support a rate increase if he doesn’t know what it’s for.

Clemons said it seems that Greene representatives want RSA to provide within 30 days what it took Greene years to come up with.

“I just find that a little bit puzzling,” Clemons said.

“We have a plan and we did share it. We had public meetings and they were hard and they weren’t the nicest,” Martin said. “Tim attended a couple of them, but the Greene County Board of Supervisors made decisions to move forward with it with 100% unanimity through several boards of elected representatives. They were hard votes. And then your action took place and we’re seeing something now that I just simply don’t know where it fits.”

Clemons asked the board how to deal with it.

“I’ve shared with you that if Greene County intends to have you down there so they can beat up on you, I’m against that,” Hoffman said to Clemons. “But I agree that you need to cooperate with Greene County, the same way you do with any other locality.”

Frame agreed.

“I think you need to work with the Greene reps and with the capital plan and how the rate supports that capital plan and then come back,” Frame said.

Williams said he doesn’t understand why there isn’t a proposal ready to go if RSA had developed an alternative during the years Greene has talked about this plan.

“Why does it have to be worked out now that you pulled the plug on our financing?” Williams asked. “It just doesn’t look right. It’s about the same level as what our facility fee base plan had and that money was intended to fund the entire Greene County water plan, including the impoundment.”

The next public RSA Board of Members meeting is scheduled to be Sept. 17 with a time and location to be determined.

The Greene County Board of Supervisors resolution said if Orange and Madison didn’t allow Greene to withdraw from RSA, the county would sue for breaches of contract by the authority. At press time, no lawsuit had been filed in Greene County Circuit Court.

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Editor, Greene County Record

Terry Beigie is the Editor of the Greene County Record in Stanardsville. She can be reached at tbeigie@greene-news.com or (434) 985-2315.

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