Representatives from the Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) attended last week’s joint meeting of the Madison County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission to discuss the future of wastewater and water treatment in the county.
RSA General Manager Tim Clemons said the purpose of the appearance was to share what RSA does in Madison County. He alluded to the ongoing negative attention the authority has received due to an ongoing lawsuit and failed negotiations between its member counties Orange, Greene and Madison. Last year, Greene County representatives asked to be let out of the authority which was denied by Orange and Madison representatives. Greene County representatives also filed suit against RSA for its July 2020 decision to end the facility fee billing of its Greene County customers. Last week, Madison County was officially served in the lawsuit. The three counties are still in negotiations regarding Greene’s desire to withdraw from RSA.
That issue was the elephant in the room during RSA’s presentation to Madison County leaders. Clemmons and RSA Program Manager David Jarrell hit the highlights of RSA in Madison, stating the authority served as the contract operator for the Town of Madison’s water and sewer treatment plants from November 1984 to June 1990 and in March 1993, became the owner operator of those systems. The authority’s assets in Madison include the 163 million gallon White Oak Lake reservoir, the circa 1968 water treatment plant and the circa 1973 wastewater treatment plant which was upgraded in 1993. The reservoir can safely yield 1.41 million gallons per day while the water treatment plant has a capacity of 18% of that, or 250,000 gallons per day. Currently, the demand is only about 26% of the plant’s capacity or 66,000 gallons per day. On the sewer side though, some upgrades are needed. The wastewater treatment plant has a capacity of 80,000 gallons per day and the current throughput is approximately 70,000 gallons per day or 87% capacity. Once capacity reached 95% for three consecutive months, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requires submission of a plan and schedule for handling excess flows and plant upgrades.
“You have to either increase the plant size or determine how to lessen the flow,” Clemmons said. “The plant is nearing 50 years old and is a buried metal plant. The metal is fatigued after running nonstop. You either have to upgrade it significantly almost to the point of replacement or replace it.”
Clemmons said preliminary engineering estimates put replacement around $4-5 million. He said there’s also the question of keeping the plant at its current 80,000 gallon capacity or increasing it to accommodate future growth. The county has long been out of Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDUs) for sewer, meaning no new developments can utilize the public sewer system unless the owner or developer already has an unused EDU.
There are some grant opportunities to aid in the cost of replacing the plant. Clemmons said RSA is working with a USDA program that would allow up to $30,000 for the preliminary engineering report with up to 50% grant funding for the design and construction. With new technology, including microfiltration, there’s also the possibility a plant replacement would take up less of a footprint.
Following the presentation, it was back to the elephant with planning commissioner Mike Mosko asking about the potential withdrawal of Greene County from the authority. Clemmons said he couldn’t get into specifics, but Greene withdrawing would have an impact since currently the three counties share the cost of RSA including its administration, manufacturing and engineering departments. Clemmons said those don’t go away because one member leaves the authority. Instead, the costs would be divided by two counties instead of three. There could be the possibility that utility bills would need to increase.
“If you take 3,000 customers out, expenses have to go up,” planning commissioner Pete Elliott said. “Something has to give.”
Clemmons said it also becomes difficult to make changes if there are two counties instead of three since RSA’s borrowing power is linked to its total customer base.
“Madison benefits from the tri-county agreement,” Clemmons said. “Each county system benefits from each other.”
Board of supervisors chairman Clay Jackson said Madison hasn’t taken advantage of the authority’s borrowing power like Orange and Greene have. Both have newer RSA facilities.
“By having all three counties part of RSA it gives a borrowing advantage,” he said. “We haven’t taken advantage like Greene and Orange who have benefitted from our credit worthiness. It’s a shame to see one go out on their own.”
Greene County’s newly developed resolution to withdraw from RSA was on the agenda for the Madison County Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday evening after presstime.