The Greene County Board of Supervisors held an emergency virtual meeting on Tuesday, July 21 to discuss actions taken by Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) that may put the White Run Reservoir and Greene County’s water treatment plan in jeopardy. No action was taken after a closed hearing.
The RSA Board of Members voted 4-2 to assume leadership of a water plan for Greene County at its regular meeting on July 16. It also voted to require water hookup fees be submitted to RSA and that facility fee billing on monthly water and sewer bills from RSA would end immediately.
This vote occurred two days after the Greene County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Tuesday, July 14, to increase the facility fee for users annually for the next three years, beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The current fee is $30 per equivalent dwelling unit (EDU), which measures how much water is used. Residential customers have one EDU while larger businesses have many. Both the county and the RSA board must agree to the increases before they can be implemented.
The RSA board is comprised of two members from each of the member counties: Orange, Madison and Greene. The two opposing votes came from Greene County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Martin, Stanardsville, and Greene County Planning Commissioner Ron Williams.
RSA is a regional water and sewer authority, founded in 1969, with Greene, Madison and Orange counties.
Greene County Administrator Mark Taylor briefed the supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting about last week’s RSA meeting, noting that nothing on the RSA agenda mentioned any planned action on the project.
“The agenda is significant for both what it does include and for what it does not include,” Taylor said. “The RSA agenda makes no mention of what turned out to be an obviously prearranged action that was taken to consider termination of facility fees or demand payment of the availability fees to RSA. The copy of the motion was given to Mr. Martin for the first time when the motion was made orally to the RSA board.”
Martin interrupted the call for a vote on the motion asking for discussion and to see the motion as it was written.
“Each of these actions, it should be pointed out, are contrary to agreements signed by both RSA and Greene County,” Taylor said.
Taylor noted that RSA staff and the board were aware of the project and the utilization of facility fees to help fund it. That presentation was given in September 2017 to the county by its advisor Stantec to first begin to charge based on the number of EDUs purchased and then increase the fees periodically over a 10-year period. Both RSA and the county held public hearings in 2018 to make those changes.
“Greene County has been moving forward on our water supply plan and we’ve spent millions of dollars—more than $11 million, in fact—advancing our plan forward,” Taylor said. “RSA has participated in our design meetings, has visited a water treatment plant to see the technology in our design in a situation where it’s in use and they have commented on our plans.”
The county has purchased 125 acres for a proposed 900-million-gallon reservoir and a 1,460-foot-long, 75-foot-high dam on land between Watson, Fredericksburg and Dairy roads in Ruckersville. Currently, water is pumped from the Rapidan River to the treatment plant, which is on U.S. Route 29 south. The county is permitted to withdraw up to 1.5 million gallons of water per day and has an average daily demand, according to an engineering consultant for the county, of 1.2 million gallons of water per day.
Greene County Director of Planning and Zoning Administrator Jim Frydl told the supervisors that RSA has signed off on the entrance road to the site. The site plan for the water intake has been through engineering approval and is awaiting owner signature by RSA, Frydl said. Site plans for the water treatment plant and the lake and dam are both under review now by RSA and the county has been receiving comments.
“Greene’s water supply plan has been a major topic of community discussion, including discussion with RSA, for more than a decade,” Taylor said. “Lots of information about the project can be found on Greene County's website under the White Run Reservoir Water Impoundment Project. This special emergency meeting of the Board of Supervisors was called because the RSA board's prearranged action at their meeting on July 16 is potentially disruptive to Greene County's progress and therefore it warrants the immediate attention of the Board of Supervisors.”
Williams told supervisors that all four other RSA board members had copies of the printed motion made by Lee Frame of Orange County.
“There were a number of points raised during discussion to which we didn’t receive answers,” Williams said. “One of the objections raised was that this motion effectively terminates several key elements of the agreements and in the past the practice on the RSA board has been to honor the agreement. In this case, that didn’t seem to be a priority.”
Martin said he specifically asked if there was a plan at all and does it include a water impoundment.
“I followed that up by saying am I now hearing that water service can proceed with a run-of-the-river philosophy?” Martin said. “Even after all of these years of realizing that we needed more than what was coming down out of the mountains, down under the bridge at 29 where the water intake is for the water treatment plant? And the answer was not a direct answer.”
Martin said that a comment made by Frame seemed to imply there was a plan, though it was not shared with the county representatives.
“There was an implication that some numbers had to be crunched to come up with some sort of new water rate,” Martin recalled. “The statement was made by the person who made the motion that water use rates would be going up; he made that clear. I think Mr. Williams and I were taken aback that anything like this could conceivably be discussed and voted on in the way it was handled and that absolutely no plan has been discussed with at least the full RSA board and certainly not with the Greene County members.”
Martin added, “(A plan) had not been discussed at the Greene County Board of Supervisors level and hadn’t even been broached with Greene County citizens who pay the bills and expect to receive the water supply.”
At-Large Supervisor Dale Herring asked Martin if RSA said they could meet current water needs or future water needs or both.
“I think they said they would take care of it. I can’t see how they could have been saying they were going to meet future needs,” Martin said.
During Thursday’s RSA board meeting, Frame said, “I didn’t say impoundment, I didn’t say plant, I said provide water service. In terms of how that occurs, it will need to be discussed between you and RSA.”
Herring said in recent meetings with RSA there has been an indication that due to lack of water resources some projects going forward could be denied by RSA.
“Am I correct in that, remember correctly on that?” Herring asked.
“Yes you remember correctly,” Martin said.
Martin added water usage rates had been kept below market rate for years, which could have been used toward infrastructure. He said he believes the fee should include enough to cover infrastructure, the cost of water service delivery, repairs, billing, customer service and staff.
“The full cost of delivering that water in my mind … is not just a water rate,” he said.
Prior to the RSA Board of Members’ vote last week, Martin told them that securing adequate water supply was important for Greene County’s future.
The board went into executive session to discuss the issue with the county attorney and returned about an hour later and motioned for adjournment with no action taken or further discussion.
There was no public comment during the meeting and while there were representatives of RSA on the Zoom meeting call, no one directed any questions to them in open meeting. The next regular Board of Supervisors meeting is Tuesday, July 28. The next regular RSA Board of Members meeting is Aug. 20.