Water-sewer task force drafts four recommendations

Published 9:35 am Friday, May 12, 2017

Isle of Wight’s water-sewer task force voted unanimously on Wednesday to present four recommendations to the county’s Board of Supervisors and two town councils at a yet-to-be scheduled intergovernmental meeting.

Those recommendations will be that the county contract with a third party consultant to conduct a county-wide water and sewer asset assessment, consider the future development of a joint water authority or shared services agreement, develop a transition schedule to sustainable water sources, and reassess current water and sewer contracts.

Recommendations to determine cost sharing by the two towns on water-sewer infrastructure investments of mutual benefit and to develop a strategy to efficiently support an increased customer base on a surface water source were also made, but were ultimately merged with the first four recommendations.

“We want total transparency in this; that’s why we want a third party,” said task force chairman Dick Grice. He added that he thought the cost of hiring a third party consultant would be around $50,000 to $60,000.

Smithfield Vice Mayor Andrew Gregory expressed concerns that a third party evaluation may result in duplication with the Town of Smithfield’s recent evaluation of its own water-sewer assets but County Administrator Randy Keaton said that he thought it would be more like adding onto the town’s efforts rather than redoing them.

Gregory also expressed concerns over referring to the proposed development of a water-sewer shared services organization as the Isle of Wight Water Authority, saying that it could be perceived as a county power grab.

“When I see ‘authority,’ I see marriage, and I generally like to date before marriage,” he said. “I feel there have been great strides that have been made since the board has changed over and we [Smithfield] definitely have a better relationship [with the county] but when it comes to utilities, we still aren’t always on the same page. Maybe we want to date longer before we’re tied to any long-term commitment.”

Two surface water sources the task force may suggest the county consider tapping into, should the need for an additional source of surface water arise, include a pipeline from Lake Gaston and a pipeline running from the Blackwater River through the county to the city of Norfolk. However, currently, the county has no rights to either system, and Grice said that of much more immediate need is getting more customers on the county’s existing water system.

“Getting water, right now, is not our problem; using water is our problem,” he said.

Hardy District task force representative David Tucker suggested that to increase the county’s water use, the county should solicit industries requiring 1 million gallons per day or more and create incentives for those industries, particularly if they agreed to hire mostly Isle of Wight residents. He also said that, ideally, the task force should work with the county to find a way to transition all water and sewer utility costs to water customers instead of subsidizing its water fund from its general fund, which he suggested accomplishing by passing more of the water-sewer infrastructure costs onto land developers rather than residents. But Keaton said that developers have complained to him that they think they area already being charged too much for water and sewer infrastructure now.

Grice agreed that weaning the county off its need to subsidize its water fund was a worthy goal.

“The actual fluid is the cheapest element,” he said. “Everything else is debt service or infrastructure costs, the transportation of water.”

Though no date has been set for the task force’s presentation to the board and town governments, Grice estimates that it will likely be sometime this summer.