Water-sewer plans, Route 460 discussed

Published 12:11 pm Saturday, August 5, 2017

After nearly a three-month hiatus, members of Isle of Wight County’s water-sewer task force reconvened on Thursday to present their recommendations to an intergovernmental meeting of the Board of Supervisors and town governments. The meeting was held at 6 p.m. in the Smithfield Center.

Those four recommendations were: to hire a third-party consultant to conduct a formal water-sewer asset evaluation for the county and the two towns; to identify water-sewer needs that are being met individually, which could be combined in a joint water-sewer authority or shared services agreement; to develop a transition schedule to more sustainable water sources; and to reassess current water and sewer contracts.

“We’re not talking about what’s going to happen next week; we’re not talking about what’s going to happen in three to four years; we’re talking about what’s going to happen over the next decade and are we prepared for it,” said Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice, who chaired the water-sewer task force.

Grice also cited the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s ongoing efforts to reduce municipalities’ dependence on groundwater, which the DEQ has deemed a state natural resource, and suggested that if their trend of reducing municipal groundwater withdrawal permits continues, it could eventually result in the county’s permit being less than current consumption rates.

Windsor Town Manager Michael Stallings and Smithfield Vice Mayor Andrew Gregory both expressed support for the towns and county working together to meet the future water and sewer needs of their citizens. But Gregory cautioned, as he had at previous task force meetings, that any partnership would need to be a win-win solution for both the county and the two towns.

“We don’t want this to just go on a shelf somewhere and collect dust,” Gregory said. “There’s never going to be a downside to continuing to have those conversations.”

Next on the agenda for the intergovernmental meeting was an update on the county’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan. Amy Ring, the county’s director of planning and zoning, said that her staff was close to completing the first phase of the project, having received citizen input from several public forums and online surveys already. She said that the county had received a total of 724 online survey responses, 335 people had attended the county’s forums, and 16 had submitted paper surveys. Phase one officially concluded on July 31.

The theme of phase one was to gauge what citizens consider important in Isle of Wight County by asking open-ended questions such as “The best thing about Isle of Wight is…,” “The worst thing about Isle of Wight is…” and “What comes to mind when you look at a map of Isle of Wight?”

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty estimated that the total number of responses to the forums and surveys accounted for about 2 percent of the county’s population. Ring said that a majority of the people who responded to the surveys and forums were in the 50-plus age group.

The next topic on the agenda for the meeting was Route 460. Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson said that she and Stallings met with representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation on June 1 in Suffolk to discuss options for improving the existing highway now that VDOT’s plans for a northern bypass around the town of Windsor are officially dead.

“The Smart Scale looks at cost versus the amount of good a project does; that’s what killed the project, and that’s what they’re looking at now,” Richardson said. “I think a large part of this project in Windsor is going to be making center turn lanes and widening the lanes that are there.”

Richardson said that VDOT indicated to her that they were looking to use existing right-of-ways along the 460 corridor to save the cost of having to buy land, and that they would have to divide the project into smaller parts to make it cost effective using the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s scoring process.

“The main problem is the wonderful six-way intersection,” she added. “We don’t have a lot of right-of-way. They built a lot of old towns right next to the road, that’s why they [VDOT] were hesitant about going through Windsor.

“We have worked with the Southern Environmental Law Center and they hired a planner to do a center turn lane for an intersection of four streets instead of six, and that can be done. VDOT would have to give us some dispensation, which they are allowed to do with historic buildings, so I’m hoping they will consider doing that.”

The final item on the agenda was an update on the county’s purchase of new 911 radio equipment. County Administrator Randy Keaton, who had recently returned from visiting Motorola’s factory in Chicago, said that the new system will interconnect Isle of Wight with York County, James City County, Gloucester County and Suffolk. He estimated that the new towers and equipment could be installed and made operational by March or April 2018.

“There is no other system that can do this in the United States,” said Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree.

Keaton added that the county borrowed approximately $8 million to fund the project but that the actual contracts are expected to come in slightly under that figure. As part of the project, all county school buses will also be outfitted with radios connected to the 911 system.