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PE Residents Talk Water

PRINCE EDWARD – Whether the County will dive into a proposal to construct a water treatment plant and distribution system remains to be seen, but last Thursday was an opportunity for county residents to wade into the argument.

“…I thank you very much for your comments. The board did hear you and we do listen,” offered Board Chairman William “Buckie” Fore shortly after the public hearing ended after about an hour, amidst a few audience chuckles.

There would be no action on the agreement and no decision to move forward. That, should the board choose to do so, must wait beyond the end of the month, the official end of the public comment period.

On this night, however, the eight-member board listened to opinions that ranged to passionate opposition to receptive support.

Supervisors have long looked to the Sandy River Reservoir as a source for a public water system and, having failed to hammer out an arrangement with Farmville, is studying a system that would serve areas south of Town as well as possibly Crewe and Burkeville. Specifically, the County was initially presented with an unsolicited proposal to study the water system and has since entered into an interim agreement with Crowder Construction to take a closer look at a system and costs. (Under the PPEA, or Public Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002, localities may receive unsolicited proposals from private firms.)

The next step, should the board wish to proceed, is to nail down a comprehensive agreement with Crowder and Thursday's public hearing was an opportunity for the public to comment.

Opposition

Patrick Murphy offered that he is “adamantly opposed to the water treatment plant proposed.”

He offered, “A $20-25 million water treatment plan, when there's already one within the county, would be foolish and frivolous.”

The future “embitterment” of this county is not done through treated water, he said, asserting that is done through education and a trained workforce that corporations want to come and settle here.

“They will find the water whether it comes from the Town or somewhere else,” he said. “But we need a trained and educated workforce in order for these individuals to come and settle in our community.”

As a public servants, Murphy cited, the board is charged to represent and serve people of their districts.

“This is a good gut check and it's time to check your ego,” he said.

Murphy suggested that for the betterment of the county to keep the debt load low, bank that money and prefer the option of a raw water pumping set up, bring it to the Town and let them treat the water.

Cornell Walker cited that the project was started based on drought.

“It will not reach 50 percent of the county. If there is a serious drought, most of the citizens like myself are going to have to drill another well,” Walker said. “So to spend $25 million on something which does not benefit the citizens of Prince Edward County, to me is not a very good investment.”

He noted, “Any entity that will put $25 million into a business with no investment makes it a very foolish investment.”

Walker noted that, as they've heard before, there are more ways in which $25 million could be invested to prosper the county.

“We need a different way to prosper,” he said.

Speaker Henry Shelton offered that he had been there several times opposing what he described as a “tax-eating monster,” before going on to detail a list of issues of concern.

Sam Campbell offered that the hearing was “absurd and should never have been scheduled. You are holding a public hearing on a comprehensive agreement that will not and cannot be implemented because it contains false information. The water plant design, the cost of the water plant, the size of the water plant and whether to run lines east depend on Crewe participating. You do not have that commitment so this public hearing is invalid.”

Campbell also took aim at Chairman Fore.

“The only reason I can figure that Mr. Fore has pushed this project for this far for so long is so he wants a legacy. Mr. Fore, if all you want's a legacy, do not saddle the citizens of this county with a debt… I will donate my time and resources to provide you with a brass plaque with your name on it and erect it at a spot of your choosing.”

Campbell also asserted, “There will be a tax increase as a result of this project.”

He recommended that they put the idea of construction in a time capsule, forget about it and revisit the need in 20 years. He also suggested that they start negotiations with the Appomattox River for providing them water in the meantime.

Wendy Oliver, also leveling criticism and concerns, assessed that it should be put on the ballot box to let the people decide.

“You're not god,” she said. “You can't tell if there's gonna be another drought like 2002 and, if there is, right around me, there's four watersheds. Open the gates. They flood into Buffalo Creek, which fills into Wilck's Lake and you've got water. I'm well water, you're not gonna help me. If my well goes dry, are you gonna pay, Mr. Fore, for my well to be re-dug? How about you Mr. McKay, you gonna pay for it? You gonna get me water out where I live at?”

Ms. Oliver offered that they need “to take this and dump it. You've wasted enough of our taxpayers' money and our time with this…”

Richard Altice assessed that the water project seems to be a “pipeline to nowhere.” He suggested that it is a bad time now to be making a large loan.

Jack Houghton urged the board to suspend negotiations with Crowder and to, at the earliest practical date, initiate negotiations with Farmville so that they can further enhance and expand the infrastructure assets they have in Prince Edward to best serve the future of the community.

William Kreye offered a detailed comparison to the cost and design of the proposed water projects in comparison to two others (including one in Buckingham).

“I'm kinda concerned that the cost is pretty high,” Kreye told the board. “…In my opinion, the PPEA process has failed the county pretty badly. The price is pretty high for a two MGD (million gallons a day) plant.”

He said the board needs to “look around and make sure you're getting value for your dollar, because there are certainly some other facilities that are very, very high quality facilities using very durable materials that are less costly.”

Kreye assessed it's “a lot of money,” and that they might be “much better off if you keep that money in the bank, maybe invest it in the school system or wait until there's a true need for the water facility.”

Engineer Brian Lokker, from Rice, also highlighted concerns.

“…I think the price is so high based on a design that's 15-30 percent complete,” he said.

Lokker also offered, “What are we paying for? Does anyone truly know what we're paying for? I don't think so.”

Lokker also cited the way the contract is-the draft agreement-change orders are written into that where if there is a problem during the construction phase change orders could potentially increase cost. He also cited there is no commitment by their neighbors and he questioned why move forward.

(While the County has discussed the participation of Crewe and Burkeville in the project and the proposed system factors their participation, the two localities have not committed.)

“There seems to be rush, rush, rush, do this now. Why? What's a year-another six months? Sit down, think about it, solicit prices, maybe have a 100 percent plans…90 percent plans prepared, solicit bids, see what's out there-at least give the opportunity for others in the area and the community and…Virginia, for that matter to bid this project to eventually get a better price,” Lokker said.

Non-Engagement

While questions weren't specifically addressed during the hearing (Fore noted that it was one way, the public to the board) Pribble, after the hearing, explained to The Herald that their $12.9 million cost includes engineering costs for the design for the treatment plant. He also noted that there's about 2,200 feet of 16-inch raw water line from the lake to the water plant, there's a raw water pump station generator, the finished water pump station (designed to pump in two different pressures in two different directions), have oversized the storage at the plant (making it a water plant cost, when it could have been a system cost), and there's a generator at the water treatment plant.

“So if you look at all of those numbers, and you look at that cost and the fact that we're essentially building the footprint for a …plant and that plant can be easily upgraded (from a two) to four MGD. And I think Mr. Bartlett said at the last meeting the estimate was…around $2 million. If you look at that, then we're right in that two to three to four dollar range (per gallon) that keeps getting thrown out,” Pribble said.

He cited that they're in the range they're talking about if you consider all the things that are included in the $12.9 million and the fact that the Buckingham plant really doesn't have any room for expansion.

Pribble also noted that no one that he has heard on the County Board “or us has ever said not to partner with the Town. It's always been…the best solution is something with the Town.”

Pribble also added that he still thinks partnering is the better way to go.

Some Support

Some speakers voiced support.

“When you talk about the future of a county, which is what ya'll doing now or what we're getting ready to decide in a little bit as people, it doesn't make a difference if I never use it,” Kenneth Jackson commented. “What if my children use it or my neighbor's children, or their grandchildren. And that's what it boils down to.”

Jackson noted he was once against the project until he talked to people from the health department.

Jackson encouraged, “Board of Supervisors, whether you're in the Town or the county, your first priority is for the good of the county.”

Virginia Price assessed that “we have to think of the future and I don't think there's enough running around now to satisfy a growth that we anticipate over the years to come.”

She would also offer, “…I don't know whether this is right or wrong, but I think at least you're trying.”

Bemeche Hicks also cited, “We're not god…We don't know what the future holds, but we do plan for the future and we need to plan for the future. I don't want to see 40 years from now…I'd be in my 80s by that time and we still don't have jobs, we don't have corporations and companies here. So I stand before tonight to say yes to this project and I hope to see it in fruition very soon.”

(Written comments can be submitted until the end of the month.)