Pressing Pause: State holds off on water decision, wants data

Published 12:57 am Monday, July 1, 2024

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Before a review of regional water needs continues, state officials want more information from the Town of Crewe. Virginia’s Secretary of Finance has announced he wants an engineering firm to take a look at the town’s system before a decision is made. 

Staff from Prince Edward County and the towns of Crewe and Blackstone met with representatives from Virginia Finance Secretary Stephen Cummings’ office on a call earlier this month to follow up on information the localities provided in response to a Request for Information (RFI) on meeting the region’s water needs.

Crewe Town Manager Phil Miskovic said that after reviewing the responses to the RFIs submitted by Crewe/Blackstone and Prince Edward County, state officials decided to look again at Crewe’s existing system and what would need to be done to meet the long term water needs using the current system. 

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“The state will be contracting with an engineering firm to develop that proposal,” Miskovic said. “Crewe will be working with the selected firm to supply them with any information they need.”

This recent development is to gather more information and understand all of the options available, he said.

“As I understand it, all options are still on the table and no decision has been made,” Miskovic said.

Positive feedback on water

Meanwhile, Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley said he received positive feedback from the secretary’s office on the supplemental information the county provided about the Sandy River Water Supply Project. He said this was consistent with their discussions with the commonwealth over the last three years.

“At the same time, the secretary notified us that his office would take a short pause to allow Crewe to provide additional information about its water system,” Stanley explained. “The county understands the secretary’s desire to confirm the commonwealth has considered all available information before moving forward with long-term water supply contracts for its facilities in Nottoway.”

After three years of studies and discussions with stakeholders,  he said Prince Edward County is confident this pause will only reinforce the conclusion that the Sandy River Water Supply Project provides the best long-term water supply solution for the region on all objective measures, including cost, reliability, safety, drought-resiliency and ability to support long-term economic growth in the region.

“We are not aware of any new studies planned for the Prince Edward Water Supply Project, which has been studied exhaustively over the last three years,” Stanley added.

Throughout this process, Miskovic said the Town of Crewe will continue to be good partners with the state, cooperating with the various agencies involved and providing any information requested. 

“From the beginning, our only goal has been ensuring safe, affordable water to all of our residents, for both the short- and long-term,” Miskovic said.

How we arrived at this point 

Finance Secretary Cummings’ involvement in the debate over how regional water needs and those of state facilities in the region grew out of concerns raised by Crewe and Blackstone over a 2023 state budget amendment. The budget language stated Prince Edward’s Sandy River Reservoir project would best satisfy the needs of Piedmont Geriatric Hospital, phases one and two of the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation and Nottoway Correctional Center.

The budget amendment also gives Prince Edward County the authority to exercise eminent domain to obtain the land needed to extend its system in Nottoway County. It goes on to say it can extend outside Prince Edward County “without obtaining the consent or permission of any locality or public body.”

Stanley said the county has paused most work on the project for the moment because pending decisions by the commonwealth, Crewe and other stakeholders will influence the size and design of the facilities that will be constructed. 

“At the same time, discussions with other potential water customers – including at the county-owned Heartland Innovation Technology Park – are ongoing,” he explained.

The state Department of Environmental Quality held its final public hearing during April on Prince Edward County’s permit for the treatment facility at Sandy River Reservoir. Stanley previously said county officials expect that permit to be issued at any time.

The first phase of the Sandy River project is estimated to carry a price tag of between $50 million and $55 million, with the treatment facility coming in at $28 to $29 million, with the rest being lines and a water intake system.

“We expect to move forward with discussions shortly after Crewe provides its supplemental information,” Stanley said.

No comment on water

A spokesman for the finance secretary declined to answer specific questions on the RFI, by only saying the administration had “received detailed responses to the request for information and the process is ongoing.”