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MWA wants no part of ‘deficient’ Urbanna wells

by Tom Chillemi

Why wasn’t Urbanna contacted by the Middlesex Water Authority (MWA) as a potential provider of water for the Eastern Middlesex Regional Water System?

The answer, and more came from MWA chair Greg Chambers who addressed the Middlesex Board of Supervisors (BOS) at its meeting on October 2. 

During studies, the MWA’s consultant considered 70 existing wells, Chambers told the BOS. The MWA eventually decided to purchase and use two wells near Urbanna at Rosegill, which were drilled in 2007 and meet current state standards.

“We eliminated from consideration all wells that were either lacking in capacity or didn’t have the proper design to meet today’s standards,” said Chambers.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will require two wells operated by the Town of Urbanna be replaced by 2024 and 2026, said Chambers, adding the wells are operating under a “consent decree.” 

“We [the MWA] thought it would be foolish to ask DEQ to approve wells that they were not comfortable with and in fact are condemned [for use] beyond 2024” and 2026, he said. 

Chambers continued that Urbanna has issued a request for proposals for replacement of one well.

On September 20, the Urbanna Town Council, with three members absent, voted 3-1 to send a letter and 125-page report compiled by the Urbanna Water Committee to DEQ that questions, among other things, why “Urbanna was not contacted as a potential provider of water for the Eastern Middlesex Regional Water System.”

The 3-page letter also asked MWA to mitigate and provide solutions if use of the Rosegill wells located less than a mile from town would adversely impact Urbanna’s drinking water “quality or quantity.”

Further, the letter suggests MWA could use Urbanna’s well as a water supply. 

“Deficient” wells
The Urbanna wells have a permit to withdraw 41 million gallons of water per year, said Chambers, while the MWA is seeking a permit to withdraw 106 million gallons per year. “Not only are the [Urbanna] wells deficient, but they lack the permitted capacity and would need a permit from DEQ,” said Chambers.

The MWA has provided a mitigation plan should the MWA withdrawal affect the town’s water supply, Chambers noted. 

In spring of 2018, MWA consultants pumped 6 million gallons of water from the Rosegill wells as a test required by DEQ, said Chambers. “Our consultant, and DEQ in a very preliminary fashion, have told us that we will have a negligible to non-existent impact on Town of Urbanna wells.” 

A groundwater withdrawal permit from DEQ is essential for the MWA project to move ahead, said Chambers, who added the draft permit is expected to be issued in November. 

There would be a 30-day public comment period. If 25 or more individuals request a public hearing one would be held.

The MWA plans to begin pumping water by November 2019, first to Cooks Corner and Christchurch School, then Topping and eventually Deltaville. The MWA has 635 water customers signed up, said Chambers.

Chambers said Urbanna’s water system “is heavily under capitalized” and “it has serious issues with (fire) hydrants that clearly don’t work.”

Buying 100 million gallons of water per year from Urbanna, at the current rate, would cost the MWA $286,000 per year and add $31 to the proposed monthly bill for MWA customers. The MWA has 635 customers, said Chambers, and under this scenario the proposed monthly bill would jump from “$45 to $76, while Urbanna stays pat. That, quite frankly, kills our project.”

Chambers said he did not understand why “Urbanna chooses to communicate through the Sentinel and the DEQ. The embarrassing, naive letter that they wrote DEQ from Mr. [Bill] Smith is a direct threat to the MWA and good citizens of Middlesex County,” Chambers concluded.
Chambers indicated his desire to talk and publicly gave out his phone number, which is 804-832-9496. 

Supervisor comments
Hartfield supervisor John Koontz said he was asked to be on a committee “to speak with Urbanna and avoid miscommunications like this.” Koontz said his phone is 804-564-8852.

“I would love for Bill Smith to reach out to us before he reaches out to a state regulatory body,” said Koontz. “We have plenty to talk about. Urbanna is a very important part of our community. We need to band together and build and grow together and not be sniping at each other.”

MWA director
Middlesex County Administrator Matt Walker, who also is the executive director for the MWA, also commented at the October 2 BOS meeting.

In April Urbanna asked Middlesex County for a water grant, said Walker. The BOS appointed a committee consisting of supervisors John Koontz, Pete Mansfield and MWA chair Greg Chambers to work with the Urbanna Water Committee, and possibly develop a partnership. The county committee has never been invited to attend meetings of the Urbanna Water Committee, noted Walker. 

Walker said it was “appalling” that the Urbanna Water Committee would write and send a 125-page document to DEQ without first contacting the county committee for input. “The board [of supervisors] I think reached out and we were unwelcomed,” he said.

Walker also said the Urbanna Water Committee did not give the report to the county, which obtained a copy from DEQ, said Walker. “I find this troubling when we are five miles away from the town hall.” 

Walker went on to say that the MWA has reached out to council members and the mayor and “these inquires have been met with an unwelcomed response. There seems to be this fear or trepidation that the water authority is going to take over the town water system.”

Speaking as the MWA director, Walker said the water authority “has no grand desire to take over the town’s water system until it’s completely refurbished and updated.”

Reached out
BOS chair Chip Holt, who also serves on the MWA, commented that the April 2018 grant request from the town “came as a complete surprise.” Holt said he reached out the following night to Urbanna Mayor Steve Hollberg via email, suggesting that the mayor and chairs get together and talk about the grant. Holt said Hollberg informed him he was very busy and it would be three months before he’d be able to have time to talk. “At that point I figured it was a dead issue,” said Holt.

When the Urbanna Water Committee issued its report and it was reported in the Sentinel, Holt said he reached out again to Hollberg but has not heard back from him. “I need you all to know I’ve tried.”

Koontz commented on the frustration of communication but left the door open. “I pledge to get over my ego and feelings and look forward to an open dialogue with Urbanna. It’s just too important.”

Walker and Chambers both said they agreed with Koontz that they are willing to talk.

Mansfield said, “I think there is a lot the town could do along with the county . . . the path is only up.”

Contacted this week, Bill Smith, the Urbanna Water Committee chair, declined to comment on remarks made at the BOS meeting. Smith and Hollberg were not at the October 2 BOS meeting.

The Urbanna Town Council meets tonight, Thursday, October 11, at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of the town hall. The work session meeting is open to the public.

For more information, see September 27, 2018, issue of the Sentinel, which is available with the Sentinel’s e-edition.

posted 10.11.2018

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