Update: Pipeline

The agreement is between Fluvanna, Louisa, the James River Water Authority (JRWA), which is comprised of three members from Fluvanna and three from Louisa, and the Louisa County Water Authority.  According to the agreement, the JRWA will construct both an intake facility at the James River and a pipeline, ending in a junction, roughly to Rt. 6.  The intake facility and pipeline would have a capacity of three million gallons per day (GPD) and would be jointly owned by Fluvanna and Louisa.

At the junction, Louisa plans to construct its own pipeline, which would run north-northeast through Fluvanna to Louisa.  Eventually, Fluvanna may also build a pipeline off the junction in order to bring raw water to other areas in the county.  The cost of the JRWA portion of the pipeline project is around $3.5 million, which makes Fluvanna’s share roughly $1.75 million.

In approving the proposal, supervisors agreed to the moving of the intake permit from its current location at Bremo Bluff to Columbia, which is closer to Louisa.  This intake location means that Louisa’s pipeline will run adjacent to the current Colonial Gas pipeline, which cuts through 76 parcels of Fluvanna land and through the rural preservation area.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will determine how much of the three million GPD each county needs, and will allocate flow accordingly.  So, while fixed operation and maintenance costs of the pipeline project will be split equally by both counties, variable operation and maintenance costs will be paid proportionally according to what percentage of the water each county is using.  Every entity will own whatever property it constructs or acquires.

The JRWA pipeline’s long history and the varied forms the agreement has taken have been fraught with controversy.  Wednesday night was no exception, though the fact that the vote took place at nearly midnight greatly impacted the number of citizens still available to speak.  Before the vote, Columbia candidate for supervisor Elizabeth Franklin urged the Board to keep the permit location in its current position, Bremo Bluff, a position which, she claimed, is of much greater benefit to Fluvanna than Columbia.  An intake point in Bremo Bluff would make it easier and cheaper to push water up Rt. 15 to Fork Union, a place with real water needs, and would have the added benefit of positioning Louisa’s pipeline such that it would not run through the rural preservation area.  In fact, she argued, the only beneficiary of moving the permit to Columbia is Louisa.  Dennis Holder found it likely that the DEQ would allocate more water to Louisa than to Fluvanna, and noted that, if so, Fluvanna would “get a third of the water for half the money.”

In a similar case, the city of Virginia Beach paid Isle of Wight County $3 million over the course of five years for the ability to run a pipeline through Isle of Wight’s land.  Critics of the JRWA agreement have pointed to the fact that Louisa has offered no such benefit to Fluvanna.  So Wednesday evening, Supervisor Don Weaver broached the subject, and when it was not taken up by the others, Supervisor Joe Chesser surprised the crowd by interrupting the vote itself to discuss this issue.

According to the original agreement, Louisa would pay all of the costs associated with building its own pipeline from the junction at Rt. 6.  If Fluvanna eventually wanted to tap into this pipeline it would need to pay any resulting additional costs.  And since the best time to build taps and correctly-sized pipes is at the beginning, Fluvanna has been urged to consider this possibility now rather than in the future.

In exchange for building across Fluvanna’s land, Weaver wondered if Louisa would be willing to pay for two taps in its water line every three miles or so, in order to make it possible for Fluvanna to hook up in the future.  As supervisors, County Attorney Fred Payne, and County Administrator Steve Nichols discussed the idea, it eventually took shape as a desire to ask Louisa to pay for a T-junction at a to-be-determined Fluvanna location in its water line, and to pay for the additional pipe capacity required by Fluvanna’s eventual flow.

Chairman Shaun Kenney protested the timing of the discussion, saying repeatedly that these concerns could be addressed “in engineering.”  Payne responded that “if you’re going to contemplate doing this, you ought to include it in this agreement.”  Kenney preferred to approve the contract as-is “as a sign of good faith and then come back to Louisa County and see if they were willing to have an addendum.”  Skeptical, Nichols, Payne, Chesser, and Weaver replied that the time to bargain was before the agreement was signed, not after.

Unconvinced, Kenney maintained that the contract should be signed and details hashed out later in engineering.  Supervisor Mozell Booker did not want to ask for the T-junction and increased pipeline capacity at all.  Payne kept responding that the agreement in its present form stated Fluvanna would be responsible for those charges, and if supervisors wished to modify the agreement, they must not sign it first.

The Board then invited Louisa County Administrator Robert Dubé to give his opinion as to whether Louisa supervisors would agree to the modifications.  While Dubé was careful not to make predictions, he expressed cautious optimism.

Eventually, the motion was made to approve the agreement with an amendment attached: an amendment that would ask Louisa to pay for one T-junction on its pipeline at a to-be-determined point within Fluvanna County, and to pay for the requisite increased pipe capacity to that point.  The motion passed 3-2, with Weaver and Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch dissenting.  If Louisa desires, its county attorney and Payne will work together to construct the language of the amendment.

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