Water debate

The James River Water Authority (JRWA), a joint venture between Fluvanna and Louisa Counties, would draw up to 12 million gallons per day of water from the James River and pump it just over a mile to a junction by Rt. 6 in Columbia.  From there the Louisa County Water Authority (LCWA) would pipe the water northeast through Fluvanna to Ferncliff, where it would build a treatment center.

The pipeline and its intake location, at Fluvanna’s historic Point of Fork where the James and Rivanna Rivers meet, have come under fire from some residents.  The county scheduled this community meeting in advance of the water line’s Dec. 2 public hearings before the Board of Supervisors.

Though the information about the project is “out there” in the public eye, “I can tell you that half of it’s wrong,” County Administrator Steve Nichols said as he opened the meeting.  “My hope tonight is that you’ll walk away knowing the whole story.”

Currently about 93 percent of Fluvanna’s revenue comes from homeowners, while only 7 percent springs from business.  A healthier ratio would be 70 percent from homeowners and 30 percent from business.  But in order to relieve the burden on homeowners, Nichols said, the county needs to make investments in infrastructure, especially by bringing water to Zion Crossroads.

The 75,000 gallons per day of water that supervisors recently voted to bring to Zion Crossroads from the Department of Corrections on Rt. 250 won’t be enough of a supply even for the next 10 years, said Nichols.  “A really good viable long-term water source is essential,” he said.  “In the next 50 to 100 years, this is what we will fight wars about in the world.  There’s study after study after study saying water will be our most precious resource.”

Moving forward with the JRWA project ensures that Fluvanna has a permit to withdraw water from the James River – permission that is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain from the Department of Environmental Quality.

“We have studied things to death, with no results,” said Nichols to the gathered crowd.  “How many times are you going to study an issue?  Either move forward or stop.”

The JRWA project – the intake station and the roughly one mile of pipe – will cost between $8 million and $10 million.  Fluvanna and Louisa will split the costs.  The LCWA project, which includes a pipeline stretching about 12.5 miles through Fluvanna from the end of the JRWA pipe to Louisa, a treatment station at Ferncliff, and a treated water pipeline to Zion Crossroads, will cost between $40 million and $45 million and will be entirely paid for by Louisa.

A substantial objection to the JRWA project is the proposed location of its intake station at historic Point of Fork, an iconic Fluvanna spot.  “Standing on that bridge, looking at the point, is what I’ve done my entire lifetime,” said Betty McGehee.  “This is like putting something up on the altar of my church.”  The room broke into applause.

“It’s like putting a pumping station on Mt. Rushmore,” said Barbara Seay, who owns the Point of Fork.  “All you talk about is money.  There are things that are more important to us than money in this rural area.”  The crowd applauded.  “It’s right through the heart of my land, beautiful gorgeous green space,” Barbara Seay declared loudly.  “I’m fighting for my heart and my soul.”

Among its historical claims to fame, the Point of Fork was home to Rassawek, the capital city of the Monacan Indians, and the Point of Fork arsenal, over which a battle was fought in the Revolutionary War.

“From a practical standpoint, when you start hitting these Indian artifacts, it’s going to stop everything,” said McGehee.  “You’re going to be going through there with a teaspoon, going through the soil, and wish you hadn’t done it.”

There is a plan in place to make sure no historic artifacts are destroyed, said Nichols.  But the county would be hard-pressed to settle on a location by a water route that wasn’t historic, he continued, given that settlements used to be located by waterways.

“I’m not against progress…working out some type of solution,” said George Bialkowski, who owns the other parcel of land that would be affected by the JRWA project.  “I’m just against the idea of desecrating a piece of history that you don’t care anything about.”

Barbara Seay raised the question of how the county plans to obtain the 2.7 acres of her land it needs to construct the intake station.  “What do you think you’re going to get my property for?  Two cents?  I’m not giving it to you,” she said to thunderous applause.

“What happens if it’s not for sale?” asked her husband Vince Seay.

As Nichols mentioned legal authorities, Vince Seay said, “You’re going to take it.”

Given that the James River forms almost the entire southern boundary of Fluvanna County, Nichols spoke to why the Point of Fork was the spot the county settled on for the intake station.  “Just because you have a river that runs along your border doesn’t mean there’s any place you can just drop a straw and pull out water,” he said.  Given the project’s engineering needs, the Point of Fork provided the most suitable location of any spot considered, he said.

Bremo Bluff, the former location considered for the intake station, presented ecological, engineering, and cost barriers, Nichols said.  And putting the intake near Columbia allows Louisa to put 90 percent of its water line in existing easements, which affects fewer homeowners.  “There is no perfect route for a water line or a sewer line…anywhere,” he said.  “There is no perfect solution to make everybody happy.”

Tricia Johnson, director of the Fluvanna Historical Society, asked how much more it would cost to shift the intake location to Bremo Bluff, where history wouldn’t be of such concern.  When Nichols gave an estimate of an additional $3 million to $5 million, Johnson suggested that the cost may be a good expenditure to protect Fluvanna’s history.  Nichols said that he would simply end up having the same meeting with different landowners asking why the pipeline was going through their land.

Supervisor Tony O’Brien asked the crowd if sometime in the next 10 years they were planning on giving teachers and sheriff’s deputies a raise.  As it stands now, Fluvanna’s only significant sources of revenue are real estate and personal property taxes, which fall squarely upon its citizens.  And no one likes seeing the tax rate go up year after year.

“Sooner or later you have to look at the world in a different, longer-term view,” said Nichols.

The Board of Supervisors will consider two special use permit requests at its Dec. 2 meeting – one to allow the intake station to be built at the Point of Fork and the other to allow the LCWA to put its water pipeline through rural Fluvanna land.  The public will have a chance to weigh in before the decision is made.

Editor’s note: Tricia Johnson is also a part-time reporter for the Fluvanna Review.

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