Lawsuit looms

Supervisors have called a special meeting for Monday (Dec. 7) at 4 p.m. to discuss investment of funds and legal matters.  The meeting will take place in closed session, but information may be released when supervisors reconvene in open session.  “After the closed session we want the public to know, we don’t want them in the dark,” said Chairperson Mozell Booker.

In 2013 Fluvanna signed an agreement with Louisa, the Louisa County Water Authority (LCWA), and the James River Water Authority (JRWA) that committed to constructing a system that would withdraw water from the James River and pipe it through Fluvanna and Louisa to Zion Crossroads.  On Nov. 18 supervisors signed an addendum to that agreement in which Louisa promised to provide Fluvanna with up to 400,000 gallons per day of treated water at Zion Crossroads by the end of 2018.

The agreement stated that “Fluvanna will take all necessary and legally permissible steps to ensure that the James River pipeline and its facilities are and remain permitted under its zoning ordinance.”

But on Dec. 2 supervisors denied the necessary special use permits that would modify the zoning of the land affected by the project.  Supervisors Don Weaver and Bob Ullenbruch voted against the permits, while Booker and Supervisor Tony O’Brien voted to approve.  Supervisor Mike Sheridan was absent.  The tied vote failed.

The agreement specifies that prior to filing a lawsuit, a party to the agreement who believes the agreement has been broached must submit the disagreement to a neutral mediator for at least 60 days.

Louisa has started that process, said Booker.  “We have a 60-day mediation, so we need to talk about what we’re going to do,” she said.  “The called meeting will be a closed session to talk about what’s happening between Fluvanna and Louisa.”

After the vote to deny the special use permits, Louisa put out a press release expressing its disappointment in the Fluvanna Board’s decision.  “Fluvanna’s attorney [Fred Payne] counseled the Board in open session that the agreement between the two counties obligated the Fluvanna Board to approve the permits,” said Mike Lockaby, Louisa’s attorney for the water project.

Though Ullenbruch declined at the meeting to explain his vote against the permits, Weaver spoke at length before casting his vote about Fluvanna’s debt load and his desire to be frugal with taxpayer money.

“If financing or water needs were the basis for their concerns, those should have been addressed prior to their entering in the agreement.  Those concerns have no bearing on the issuance of these permits,” said Lockaby.

Though typically special use permits that are denied can’t be reconsidered for a year, Payne said that the Board does have the discretion to waive that time frame if it desires.

And supervisors may do choose to do so.  “I think in the future there is a possibility that that could happen.  I’m very optimistic,” said Booker.  “I’m just sorry that we have to go through a kind of crisis before we can go ahead and do what I think the majority would like to do.”

Booker confirmed that the permits would need to go through the process again and receive a new hearing, which due to public advertisement periods, couldn’t take place before January, when newly-elected Supervisor Patricia Eager takes over Ullenbruch’s seat.

“The thing is, we have the agreement,” said Booker.  “We can’t say no – we’ve already said yes.  That’s the thing that I don’t understand – when you’ve already said yes and people have done everything they need to do, then you say no, I changed my mind.  We have to keep a level head and see if we can get some of our Board members to listen.  This is serious business.”

When asked if Louisa could force Fluvanna to build the water projects, Booker said, “Sure, they could.  They could get their water and we could get nothing.  I think they’re fully committed to going to the next step if things don’t get back on track.”  The next step, Booker said, would be a lawsuit.


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