Fluvanna, Louisa water project reaches milestone

By Heather Michon

The long-running joint project between Fluvanna and Louisa counties to bring water from the James River near Columbia to Zion Crossroads reached another milestone on Wednesday (Sept. 6). 

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a ‘Resolution Recommending Support of a Comprehensive Agreement Addendum by the James River Water Authority’ –a  somewhat convoluted way of saying the James River Water Authority (JRWA) has their support to lock in a contract price to get the project underway.

County Administrator Eric Dahl said the price could be as high as $45.6 million. The estimated cost for designing the pumping station and infrastructure, acquiring land, and constructing the facility is $39.6 million; another $5.9 million may need to be allocated for required cultural resource and environmental impact surveys, permits, and other legal issues. Dahl believes both figures represent “a ceiling” in terms of cost and believes the final numbers will be at least slightly lower.

JRWP is a joint venture with Louisa County, so Fluvanna would only have to pick up half of that final figure. Dahl noted the county has already earmarked most of that funding from other sources, including at least $7.6 million from Dominion as part of their proffer to Fluvanna for permission to build a landfill for waste from the now demolished Bremo Power Station. 

The project stalled in recent years after the Monacan tribe objected to the original planned site for the intake at Point of Fork. Archaeological evidence found that the site was likely located on their historic tribal capital of Rassawek. A new site was found a couple of miles upstream. It has so far failed to uncover any sensitive artifacts. 

If everything goes as planned from this point on, construction on the site could start as soon as January 2024. After completion in early 2026, James River water will flow up a pipeline to a treatment plant in Ferncliff, and from there up to Zion Crossroads. This stable water supply is considered critical to spurring economic development in both counties.

Solar taxation

Supervisors authorized staff to draft a new ordinance that would shift taxation of solar energy facilities to a revenue share model.

Solar facilities in Fluvanna are currently taxed under the Machinery and Tools (M&T) tax rate. But in 2020, the Virginia legislature approved a revenue share model that allows localities to tax solar generating projects at a rate of $1,400 per megawatt.

Looking at other Virginia counties, Dahl said “generally, smaller localities have opted for the revenue share model.”

Fluvanna County has seen several solar projects in recent years and two more – a 38-megawatt facility and an 18-megawatt facility – slowly working their way through the planning and zoning process.

Free Hill Cemetery

Supervisors also voted to advertise a public hearing for a measure that would give Free Hill Cemetery in Columbia to the Fluvanna County Historical Society.

Free Hill is one of the county’s historically Black cemeteries and served as the final resting place for generations of families in the 19th and 20th centuries. But in 1965, the Columbia Town Council voted to allow logging on the site to raise money for road projects, a process that caused damage to many of the surviving headstones and grave markers. 

The Fluvanna County Historical Society has been working to clean up and preserve the cemetery site over the last couple of years. In March, FCHS Director Tricia Johnson asked the supervisors to convey the deed for the cemetery to the Columbia Baptist Church, a move that would allow them to apply for a grant to cover the costs of continuing archaeological and preservation work.

County Attorney Fred Payne argued that there were potential legal issues for the county if they gave the property to a religious organization, and suggested instead that the supervisors approve a quitclaim deed conveying it to the historical society. At that point, FCHS could sign the deed over to the church without any county involvement. New County Attorney Daniel Whitten explained to supervisors on Wednesday night that this process would create a clean chain of deed to the property.

The public hearing on the quitclaim deed will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 18.

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