ARRINGTON — Dozens of Nelson residents packed into the Nelson County Service Authority building Thursday hoping to lobby its Board of Directors to deny a special rate and connection fee that would be used in a sale of water to Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
But their comments and a motion by the board resulted in no further progress, leaving the future of the potential contract in question.
After a public hearing on the rate of more than 10 cents per gallon and a connection fee of $500,000 — during which 23 residents, most of whom were opposed, spoke — the board deadlocked, 2-2, on a motion to deny the rate.
Robert McSwain and Tommy Harvey voted for the motion to deny the rate, which is more than 10 times the rate for all other service authority customers in the area, and connection fee, which is more than $400,000 more than the normal fee for the 3-inch meter ACP would require. David Hight and Gary Sherwood voted against the motion; chairman Russell Otis was absent.
The rate and connection fee were proposed to the authority by ACP, according to George Miller, the authority’s executive director.
The hung vote leaves the future of the proposed contract, which specifies the service authority would provide ACP 40,000 gallons per day sourced from Lake Monacan in Stoney Creek, in flux.
The board can reconsider the same motion or any other motion it chooses to make for the special rate and connection fee, and whether to approve the contract itself, during its next meeting July 19. But with the contract, which could result in $3.5 million for the authority over two years, yet to be finalized, ACP indicated after the meeting it also is exploring other options for the water it needs for construction.
“We’ll continue working with the service authority in the hopes of reaching an agreement,” said Aaron Ruby, spokesman for leading ACP partner Dominion Energy, “but at this time we’re moving forward with our alternative solution to meet the project’s water needs.”
That alternative would be to truck in water each day for use in the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) process that would bore a path for the pipeline under the Blue Ridge Parkway from Nelson County into Augusta County. HDD construction is planned to start this summer, with activity focused near Beech Grove Road and along the border with Augusta County.
The trucking alternative would mean increased traffic in the Wintergreen area to at least 10 daily trips by trucks to and from the site.
While Ruby called the method a “viable option,” he said ACP still prefers to work out an agreement with the service authority, which he called “the best solution for Nelson County.”
“This agreement will provide millions of dollars in new revenue for the service authority and will avoid additional truck traffic on Beech Grove Road,” he said. “The service authority has consistently said the agreement is entirely feasible and that it will not impact service to existing customers.”
Miller has said the proposed contract constitutes an agreement unlike any other, in terms of the scope of the figures stipulated. He and the board confirmed Thursday, though, citing outside engineering reports, that the authority wouldn’t have issues providing the amount of water outlined in the contract, flow (200 gallons per minute) and pressure (60 pounds per square inch).
Before he made the motion to deny the rate and connection fee, McSwain said the negotiation process has “gone on long enough,” and it’s “time to call it quits.” His original motion would have ceased negotiations between ACP and the service authority completely, but that motion was amended to only include denial of the rate and connection fee.
Residents’ concerns were wide-ranging, but many speakers focused on the water quality they believe would be negatively affected by the contract.
Holding up a glass bottle of what she calls “BP” water — or “before-the-pipeline” water — Priscilla Sonne, a Nellysford resident, said, “Here in Nelson County, this is pure water … And we need to protect it.”
Others said the amount ACP could pay as part of the contract is too little for the risk they believe will be involved.
“I don’t think any rate would compensate Nelson County for what’s happening here,” Faber resident Kay Frazier said.
One person spoke exclusively in support of the contract.
“This is an opportunity to get some funds that are much needed,” Faber resident Carlton Ballowe said. “The alternative is not nearly as palatable.”
If the parties can continue to work through contract concerns in the next month, the rate, connection fee and contract would be considered by a board with three new membersat the next meeting.
During the Board of Supervisors meeting earlier in June, three new members were appointed to take over three seats on the authority’s board of directors.
Two supervisors, Ernie Reed and Jesse Rutherford, will fill seats held by Otis and McSwain, respectively. Justin Shimp, an Afton resident and civil engineer, will replace Harvey.
In interviews after Thursday’s meeting, none of the three offered a definitive position on how they would vote if the matters are still up for consideration. Reed, Shimp and Rutherford all said they needed to wait to consider all the information available at that point.
Reach Emily Brown at (434) 385-5529.