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Town of Front Royal unhappy with jail authority

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald The Warren Sentinel
FRONT ROYAL, Jan. 28 — Front Royal officials are going into a second closed meeting next week to discuss the ramifications of the RSW Regional Jail Authority's decision to build an onsite wastewater plant.

The town council added a discussion on the matter with their attorney to a closed session following Monday night's regular meeting. Town Manager Steve Burke confirmed that another closed meeting will be held before the council's Feb. 4 work session.

The town supplies water and sewer to business and industry in the U.S. 522 corridor north of town per a 1998 agreement between the town and Warren County. The town charges industrial customers twice the in-town rate for water and for connecting to the system. Commercial customers also pay PILOT fees in their water and sewer bills — payments that are equivalent to those they would pay if located in town.

The town was notified in a letter from County Administrator Doug Stanley dated Jan. 24 — the same day the jail authority voted to build its wastewater plant (see RSW Jail to build own wastewater plant, page A1).

“It would have been nice if the regional jail authority had contacted the town,” said Front Royal Vice Mayor Shae Parker, a vocal advocate of having the town annex the corridor. “As a representative of the citizens of the town, I thought we had open dialogue, that someone from the jail authority or [County Administrator] Doug Stanley would have contacted the town to let them know that this was their plan.”

According to Stanley, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has already issued a permit for treatment plant

The major concerns with the RSW Jail plans to buy water from the town but not use its sewer service are three-fold, according to Parker: communication, or lack of it; environmental; and the precedence it sets for the town as a service provider.

“If the regional jail is allowed to do this, does that mean that anyone who wants to locate on the corridor and go to DEQ and build their own?” Parker said. “Beyond any concern about business, my concern is the impact its going to have on Crooked Run, the Shenandoah River and the Chesapeake Bay.”

Parker noted that Shenandoah County was buying nutrient credits.

“Obviously the localities that were involved knew about it, why wasn't the town notified?” Parker said.

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a nutrient offset agreement between the Stoney Creek Sanitary District and the regional jail last December.

Asked if the town would consider not supplying water to the regional jail, Parker said “at this point I think all options are open.”

“To my knowledge, I don't think we have any other customers on the corridor that receive just water or just sewer,” Parker said. “The way I understand it is that this is between the town and the regional jail authority. I'm not county-bashing.”

Sheriff Daniel McEathron, chair of the regional jail's building committee, said that after the request to use cisterns was denied, the town was told that the authority “would have to explore other options.”

McEathron noted that the authority's meetings and minutes are “public knowledge.”

“I guess if the town would decide not to provide a service, we would have to explore our options once again,” he said.

Burke acknowledged that the town knew the regional jail was exploring a small-scale treatment plant to process water used from cisterns on the site.

The jail authority had hoped to use cisterns to collect rainwater to use for laundry, allowing that water to then go into the town's sewer system.

But in a February work session, the town council expressed concerns about introducing rainwater into the town's system and said it would not consider allowing it.

Stanley said the jail authority took that February discussion as “a business decision” made by the town.

Based on that decision, Stanley said the jail authority accepted a proposal in May 2012 to “evaluate the potential and feasibility to treat the laundry water from the facility and all of the wastewater as an option.”

The jail authority paid Patton Harris Rust & Associates of Winchester $26,000 to do the study.

According to Stanley, the study revealed that regional jail could save about $1 million by building a treatment plant to handle just the laundry operations and about $3 million for all of the wastewater over a 20-year operating period.

“Of this $3 million in savings, $1.5 million will belong to the residents of Warren County,” Stanley said. “That works out to about $75,000 a year.”

Burke said the town can provide water and sewer to the corridor through “excess capacity” at its facilities.

If a utility customer in the corridor used only one service or the other, Burke said, it would “create an imbalance in the amount of excess capacity available.”

“When the county comes to the town and asks 'how much further development can occur in the corridor?' it's a balanced number,” Burke said. “We've got a million gallons excess capacity in water and sewer. If we were to have a user that would only use water, then we'd have to start providing two numbers to the county. At one point it would potentially cause a new user to not be able to come online because we would not have as much water as sewer capacity.”

Daniel J. Murray Jr., who sits on the Jail Authority and Warren County Board of Supervisors, refuted claims that the town was never informed of the Authority's intentions regarding wastewater treatment at the jail.

“They turned us down for sewage and we're actually going to save $3 million by not using the town,” Murray said. “We went to them and they said 'No.'”

Asked what the Authority would do if the town would not supply water to the jail, Murray said that according to the 522 Corridor agreement between the town and county, the town should supply the water. Otherwise, he said, “We're in the county so I guess we could drill wells, couldn't we?”

Murray said the amount of savings the Jail Authority will realize by building the wastewater treatment plant is impossible to ignore.

“It was an eye-opener to see a $3 million difference,” Murray said. “If we could save our citizens $100, then we should save $100.”
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