With river intake application, county prepares to chart its own water future

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 3, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

PRINCE GEORGE – Continuing their efforts from the previous year, Prince George County leaders remain steadfast in their goals to give the county a better position economically when it comes to one of the most important assets in attracting new business to a community, water as they prepare to meet with state regulators regarding the possibility of intaking water from the Appomattox River.

Frank Haltom, the county’s director of engineering and utilities gave an update to supervisors in February, detailing that the county and Dewberry Engineering have met with a multitude of state and national agencies, including the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the state department of game and inland fisheries, the Virginia Department of Historical Resources, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the county’s proposal to withdraw water from the Appomattox River to “support the future needs of the Southpoint Business Park and future growth” of Prince George County.

While development of the county’s infrastructural portfolio has been discussed for years, that dialogue ramped up during 2018 as supervisors sought to address needs in the county in an effort to better position the county for future growth and development, particularly on the industrial side, something that found its way onto the agenda of work sessions during the prior year.

“We have to do something about utilities overall because this is a big countywide issue,” Supervisor TJ Webb said in July of last year. “We can’t keep kicking this can down the road.”

Webb continued, “My concern is, if we don’t do anything about utilities over the next five to ten years, we are going to be putting everything on the taxpayers to carry the burden. We have got to get utilities here so we can get some industry. We don’t have to grow like Chesterfield [County], but we are way behind the curve.”

One of the topics discussed by supervisors and Haltom was the development of the county’s own water treatment facility, which likely would be located just north of Riverside Regional Jail off River Road in the county along the Appomattox River. Talk about this project heightened in the summer of 2018 when it was revealed that Chesterfield County was interested in purchasing the Appomattox River Water Authority, the multi-jurisdictional organization that oversees water distribution operations for much of Tri-City/Tri-County area, including Prince George, with all localities having a say in various operations of the authority and voting members on the authority’s board. 

Even though the purchase proposal would have required all of the member localities to approve it, Prince George included, which likely wasn’t going to happen, according to some elected officials in the region, had Chesterfield County, the largest county on the authority and largest consumer of water, been granted the ability to buy the authority and its assets, the remaining member localities would have been converted to customers of Chesterfield County, stoking concerns about how rate increases would be handled along with apprehension about the idea of having to reach out to a competing locality to discuss water needs and economic development if a prospect showed interest in the given locality, possibly providing vital information that could be used to attract the prospect elsewhere. 

While the ARWA buyout idea failed, it did start the conversation within Prince George to look at managing its own water future, particularly with an asset like the Appomattox River right in their backyard. As part of that conversation, work began by county staff to get a permit to be allowed to intake water from the river.

According to Haltom, following their December meeting, they are expected to meet with a number of other agencies to discuss aquatic species of concern in the area of the proposed intake along the Appomattox River near Riverside Regional Jail. That information will help in determining the design and implementation of the water intake along with “understanding the costs to offset the impacts” to species identified in the area.

The full application is expected to be completed by April of this year and will require a multi-agency review that will likely take a year to be completed, with Halton estimating the county could receive the intake permit by the close of the year in 2020.

He added that once the county submits their application, others wishing to intake water from the Appomattox River in the area would have to wait until after Prince George’s application is completed before they will be allowed to move forward for consideration. 

Once that is received, the focus will likely shift to developing a water treatment plant in Prince George County. According to county documents from a 2018 work session, the initial construction cost would surpass those of the county paying for a majority supply of water from the Appomattox River Water Authority or Virginia American Water, the two providers in the area who service Prince George County.

In a report delivered by Haltom at the time, an ARWA majority water supply would roughly $30 million while a Virginia American Water majority would cost an estimated $35 million, which is in contrast to the estimated $59 million the water treatment plant is expected to cost. 

In addition, looking at a 3 million gallon per day total over 20 years, while ARWA majority supply would cost $69 million, both the county-owned and Virginia American Water majority supply option carry similar price tags at $76 million and $74 million respectively. 

In this instance, the intangible for the county would be its ability to intake its own water to provide for future growth and development with likely less reliance on ARWA or Virginia American Water.

Haltom did note that as part of the multi-agency approval process, the public will be heard as comments will be taken during the course of the review. Those remarks would then be compiled and provided to the county’s engineering contractor Dewberry to provide responses and satisfy all concerns. 

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