(In) decision in Surry?

Published 2:35 pm Wednesday, March 9, 2016

By Matt Leonard

Staff writer

SURRY — Members of Surry County’s Board of Supervisors disagreed last week on the information they need to move forward with big changes to the county’s wastewater treatment system.

Meanwhile, one of the county’s largest employers, Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, is in talks with other counties about possible relocation options if Surry doesn’t accept the offer from the Hampton Roads Sanitation District to take over the county’s wastewater system.

“Every day that they delay the process is another day I can’t rebuild,” Sam Edwards, the company owner said in an interview. He refers to the delay as “one more nail in the coffin.” {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

HRSD has offered to come into the county and the town of Surry and take over all wastewater operations, but a month after the original pitch, some Board members remain unsure of what exactly the offer means.

Judy Lyttle, the board’s vice-chair, said during Thursday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that the only information the supervisors have received on the project was HRSD’s General Manager Ted Henifin’s address at the February board meeting.

Lyttle said she contacted County Administrator Tyrone Franklin by phone after the last board meeting to ask for a report with details on the project. Asked about her query, Franklin said he did not want to go on the record about requests he receives from Board members.

Edwards is deciding whether to reopen his nationally-known business after a fire tore through the company’s factory in January. The wastewater the company generates has high salt levels, and Edwards has to truck the wastewater to Suffolk because Surry’s system can’t handle it.

Edwards said soon after the fire that he would be unable to rebuild the plant unless an adequate sewage treatment system was in place to fully handle the plant’s wastewater.

While Surry has considered changes to its sewer system in the past, the Edwards fire has given the debate a new urgency, Franklin said. He said looking out for local employers is a top priority and resolving the sewage treatment issue would help keep one in town.

Board members said the county administration did not provide them with any documentation on the project or schedule a work session.

Lyttle said she wants to know project details, including an engineering plan, costs and regulatory requirements for making such a switch before the board votes on it.

“When we do something, I want this Board to know exactly what it’s doing,” Lyttle said.

Carsley District Supervisor Kenneth Holmes said he didn’t recall the county administration approaching the board in the past month with information on the project. He said he’d also like more information, but didn’t research the plan independently.

Board Chairman John Seward said he did talk to Franklin in the past month, but that he never had any question as to whether or not to approve the project.

“The proposal so far from HRSD is very simple,” Seward said. “We need to take action to say that we’re interested so they can move forward.”

He said the details of the project will become more clear as the county moves forward with the official transfer of assets.

Franklin said he would work with the Board to get them the information they need in order to make an informed decision, but pressed his point to the supervisors that bringing in HRSD will be a positive for the county.

HRSD and the county want to be able to transfer all assets by July 1 because it is the beginning of the fiscal year, Franklin said. In order to make that deadline, the Board would have to petition the Surry County Circuit Court by April. Making the transfer by July 1 would be the most convenient situation, he said, but the plan could continue if it was missed.

“There’s nothing magic about July first,” Henifin said. “We can make it work on any given date.”

Henifin said the agency will not move forward with just the county on board at this point anyway. HRSD is in talks with the town of Surry as well and it would like both entities in agreement before making the switch, he said.

If the county were to take action on the plan at the April meeting, it would only need three of the five Board members to approve HRSD’s entrance into the community.

Technically, the Board doesn’t have to approve the entrance at all. In an interview last month, Henifin said HRSD’s founding language — written and passed by the state General Assembly — allowed them to petition a court independently from a community.

But he said HRSD will not do this and will wait until Surry comes to them with some kind of approval.

Franklin told the Board that joining HRSD would give the county more capacity for the county wastewater system in case another business wants to come into the community. It would also allow the county to end the $200,000 a year contract it has with Sussex Service Authority.

Lyttle said she didn’t necessarily disagree with the plan, but after a long back and forth with Lyttle on one side, and Franklin and Seward on the other, Lyttle didn’t budge. She said she wanted engineers and representatives from the Department of Environmental Quality to make a presentation to the Board.

“Where is the information that should be presented?,” she said. “Right now we have nothing.”

Henifin said the cost of the transition would be zero — all infrastructure costs would be covered by a $27 monthly fee paid by their ratepayers. There is another fee associated with collection if that system is also acquired by HRSD.

At the March meeting, Lyttle was curious about the option to hook onto sewer lines from either Isle of Wight or under the James River. She said those seemed like costly options and was skeptical the county wouldn’t be left shouldering some sort of cost.

Seward said that HRSD would likely not go with either of those options. He said at first HRSD would come in and take over the existing infrastructure and build out what is currently there.

He said the $2.2 million treatment plant the town of Surry is in the process of bidding out could help with some of the issues between the town and county.

As for Lyttle’s regulatory concerns and DEQ’s involvement, Henfin said at the last meeting that HRSD would take over all liability associated with the wastewater system once the transition is made.

To meet the April court filing the Board would need to take action at the April board meeting.  {/mprestriction}