HRSD in Surry OK’d

Published 1:27 pm Wednesday, October 26, 2016

With court blessing, it’s now up to local gov’t 

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

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SURRY — Surry County Circuit Court recently approved Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s petition to extend its territory into Surry County, to include the towns of Surry and Dendron.

The town of Claremont opted out of the proposal. Surry County owns the Dendron sewer system.

The next step is for Surry County and the town of Surry to convey its assets — wastewater treatment facilities — to HRSD.

A date for that action by the Surry Board of Supervisors and the Surry Town Council has yet to be determined, said Surry County Administrator Tyrone Franklin.

Earlier this year, the Board and Town Council voted to allow HRSD to move forward with its petition to the court.

Residents who own private septic systems would not fall under HRSD’s jurisdiction. 

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The town of Claremont decided to opt out because the Town Council did not believe it was financially feasible for HRSD to come into the community, said Claremont Mayor George Edwards.

The majority of the town’s 360 residents have individual septic systems, while about 60 homes at the beach are hooked up to a package sewer system, installed after Hurricane Isabel flooded that area in 2003, Edwards said.

The town also didn’t want to put a financial burden on its residents that are on a fixed income or have low wage jobs, he added.

At the same time, the town has accepted a loan from the Virginia Department of Health to upgrade its water system, Edwards said.

The town didn’t think its residents would benefit from HRSD, Edwards said.

The Surry County Chamber of Commerce recently released a report in favor of HRSD taking over the county and town’s wastewater treatment systems.

The report cites several reasons why the switch is necessary, including that the systems are at capacity and as a result, risk future economic growth, as well as the current facilities being exposed to regulatory violations by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The county has also experienced a 5 percent decrease in population since 2010, according to the report.

And without HRSD, the 90-year old Edwards Virginia Smokehouse — and one of the county’s larger employers — would be unable to rebuild after it was destroyed by fire in January.

Former Surry Town Council member William Roach said the town currently has access to a no interest loan and grant, together valued at $1.6 million, to build a larger capacity treatment facility. However, it would obligate the less than 300 residents of the town of Surry to repay a loan for the next 20 years, he said. If the town goes forward with HRSD, the residents would merely pay a monthly fee, Roach said.

Surry Mayor Will Gwaltney said he is not for or against HRSD taking over the town’s system because so far, there hasn’t been enough information provided by HRSD in terms of rates and what it will do with the equipment.

It’s up to HRSD to bring specifics to the town, Gwaltney said.

Robert Finch, who operates the town’s wastewater facility, is concerned the switch to HRSD will lead to a large rate hike for customers. Finch said HRSD will allow him to finish his contract with the town.

Finch said the cost for sewer would range from $47 to $157.50, and that the difference in base usage between the town and HRSD would mean an immediate 25 percent increase for town customers.

Finch said town residents could also see their water rates rise from $3 a month for 4,000 gallons to another $6 to $8 to cover the town’s operating expenses incurred due to the transfer to HRSD.

HRSD Executive Director Ted Henifin has said the start-up infrastructure costs would be spread out among the Authority’s 460,000 or so customers.

According to the Chamber’s report, town residents under HRSD would pay from $37 to $52 a month for sewer. Currently, town residents pay $47 a month for 4,000 gallons and $11.75 per thousand over that amount.

The report indicated that rates may rise modestly over the next 20 years as HRSD reinvests in infrastructure.

The Virginia General Assembly created HRSD in 1934 to control pollution from wastewater on oyster beds. Today, HRSD treats 249 million gallons of water a day in 17 counties and cities with nine water treatment plants.