Surry has big decisions to make concerning their sewer system

By Matt Leonard

Staff Writer

SURRY — Surry County, along with the towns of Surry and Claremont, operate individual sewer systems. The town of Dendron is under the county’s system.

Some of that, all of that, or none of that could be changing.

Earlier this month, Hampton Roads Sanitation District General Manager Ted Henifin spoke to the Surry County Board of Supervisors about the county becoming a member. The next week, he made the same pitch to the Surry Town Council.

Now it’s a waiting game to see if the county or town take HRSD up on their offer. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

When HRSD comes into a community there are two different options for what exactly it takes control of and both affect consumer’s bills differently.

Whether consumer bills will go up, down or stay the same has yet to really be determined, but Henifin said he’d like to have that information nailed down within the next 60 days.

Usually HRSD just takes over transportation and treatment of wastewater. The monthly fee for that is about $27 a month.

But there are communities in Virginia where HRSD also maintains the collection system – collection bills range from $10 to $25 in those communities. Henifin said if they were to take over collection operations then the cost would probably be in this range.

“Really too soon to tell without knowing what that collection system cost will be,” he said.

He said there is a good chance the county sewage bill could go up, residents currently pay $34.20. But the town, which has a rate of $47 for residents, has a better chance of staying the same, or even going down.

When HRSD doesn’t take over collection, the municipality maintains control of the system and the bills.

Joining HRSD is being considered because both sewer systems in the county and town of Surry are at capacity. The town’s system is also aging, which has led to a track record of not meeting state water regulations – it is currently in full compliance due to a chemical treatment to decrease copper levels.

But this means if HRSD comes into either community it will have to invest in infrastructure. Again, Henifin said the community has options.

He said the cheapest option is to build a new treatment facility in Surry, which would receive updates as capacity increases.

The other option is extending sewer lines from current service areas — either under the James River from the east or bringing a line from Isle of Wight County.

Henifin said the latter options are likely the most expensive, but could provide needed economic benefits in areas where the line would run.

Don Robertson, a spokesperson for Isle of Wight, said the county would not have to approve the line as HRSD could obtain the rights-of-way. However, the targeted area is outside Isle of Wight County’s development service districts, so that is something that needs to be considered, he said. DSD’s were set aside to allow for concentrated growth in limited areas and Isle of Wight County has three — Newport, Windsor and Camptown.

At the same time, just putting in a sewer line leaves off the other half of needed utilities — water, he said.

Isle of Wight County provides water up to about First Gravel Hill Baptist Church along Route 10, Robertson said.

Improvements to transportation and treatment in Surry County would paid for with the $27 a month rate. But if a community wants to expand their collection system — the network of pipes that take sewage to HRSD’s main line — then it would have to shoulder that cost, plus a $1,900 fee for every connection.

It won’t become clear what the next move for the area is until next month’s Board of Supervisors meeting, but the plan has a lot of voices singing its praises.

Board Chairman John Seward said he likes the idea of bringing HRSD to the county.

“I hope we can move it along rather fast,” Seward said. “It is a key part to the Edwards’ rebuilding and we don’t want to hold that up.”

For many people, that’s what it ultimately came back to — Edwards Virginia Smokehouse.

The Smithfield Times reported last week that the local ham business may have to start looking beyond Surry if HRSD isn’t brought in due to state limitations surrounding their current wastewater system.

“It would be a big hit to the community,” Charles Savedge, Surry Equipment owner, said of potentially losing Edwards.

Savedge has had two children go on to work at Edwards. In a community where large employers are few and far between, the loss of one is big, he said.

Down the road at Surry Hardware, Milton Seward said the sewer line is just one of a list of needs in the community, including a grocery story.

“It’s what’s going to have to happen,” Milton Seward said.

Perhaps the plan’s biggest proponent at this stage is County Administrator Tyrone Franklin, who said he’d been talking with HRSD for months before Henifin came to the board meeting.

            “[This is], in my opinion, a great opportunity for the county that would impact the landscape, the citizens, prospective businesses for years to come,” Franklin said.

            He said that if the area wants to experience economic growth then they need a sewer system for those potential businesses to use.

            The importance of water and sewer infrastructure to economic development has been the focus of a number of academic studies and they all reach a similar conclusion: investment in those areas is good for the economy.

            Donna Lawson, a wastewater technician at the Virginia Rural Water Association, said joining a larger operation like HRSD can often take a lot of stress off of a small county or municipality.

Lawson said an operation like HRSD has a lot of rate payers, which means more financial support to cover expenses.

“I do know that small facilities have the same regulations that larger facilities face and they have less income to meet those demands,” she said.

She did add that politics is always involved with the decision to join a larger operation. Some town and county governments don’t want to give up the ability to set the rates themselves, she said.

But Franklin is optimistic the Surry Board of Supervisors will give the project a round of ‘yea’ votes when it is considered.

Bringing in HRSD is part of a multi-pronged effort to increase Surry County’s competitive edge in the region and the state by meeting a full suite of infrastructure needs — water, sewer and broadband, Franklin said, adding that the one missing piece is a rail system, he said.

“It’s all about improving the quality of life for county residents,” he said.

Franklin wants to have the details of the HRSD worked out by July 1. This will be accomplished through a number of decisions by the Board of Supervisors, petitioning the Surry County Circuit Court for approval, and working with HRSD to figure out how to transfer all assets.

“This is big, major,” he said. “It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”  {/mprestriction}

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