HARPERS FERRY – A Blue Ridge Home Owners Association hopes that its gift of a new well on the mountain will help to alleviate long-standing complaints about water service on ‘the Mountain.’
[cleeng_content id="720307178" description="Read it now!" price="0.15"]The new well, which was drilled in the Westridge Hills subdivision, has been sold to the Public Service District for a $10 in the hopes that it will help improve the area’s water service and eliminate the need for a proposed pipeline that would bring in water from the Harpers Ferry area. The PSD indicated that it will now move forward with plans to negotiate a lease agreement for Jefferson Utilities, Inc. to operate the well.
Three test wells were drilled on the mountain last year in an effort to prove that there is sufficient local water supply to eliminate the need for the pipeline project. The wells were paid for by funds secured from the County Commission by the Mountain Water Fair Rates Committee.
John Maxey, a committee member who has been active in the project, says the investment in the test wells has paid off.
“This generous action by the citizens of Westridge Hills is a first step toward solving the 40-year-old problems of the Mountain Water System,” Maxey told the PSD board of directors. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but we now have a clear path to a cost-effective solution.”
“I think this is what a real, honest public-private partnership looks like. All too often, people will use the term ‘public-private partnership’ when what they mean is public money into private pockets,” he said.
Scott Tatina, former vice president of the Westridge Hills Home Owners Association, said homeowners overwhelmingly approved the plan to donate one of the wells to the PSD instead of accepting an offer from JUI to purchase the well for $5,000.
“It’s been a 30- or 40-year nightmare for a lot of folks,” Tatina said. “We’ve had such major problems with private water companies, both current and previous. We just decided that it was best that it was in a public, responsible body that we can go to and have transparency and recourse if we’re not happy. With a private company we don’t necessarily have that.”
Maxey said the new well, which tests indicate could produce around 45 gallons of water per minute, is capable of providing all the extra water needed to fulfill the needs of existing water customers if storage tanks are added to the system. The $10 price tag, he added, is far less than the projected cost of a pipeline across the Shenandoah.
“In the past decade, there have been three different proposals for multimillion dollar public works projects to bring valley water across the Shenandoah River to the Blue Ridge,” Maxey said. “All of these would have required millions in taxpayer funds and would still have required customers to pay some of the highest rates in the nation for water.”
Various proposals for the pipeline have ranged from $9 to $18 million dollars, though JUI said that grants would be able to shift some of the costs off of tax- and ratepayers.
“It (donating the wells) was a smart thing to do,” Tatina said. “I think there were some other interests that were hoping to bring the water in from the valley because they make money on it.”
Lee Snyder, president of JUI, said that the new well may be beneficial to water service on the mountain after his company works out a lease agreement with the PSD.
“The benefit of another well would be that we would have a second source of supply if something happens to the first well,” Snyder said.
He thinks the decision to give the well to the PSD rather than selling it to JUI was misguided and aimed at embarrassing his company however.
“There are some people on the mountain that will go to some pretty significant ends to frustrate anything that we try to do,” Snyder said. “That transferring of (the well) to the district so they could lease it to us – I don’t think it had any merit. It was perhaps a little insulting to me and to my company, but that doesn’t surprise me given where the idea came from.”
“The idea has more to do with outside influence than it does with water customers,” said Snyder, who has previously pointed out that Maxey is not a JUI customer.
Maxey says his motivation is not to embarrass Snyder or JUI, but rather to help his neighbors.
“I’m not a Jefferson Utility customer, but I live in Jefferson County on the Blue Ridge Mountain. I’ve always felt that we have to look out for each other, and we have to stick together,” Maxey said. “Should I only help my neighbor if I am in the same situation? That’s ridiculous.”
Snyder maintains that even with the new wells there is not enough water on the Mountain to provide reliable service and accommodate new growth.
“That’s foolish,” Snyder said. He noted that there are 350 water customers on the mountain, and argued that an additional 45 gallons per minute would not be sufficient to solve low pressure and low flow problems.
Maxey points to engineering studies that indicate the well should be sufficient for existing customers, and points out that a second area where a capped well had to be filled in because its casing came loose and could not be repaired could add anther 45 gallons per minute of capacity. A new well would have to be drilled near the site of that well, according to an engineering study, because filling the well left it incapable of producing a viable amount of water.
“Time will prove me right,” Maxey said.
Snyder says the best option is still the pipeline across the Shenandoah.
“There would be substantial benefit from connecting the mountain systems to the valley system,” said Snyder, adding that doing so would improve water quality, add more flexibility to the system and ease the job of operating the system as a whole. “I would suggest that that is by far the best option.”
Snyder noted that the plan does not have the support of the current board of the Public Service District, and is therefore unlikely to move forward at this time. He points out that his originial plans called for 160,000 feet of pipe to be replaced on the mountain, but because it has been blocked, only 16,000 feet have been replaced.
“There remains a whole lot to be done,” Snyder said.[/cleeng_content]