By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - An effort by the new regional jail to treat its own wastewater reneges on a deal the facility's board made with Front Royal, town officials claim.
Representatives of the RSW Regional Jail Authority and legal counsel for Warren County say the facility does not have to connect to both the town's water and sewer.
Doug Stanley, county administrator for Warren County and chairman of the authority, commented at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday on the wastewater issue and recalled some of the discussions held between town and county officials about the jail's request.
"I think the town made a business decision when it decided not to consider the request by the RSW Regional Jail Authority, and I think the Jail Authority members across the board made a business decision to try to keep costs down and this was the more cost-effective approach," Stanley said.
As Stanley explained, a study showed the jail would save approximately $3 million over 20 years by installing an on-site plant to treat all its wastewater. Of that $3 million in savings, half belongs to Warren County residents because that's the approximate number of inmates the locality expects to provide to the jail, according to Stanley.
Supervisor Daniel Murray Jr., a authority board member, stood by the jail panel's unanimous decision.
"It was the right thing to do," Murray said. "It's also economically friendly, but it is also from an ecological standpoint. We're going green."
In response to comments by Supervisor Tony Carter, County Attorney Blair Mitchell acknowledged that the town provides water and sewer to businesses and facilities along the U.S. 522 corridor. However, the agreement does not require that businesses or facilities connect to the town supplies.
Carter advised the issue likely would come up at the next authority board meeting.
But Town Council members on Monday expressed concern that the jail authority had agreed to connect the facility to Front Royal for both water and sewer.
Council at a special meeting Monday voted to send a letter drafted by Town Manager Steven Burke to the jail authority announcing Front Royal officials' intentions. The letter was directed to Stanley. As Burke stated, the town received the authority board's Jan. 24 letter concerning its decision to provide on-site wastewater treatment.
Councilman Bret Hrbek explained that the town based its business model as well as water and sewer rates on the assumption it would provide both services to the jail. Without the jail's sewer connection, the consumers would see their rates and bills increase. Hrbek argued that the town consumers would be subsidizing the jail's water supply.
"So the Front Royal citizens are going to get double-screwed on that particular point," Hrbek said.
Council agreed at its Aug. 9, 2010 meeting to commit to providing water and wastewater treatment services to the regional jail contingent upon the Front Royal Department of Environmental Services confirming adequate capacity and that the facility would pay the out-of-town rates. The town relayed this information to the authority in an Aug. 10, 2010 letter.
"The town's utility service to the Route 522 corridor where the proposed jail is located has always been guided by the corridor agreement between the town and Warren County," Burke read from the letter Monday. "The utility service for water and sewer has always been offered together."
Town Council approved the jail's request for both water and sewer, according to Burke.
"A change in service provision for the water service only by the RSW Regional Jail is regarded by the Town Council as a breach and withdrawal of the RSW Regional Jail's application for out-of-town utility connection," Burke read. "Town Council has no desire to provide water without sewer service to the regional jail."
Councilman Daryl Funk expressed worry about the letter and feared the town is "rushing into an unnecessary conflict."
"It's my opinion that the previous council made the decision not to fully hear out the proposal that ultimately cost us a million-dollar mistake," Funk said. "I don't expect that this will gain us any leverage in the situation and it's going to cost us now and I think we're about to make at least a $400,000 mistake and probably more going forward.
"I can't help but think of the impact on the town's water and sewer rates and our customers and how this expected revenue will now vanish and ultimately cost us all," Funk added. "It troubles me that I believe this letter confuses our dispute with Warren County and brings the regional jail into it and the regional jail authority was seeking to mitigate its costs."
Funk voted against the motion to send the letter.
Councilman Thomas Sayre supported the letter. Sayre recalled that the rest of council opposed participating in an environmentally friendly program with the jail that would call for the town taking water collected in a cistern and used for the facility's laundry service.
Sayre recommended that the Town Council revisit and reverse its decision not to treat the jail's laundry water. The town could then reap the benefit from the added revenue, Sayre said.
According to Hrbek, town officials have told jail representatives they can cut costs by using pipe of a size more appropriate for the amount of water required at the facility.
"It makes no sense," Hrbek said. "They can solve this problem very easily and make it go away. There's no need to call it a war or a battle. We're responding as we should to protect our taxpayer and our citizens in our town."
Sayre echoed Hrbek's concerns with the wastewater discharge.
As Burke states, documents provided by the jail and DEQ show the facility plans to discharge its wastewater to a typically dry tributary of Crooked Run, through the DuPont property, across U.S. 522 to McKay Spring. Town officials have since relayed concerns to the DEQ.
Mayor Timothy Darr, who couldn't vote on the matter, noted, "And for the record I would've voted yes."
"I do feel this is a very important issue for us as a town council," Darr said.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com