The towns of Front Royal and Strasburg share much in common this year as they work on their wastewater treatment facilities
By Alex Bridges
Strasburg and Front Royal share similar futures this year as two of the area's largest towns addressing major infrastructure needs.
Strasburg Town Manager Judson Rex in a recent interview highlighted some of the major initiatives and projects ahead for the locality.
"The town is seeing substantial progress with a lot of projects that have been discussed for many years and we're finally seeing those coming to fruition, beginning with the water treatment plant and continuing with the other projects," Rex said. "I think the projects we're working on now are ones that only come up every 20, 30 years really for the town.
"So I think as we're able to finish up these large-scale projects we'll shift our focus back to managing the assets that we have," Rex added. "There's always going to be infrastructure projects that we have to complete to keep the system in shape."
Town officials expect the new water treatment plant to go online soon, at least for testing purposes.
"So we're testing out the different components and hopefully we'll have substantial completion done within a month so we can hopefully start producing water come spring time," Rex said. "So that's something that we expect to check off this year, if you will.
At the same time, the town continues to work on the expansion of its wastewater treatment plant. Officials hit a snag in the fall when the lowest bid for the project came in at approximately $11 million higher than estimated. But in the months that followed, Town Council, staff and the low-bidding firm, PC Construction, tried to reduce the estimated cost of the upgrade. The price remains higher than the $20 million estimate provided by the engineering firm.
"In 2013 there's several different directions that project could take depending on what progress we could make with our engineers and our potential contractors on the project," Rex said. "If we're able to bring the cost down to affordability for the town, then I could see that project moving forward to construction."
The town recently advertised a need for information from experts on how Strasburg could either cut the project costs or find other ways to address wastewater.
"If we're not able to bring the cost of the project to where the town needs it, I can see us going back through a process of redesign ... and trying to find out how best to meet our wastewater treatment plant needs," Rex added.
With the completion of the water treatment plant, the town has money leftover that it needs to spend by the fall on any other related improvements, Rex noted. But how the town spends the money remains unknown. A water system study has recommended the town build another water tower for reserves, but the proposal sparked outcry from residents who live near the potential sites for such a tank.
No matter what improvements Town Council approves, Rex said he anticipates some kind of work on the water system because of the spending deadline. But given the timeline, Rex added that he does not expect construction of a water tank to begin this year.
"It's still a project the town needs and will pursue," Rex said.
Instead, the town manager foresees Strasburg spending the money to replace water lines.
"So I think 2013 is a year for infrastructure improvements for the town," Rex said.
Town officials also expect to see progress on initiatives years in the works - the utility and Downtown Streetscape Enhancement projects. Plans call for the town to replace many of its water and sewer lines along King Street, then to make enhancements to the streetscape on the road from Fort Street to Holliday Street.
Improvements to the lines and sewers are set to begin in March, according to Rex.
Strasburg officials also are in the planning phase for a sidewalk that would extend from downtown along U.S. 11 to the Food Lion shopping center. The town has $40,000 in its current budget to go toward preliminary surveying and design for the project.
Front Royal shares much in common with Strasburg, at least in the coming year as its Town Council addresses wastewater treatment plant needs. A plan to upgrade the Front Royal plant remains in the planning and design phases.
Front Royal recently began moving department offices from Town Hall to a new location in the former BB&T bank building on Main Street. Front Royal purchased the building in 2011 and began making renovations to accommodate most town departments. Likewise, the finance department will relocate into the new government building. Town Manager Steven Burke said officials hope to complete the transition by the middle of February.
Transportation improvements also should keep Front Royal and Warren County leaders busy. As Burke explained, the town and county are working with the Economic Development Authority to hire a consultant to design the Leach Run Parkway - a road seen as a way to alleviate traffic congestion in Front Royal.
Much of Front Royal's progress in 2013 relies on how far along leaders move on plans to create a looped water system to the business-rich U.S. 522 corridor.
Progress for some local governments can mean figuring out ways to do more with less. As with other localities, Strasburg officials expect to begin work on the fiscal 2014 budget.
Strasburg continues to see revenue remain flat with no growth anticipated, Rex said.
"However, we are dealing with increased costs of operating and providing services, so that will continue to be a battle for us as we try to use our revenues as efficiently as we can and still not affect the level of service that we provide our residents," Rex said.
Strasburg leaders anticipate moving forward on the annexation of the Northern Shenandoah County Industrial Park. The moratorium that halted the annexation of the park in Shenandoah County just to the north of town ends in June and officials plan to investigate the pros and cons of adding the land to Strasburg and how best to develop the property. Town Council could decide by the end of the year whether to annex all or part of the park.
"We see the industrial park as the best opportunity the town has for economic development and revenue growth into the future," Rex said. "So it's an exciting time to be able to have that coming into town."
Like Strasburg, Front Royal faces the possibility of adding land to the town limits, the results of which could bring in more revenue. Town Council and the Warren County Board of Supervisors continue to discuss and debate the merits of a request filed by the Front Royal Limited Partnership to annex approximately 600 acres from the county to the town.
Exact details of how the private firm intends to develop the land remains unknown, though officials have indicated the owners may seek both residential and commercial uses. Such development may not happen for years, officials have advised, but reaching an agreement on the annexation and the future uses could happen this year.
Front Royal and Warren County leaders may likely use 2013 to continue their discussion of how best to help the town recoup lost revenue by supplying utilities to the U.S. 522 Corridor.
Like Strasburg, Front Royal continues to work on upgrading the town's wastewater treatment plant. The project is still in the design phase as town officials work with a consultant.
Burke said each projects does have a cost assigned.
"We have been working with our financial consultant to evaluate our sewer rates to fund the upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant," Burke said.
Front Royal also is partnering with the state in a revenue-sharing program to fund the construction of the Leach Run Parkway project. The town will pursue other avenues for revenue to fund the remaining projects.
Pedestrian access such as sidewalks and crossings remains an initiative for Front Royal.
"A number of those projects we're hoping to complete this upcoming year," Burke said.
This year also marks a milestone for Front Royal as the town celebrates its 225th anniversary. Planning began last year. Now the town is in the process of ordering memorabilia and other anniversary items Front Royal officials hope to sell for the celebration.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org