By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - Town Council may back down from its protest against federal water quality mandates.
The reason: state health officials can penalize Front Royal if the town doesn't take steps to upgrade its water plant and tests fail to meet new standards.
Town Manager Steven Burke advised council at a work session Monday that Front Royal needs to move forward on upgrades to the water treatment plant.
Council at its meeting in May failed to approve a motion to pay a consultant to design enhancements to the treatment facility. Four of six councilmen voted against the motion as a protest against strict regulations that come with no state or federal aid.
After discussing the situation with officials at the Department of Health, staff recommended that council revive and pass the original motion. The rules allow any member who voted in the majority to revive the motion for reconsideration.
Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker indicated to council he likely would make the motion to approve the amount for the consultant to begin the work on the plant.
The new regulations mean the town could spend several million dollars in additional upgrades to its water treatment system. The town recently completed a more expansive and costly upgrade to the plant.
New regulations go into effect in October, Burke said. The town could receive an extension, but only if council makes an effort to upgrade the plant.
"However, if the town has not made commitments with our consultant to go toward the compliance with the department's new regulations, we would not qualify for the extension," Burke said. "Beginning in October of this year, any time that our water did not meet the current standards, we would be forced to put out notifications to our citizens, up to and possibly including boil-water notices."
Parker pointed out Monday that the new water and sewer rates council has approved that take effect July 1 assume the town plans to spend the money for the consultant's services.
Councilmen Daryl L. Funk and Thomas H. Sayre had supported the motion to approve spending the money to begin the plant upgrades. Sayre explained at the time the mandates address water coming from the Shenandoah River into the town's treatment plant and do not involve the Chesapeake Bay Act requirements.
The new regulations address not only chemicals formed from the treatment process but also the organisms that enter the town system from the river. Much of those organisms have been traced to runoff from agricultural operations. Sayre noted that hundreds of thousands of people in Minneapolis fell ill from these organisms found in the water.
However, council members still plan to seek help in its plight to deal with increasing mandates. They may look first to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission to assist the town, officials noted.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org