Council debates jail sewage deal

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL – Town leaders remain cautious of a utilities deal with the neighboring regional jail.

Town Council at a work session Monday discussed a proposal that, if approved, would allow the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail to send sewage containing used rainwater to Front Royal for treatment.

Plans call for the jail on U.S. 522 to use rain collected in a cistern for laundry and the facility cooling towers. Front Royal does not currently allow any user connected to the town’s sewer system to include rainwater in its effluent.

The jail board authority last year asked the town to accept the used rainwater in addition to the sewage. The town declined and that spurred the jail board to pursue alternative, on-site water and sewage treatment options. Some members of council panicked when the plans for the on-site sewage plant showed the jail would release the treated water into the area of McKay Spring.

Town leaders and the board eventually reached an agreement, but only after discussing the issue in several closed-door meetings with attorneys.

Council plans to hold the required public hearing on the proposed ordinance amendment on July 22. Such an ordinance requires two readings.

Councilman Eugene R. Tewalt warned against action that would open the town up to more requests to take rainwater.

“The only thing I’m interested in is protecting Front Royal, and saying that we’re not allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to come in with possibly a program they can tie into the sanitary sewer, whether it’s rainwater or any other kind,” Tewalt said.

Tewalt claimed the town had little choice but to accept the jail’s rainwater.

“The only reason I’m even saying that is because we were basically forced, even by the state attorney general when they told us that if this thing went to litigation [the authority board] would win,” Tewalt added.

Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker echoed Tewalt’s concerns about the rainwater ordinance.
Parker also questioned why the language should specifically require the jail to seek certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

“I think we’ve limited our scope to just a certain brand, which is what LEED is — it’s a brand,” Parker said. “If we want to put stringent environmental standards on it or something then let’s find out what all those are and go across the board.”

The U.S. Green Building Council issues LEED certification to projects that meet the organization’s environmental standards.

Mayor Timothy W. Darr pointed out that the ordinance should contain general language regarding environmental certification in case LEED no longer exists at some time in the future.

Town Manager Steven Burke explained that the state does set minimum standards on the collection and use of rainwater as it relates to protecting the environment.

Councilman Daryl L. Funk suggested the ordinance limit the rainwater issue to governmental facilities. Parker said the rules should remain open to other people.

“We may have been backed into a corner, but to limit something just for governmental use I don’t think is fair to the citizens because the government belongs to the citizens,” Parker said. “We need to look at other ways to protect our water sources and so forth. We just need to make sure that if we’re going to allow it, it’s got to be done the right way.”

Town Attorney Douglas Napier drafted the proposed ordinance and told council he’ll revise the language to reflect the concerns expressed at the work session. Council needs to approve the ordinance change and advise the jail authority by August.

Councilman Bret W. Hrbek asked what would happen if the town didn’t pass the ordinance. Burke explained that the town would breach the contract with the jail authority over the collection of the rainwater as part of the connection to Front Royal’s water and sewer service. At an earlier meeting where council agreed to the contract terms, Hrbek voiced concern that they had signed off on a document before they had approved the required ordinance.

Hrbek questioned what power the contract had over the town. Parker commented that the jail authority could return to its previous plan to release wastewater into McKay Spring.

Parker then asked whether the jail had connected to the town’s water and sewer system. Burke advised the connections have been made.

But Tewalt broached another issue: The jail’s sewage, including the rainwater, means more waste the town must treat. Tewalt noted the town already faces having to spend millions of dollars to upgrade its sewage treatment plant.

Hrbek suggested the town leave the rainwater option open for more users than just the jail in the interest of conservation and protecting the environment. Hrbek said he supported exploring the idea of including rainwater in the town’s treatment process but only if it made sense for the community. He said he does not support giving special treatment to certain entities.

Darr agreed with Tewalt and noted that the town needs to provide an ordinance to comply with the deal struck with the jail board. The mayor said the town could explore a general program with rainwater in the future.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com