Middletown looking at water options

Middletown is looking at all options when it comes to its water service.

In a recent work session, the Middletown Public Works Committee disclosed that it had met in May with the Town of Stephens City Public Works Committee to explore new options for utilities, such as water. They are looking at whether coming together would solve the utility problems of both municipalities.

It was the first meeting between the committees of both towns in 75 years, Middletown Mayor Charles Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh, who was not at the meeting, stressed it was an exploratory meeting only.

“We will look at all options,” Harbaugh said, adding he is happy with the water service provided by Winchester.

He declined to comment when asked why the town agreed to meet with Stephens City and enter into the exploratory joint meeting.

Middletown residents recently were told by Winchester that water rates would be increased by 54 percent over the next five years.

Middletown has its own sewer plant on Third Street.

Stephens City has its own utility problems. It is involved in a long standing lawsuit against the Frederick County Water Authority (now known as Frederick Water), which has been attempting to halt service to the town because of non-payment. Frederick Water is seeking almost $6 million.

Stephens City argues that Frederick Water lacks authorization for the continued pumping of more than the allotted 3 million gallons of water from quarries the town says is part of their water supply.  The county use of the water was agreed to in a contract that Stephens City insists ended in 2012. They are asking for $10 million as part of the lawsuit.

Stephens City administrators recently sent letters to the Virginia Department of Health and to Gov. Ralph Northam asking them to prevent the disruption of water service, according to the Winchester Star.

One option discussed by both public works departments at the May meeting is to create a joint utility venture or new public service corporation.

“This would include a sharing of utilities, which could include a new water treatment plant at the Stephens City quarries for shared services and expansion and rebuilding of the sewer plant at Middletown. This will give us the efficiency of scale we previously sought by providing services in southern Frederick County,” the Middletown Public Works committee wrote in its report presented at the work session.

Another option is to look at contracting out the entire utility system operation to an outside state regulated utility company that operates nationwide

The third option would be continuing to explore the stand-alone development of independent Middletown water and sewer operations.

The town has not looked at what these suggestions may look like or what the costs associated with them may be,  Harbaugh said.

Of the three options, there is no preference of one above the others.

Harbaugh referred other questions to Middletown’s Public Works chairwoman Carolyn Aliff.

She did not return calls to her cell phone before press time.