By the time its long-awaited $4 million wastewater treatment plant and sewer system is operating for a good three or four months this summer, the town of Washington will apparently have something else new to test out.
That would be a mayor.
At Tuesday night’s Washington Town Council meeting at the Town Hall — a meeting that focused primarily on preparations to overcome recent weather-related delays and get the sewer system up and running, possibly by the end of March — Mayor Eugene Leggett preceded the council’s agenda with a low-key announcement that he would not run for mayor again.
After nearly eight years as mayor, Leggett said he’s decided he would instead run for Town Council in the May 4 election, “because I am still very concerned for the town and I want to continue to have a say.” He also said he would endorse Councilman John Sullivan as mayor. Sullivan confirmed after the meeting that he’d be running for mayor.
“I don’t have as much energy as I used to have,” said Leggett, explaining his reason for leaving the mayoral post he’s held since the Town Council first elected him to it in February 2003.
“I have worked hard to get more mutual confidence and trust [among council members] over the last eight years,” Leggett said, “and I think we really have acommplished that.”
Leggett said he hoped the other council members — all of whose four-year terms expire this July 1 — would decide to run again in May because, he said, “I think we have come to work together well, and that has been a great boon to moving forward” on the town’s water and sewer system, an often much-fought-over project that spans almost 20 years and three or four Town Council incarnations.
Council members Gary Schwartz and Jerry Goebel said they’d already filed the necessary paperwork at the Rappahannock County Registrar of Voters office to seek reelection. Council members Alice Butler and Patrick O’Connell said they would “most likely” seek reelection by filing with the registrar’s office before next Tuesday’s deadline, and council member Jean Goodine said Tuesday she’s decided not to run again.
“Obviously I’m very pleased with what’s been accomplished here by the council,” she said, “but it’s time to move on.”
During the meeting, after Leggett’s announcement, Goodine said that since “there’s going to be at least one vacancy on this council, I would encourage members of the public to run for office. We need good people to serve in the town.”
“Gene did a teriffic job making this whole council a more collegial entity than it perhaps had been in prior years,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “The town’s been divided on all kinds of issues over the years, and he did a great job having everybody work together a little bit more diligently, and I would just like to expand on that. We’re too small a place to have too many fights.”
Wastewater and weather
In his sewer system status report, Schwartz told the council that one of the town’s previously most controversial and divisive issues — the wastewater collection and treatment system — was slowed down by the recent snow and cold, but that the system should still be up and running within the next 60 days.
A required five-day system test started in January had to be aborted because of the cold and then snow, Schwartz said.
The council meanwhile voted to accept the terms of a $489,000 state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) grant that requires the treatment plant’s output to be cleaner than originally planned — but still well within the levels guaranteed by the plant’s manufacturers.
Last month the council asked Town Attorney John Bennett to negotiate with the DEQ, as the town’s liability for failing to meet the terms of the grant seemed excessive, topping out at about $700,000. Bennett said the DEQ wasn’t going to negotiate those terms, and hasn’t with any other jurisdiction receiving such grant funds.
“We have the same objectives,” Sullivan said, “the town and the DEQ — that is to have as good and efficient system as possible. And the town is making good efforts to do it, and we have now available money to make improvements. It strikes me as very unlikely that DEQ and the state would allow any penalties to be imposed that might effectively bankrupt the town, and that instead they would just work with us.”
The town’s sewer system operations consultant, Don Hearl of Environmental Systems Service (ESS), has said as much to the council in the past, Bennett said.
The council voted unanimously to agree to the DEQ’s terms and receive the grant — which it applied for more than a year ago.
It also voted unanimously to amend a Request for Proposals (RFP) it first approved last month, which seeks contractors who would operate the wastewater treatment plant for its first crucial year. The amendment adds responsibilities for maintaining the collection system (of grinder pumps and pipelines that feed the system).
At last month’s meeting the concil also agreed to ESS’s $89,000 proposal to run the treatment plant for its first year, so the the RFP is a hedge. Its contract with ESS and Hearl, its president, can be canceled within the first 90 days if the town agrees to a better offer.
ESS is also expected to bid on the RFP, Schwartz said, but the cost could be somewhat higher as collection system maintenance has been added to the responsibilities.
The project’s first-year budget for operations costs is about $100,000.
Finally, the council considered Schwartz’s first draft for a notice to be sent to all 100 or so of the sewer system’s new users — to let them know what sort of things should not be allowed to enter the system, either through commodes, garbage disposals or other drains.
These include: glass, metal, wood, seafood shells, fish tank gravel or stones; diapers, socks, rags or cloth of any kind; sanitary napkins or tampons; eggshells; cat litter; plastic objects; strong chemical, caustic or toxic substances; degreasing solvents; cooking fat (lard, oil or grease); lubricating oil or grease; gasoline, kerosene, fuel oil, paint thinner or antifreeze.
The notice — which will be refined and considered again at next month’s council meeting — also points out that the cost of any damage to the grinder pumps outside of all customers homes and businesses will be the owner’s responsibility.