Things are looking up underneath Washington. Or so the Town Council heard at its monthly meeting Monday night at the Town Hall.
The council voted to authorize Mayor Eugene Leggett to negotiate the terms of a nearly half-million-dollar Water Quality Improvement Fund (WQIF) grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The DEQ agreed recently – after the town applied for the grant more than a year ago – to offer the WQIF money to insure that the town’s new $4 million sewer system discharges water with a nitrogen content of no reater than 5 milligrams (mg) per liter into this, the far western edge of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The $490,000 grant is meant to allow the town to make any treatment plant upgrades necessary to achieve the 5 mg target, which is lower than the original target of 8 mg but is, officials say, within the capabilities of the new system.
In a related action, the council voted unanimously to enter a one-year treatment plant operations contract with Culpeper-based Environmental Systems Service (ESS), whose vice president, Don Hearl, has served as a consultant to sewer system contractor W.W. Associates since the project’s inception. The $85,000 contract, which Hearl told the council would enable ESS’s licensed system operators (including Hearl) to get the system stabilized and running smoothly in its crucial first 12 months, includes a 90-day cancellation option.
The hedge was included because Town Attorney John Bennett said the terms of the town’s 20-year, $4 million note are not clear about whether competitive bidding for the contract is required. Thus immediately after the vote to hire ESS, the council voted unanimously to advertise the contract and accept bids. If an offer looks better to the council than ESS’s offer – which Councilman John Sullivan said would put the town’s first-year operations costs at only slightly above the $105,000 already budgeted – the council can change its mind.
As Councilman Gary Schwartz reported earlier in the meeting, the wastewater treatment plant is close to being finished. After a first test – with the two largest customers, the Inn at Little Washington and the Rappahannock County complex – both he and Hearl told the council that startup could happen as early as the first or second week of February.
In addition to an on-schedule start, Sullivan said later, the WQIF grant also would keep the town clearly “ahead of the game” in fiscal terms.
Although part of the $490,000 grant may need to be spent on improvements or upgrades if the plant equipment manufacturer’s 5 mg-per-liter guarantee for nitrogen output isn’t met, it still provides a cushion.
“The economic model used to determine how financing this project would go also underestimated its success,” Sullivan said. “More people in town hooked up to the sewer than the original model projected – so we have 99 percent participation instead of 80 or 85 percent.
“Second, we expanded the service district so that there are more people signed up in Phase 1 than we originally thought,” said Sullivan, adding: “We have already accomplished what the model premised we would over the next five years. Then you have this $500,000 coming in. And this grant is to help us achieve what we have already accomplished, at least on paper, and already paid for.”
If not needed for upgrades to reach the DEQ’s 5 mg standard, Hearl told the council, the grant could also be used for other wastewater-treatment-related expenses.