Bedford business sues water authority

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Attorney says project to extend water line needs local authorization

By John Barnhart

    A Bedford business is suing the Bedford Regional Water Authority (BRWA) over its plan to build a major new water system, intended to bring treated water, drawn from Smith Mountain Lake, to Bedford and on to Forest.
    The lawsuit was filed last week in Bedford County Circuit Court by attorneys representing Bedford Weaving, a business located in the town of Bedford.
    “It’s really about a very narrow and clear issue,” said Kevin Mottley, one of the two lawyers representing Bedford Weaving in the lawsuit.
    According to Mottley, the suit alleges that BRWA can’t legally take on this project, without authorization from the board of supervisors, following a public hearing. Mottley said BRWA’s articles of incorporation specifically list two projects for the new authority. One is to connect the town to the county water system. The other is to equalize rates between customers of the former city water system and customers of the former Bedford County Public Service Authority. Mottley believes the BRWA’s proposed water project is greater in scope than simply connecting the two existing water systems together.
    “Is that a project that goes beyond connecting two existing systems together?”   said   Mottley,    describing     the question the lawsuit seeks to answer.
    Bedford Weaving was connected to the former city of Bedford water system, prior to the reversion of the city to town status, which included the merging of the two utilities into the new water authority. The business is concerned about what effect the new project might have on the quality of water provided through the new system.
    That project would include a new water treatment plant in Moneta and the connecting water lines, at a price tag of $34 million. That cost estimate has been questioned by some area residents, who believe it will be more and that rates will have to be raised or county taxes impacted.
    Mottley said that, because BRWA’s articles of incorporation specifies these two projects, state code prohibits the water authority from taking on any other projects without a resolution from the local governing body — the board of supervisors in this case — following a public hearing.
    According to Mottley, when the General Assembly passed the legislation that authorized the creation of water authorities, it wanted to make sure that these authorities would have to go back to their local governing bodies to get permission to undertake projects beyond what their incorporation document lists.
    “Their authority is not unlimited,” Mottley said. “There are clear boundaries on their authority in the statute.”
    “It’s a pretty straight-forward case,” he concluded.
    Mottley said the BRWA has 21 days from the time the suit was filed to respond. A major factor in determining when the suit will be heard is the availability of a date on the Circuit Court’s civil calendar.
    The water authority wasn’t ready to respond publicly yet.
    “We have a lawyer looking into it,” commented Megan Rapp, BRWA’s spokesman.
    Rapp said, in a phone interview, Monday, that its attorney, Sam Darby, of Roanoke will be issuing a press release soon. This press release was not available prior to press time.
    Management at Bedford Weaving referred all questions to their attorneys.