BRWA responds to lawsuit

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Calls some claims irrational, irresponsible

By Tom Wilmoth

    Calling it “irrational” and “unnecessary,” representatives from the Bedford Regional Water Authority have crafted their response to a lawsuit challenging the legality of the proposed Smith Mountain Lake Water Treatment Plant Project.
    Earlier this month Bedford Weaving filed the lawsuit in an attempt to block the BRWA from constructing the new water treatment plant at Smith Mountain Lake and the water lines that would carry the treated water from the Lake to Forest.
    “We feel we’ve addressed their issues,” stated Elmer Hodge, chairman of the Water Authority board, calling some of the lawsuit claims “irrational.”
    “We see our purpose as to provide this vital service to the people (of the county) of this generation and the generations yet to come,” he said.
    Hodge said members of the Authority have met with Bedford Weaving officials to address the business’s concerns; he feels those attempts have been more than adequate.
    The Authority officially filed its legal response to the lawsuit with the court Monday.

    Brian Key, the Authority’s executive director, provided a summary response to Bedford Weaving’s issues.

    1. Bedford Weaving wants to be guaranteed that all of the water provided to it will come from the existing Bedford Reservoir source.
    Response: Key said it is not practical to guarantee anything forever and that any number of factors could cause the Authority to change its operating procedures in the future. “The Authority is interested in trying to find a solution that would be acceptable to Bedford Weaving, but that is not possible until the specifications of water needs are provided to the Authority by Bedford Weaving,” he stated.
    The issue is the hardness of the water. Key said the goal is to take care of all 13,000 customers the Water Authority serves. He said all customers must be considered. Key said Bedford Weaving, in the past, has  used water generated from the Big Otter River, which is a harder water than that which will come from the Lake, and it didn’t complain then. He estimated only about 2 percent of the water used by Bedford Weaving actually goes into its production processes. Ultimately, if needed, he said the water could be treated on site, as other industries in the  area do.
    Hodge added that attempts are being made to address Bedford Weaving’s concerns, but concrete promises can’t be made.
    Harwell M. Darby Jr., legal counsel for the Authority, added that the only legal responsibility the Authority has is to provide water that is potable—the hardness of the water is not regulated.
    2. The lawsuit claims the Authority should not have been granted the water withdrawal permit by the Department of Environmental Quality because the reversion agreement was “constitutionally infirm.”
    Response: Key noted that DEQ issued the permit on Sept. 19 of last year, despite the claims made by Bedford Weaving. “DEQ, as a department of the state, did not think that Bedford Weaving’s position was valid or they would not have issued the permit,” Key stated.

    3. The Authority’s Articles of Incorporation limit the Authority to only perform two projects, equalizing the rates and ensuring an interconnection, the lawsuit claims.
    Response: Key said the county and former city of Bedford did not intend to limit the Authority, but rather wanted it to exercise all of the powers granted by the Virginia Water and Wastewater Authorities Act.”
    “We feel that is an irrational claim,” Key said.

    4, The lawsuit claims the Authority was not properly formed, and therefore does not exist.
    Response: Key noted that the Attorney General has yet to issue an opinion supporting Bedford Weaving’s petition on this point. “Without such an opinion, the Authority is proceeding with plans for the SMLWTP and continuing to operate as was intended by the local governments,” Key stated in his response.

    5. Opponents claim FERC should not amend the withdrawal permit because environmental assessments have not been performed.
    Response: Key said the Authority believes the FERC permit is limited to environmental issues surrounding withdrawing water from Smith Mountain Lake and that additional environmental permits will be applied for as the scope of the waterline project and treatment plant portions of the project progress. “We know we have more work to do,” he said.
    6. Opposition to the project in the lawsuit and from others claim that the cost of the project has risen above $40 million.
    Response: Key said actually the Authority is working to drive the project’s cost below the original estimate of $34 million. One way that is being helped is that the Western Virginia Water Authority, which serves the city of Roanoke, Roanoke County and Franklin County, has agreed to help fund the treatment plant portion of the project, which will help cut costs to the Authority. “If anything, we’ve been cutting back in scope,” Key said, adding the project is still under the $34 million cost estimate.
    Hodge added that though the project will affect rates to some degree, those rates will continue to be competitive with neighboring localities. “We will have good, reasonable rates for our citizens and businesses,” he said.
    Hodge said the rates must be competitive or businesses and residents will leave.

    7. Some opponents to the project claim it will cause growth in agricultural areas.
    Response: Key said the Authority cannot govern where growth takes place—that is up to the county supervisors and planning commission. “Just because a waterline is present, it does not mean that growth will occur,” he noted. He added that the project's scope is for transmission lines of large quantities of water, not for distribution into subdivisions.

    The goal of the Authority is to have the project in place by 2016, according to the reversion agreement provisions. Black & Veatch has been selected as the design/build firm for the project.