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Carrying water for Bedford County

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PSA has time to focus on future plans

By John Barnhart

After several years of reacting to growth, the Bedford County Public Service Authority (PSA) now will attempt to spend some time on planning, according to Brian Key, the PSA’s director.

    Key took over the spigot from Willie Jones at the end of last year.

    Key wasn’t new to the authority. He had worked for the PSA for eight years by that time, originally coming on board as a staff engineer. Before that, he worked for Anderson & Associates, a consulting company, for seven years. The PSA was one of Anderson’s clients and Key worked with the PSA on projects.

    He helped design the High Point water plant which produces drinking water from Smith Mountain Lake. This plant uses a process that uses a filter so small that individual microbes can’t pass through, to filter the water. This allows the production of clean water without chemicals. Only chlorine has to be added to maintain water purity in the pipes after it leaves the plant. Bedford County was the first in the Commonwealth to use this type of system on surface water. Key said that many others are now doing it.

    Key graduated from Cave Spring High School in Roanoke County and earned his degree in civil engineering from Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk.

    “The engineering program at ODU is very good,” he said.

    After that, he was ready to move back to the mountains.

    Right now, the PSA has no large projects that it’s working on and Key said this gives time for the staff to work on planning. That hasn’t been possible in the past because fast growth has forced them to be in a reactive mode.

    Now, staff will be able to anticipate where growth will be and direct public water service to places where the county wants growth and, generally, keep it away from areas where the county doesn’t want additional growth. Key said that it’s hard to keep a lid on development once public water is available in an area.

    Another part of planning will be anticipating where the PSA will need to extend water to provide for people living where wells produce poorly. This includes deciding how to provide domestic water outside of growth areas without boosting growth. It also includes dealing with the problem that, in some cases, it will cost them more to put in the line than they will get back in connection fees.

    Key said that the PSA wants to plan, rather than wait for an emergency like the one they had along sections of Va. 811 and Va. 711, south of U. S. 460, back in 2002.

    “They were without water,” Key said. “We had to move fast.”

    At present, the PSA is in several joint ventures with other localities which, he said, benefit all involved. Key said that he hopes to continue these and expand some.

    Key said that the PSA currently has partnerships in which it buys water from adjoining large water systems to serve county residents. This includes purchasing water from the Western Virginia Water Authority to serve the Stewartsville area. Water for Forest and New London is purchased from Lynchburg. In the center, the PSA has a partnership with the city of Bedford.

    The PSA also sells water. Some of the water from the High Point plant crosses Hales Ford Bridge and serves part of Franklin County.

    The PSA is looking to partner with Campbell County to sell sewage treatment services. Key said that selling that service will benefit both localities. Key said that it means that Campbell County won’t have to figure out what to do about wastewater. The county will save money by not having to build its own treatment plant and will bring Bedford County a partner to share the cost of the treatment plant in Moneta. Another advantage is this will allow the Moneta plant to operate at its most efficient capacity.

    The Moneta plant already benefits Bedford County because the availability of public sewer has promoted economic growth in the Smith Mountain Lake area. Furthermore, having a single plant, instead of multiple facilities built by each developer, makes it easier to avoid pollution problems.

    Another bit of planning that Key’s staff will be involved in is figuring out how to pay for projects.  Key said that the PSA’s budget depends on new connections. A decline in new connections creates challenges.

    The  PSA had a decline last year and that caused income to fall below what had been planned for in the budget. Key said that this fiscal year, the PSA adopted a more conservative budget and is right on target.

    This is an operating budget and Key said that the PSA will need to find additional sources of revenue to go beyond operating and maintenance. One possibility is to ask the board of supervisors for the money. Another is to get federal and state grants.

    An availability fee is a third option. This would require people adjacent to an existing line to pay for services even if they are not receiving water.

    Key said the rationale for such a fee is that, if these people lose their wells, they have a readily available source of water. Instead of drilling another well and hoping they find water, they can connect to the PSA line.

    They may also benefit from lower insurance rates. Insurance rates for homeowners whose house is within a certain distance of a fire hydrant are normally lower because of the availability of water for fire suppression.

    “I think most people would see the logic behind it,” Key said. “That doesn’t mean it would be a popular solution.”