Agreement a bright spot amid wastewater fued

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — At one point in the ongoing utility disagreements between Carroll County and Hillsville, county officials decided they would rather switch providers.

As the lawsuit between the two localities goes to trial in circuit court, construction workers have made the final connections between the new Woodlawn sewer system and the Galax treatment plant.

That will allow the Carroll County Public Service Authority to send its sewage to Galax for treatment, instead of to Hillsville.

The valve to switch the flow to Galax was thrown April 13, according to County Administrator Gary Larrowe.

The same thing will happen with public water, once all the infrastructure is in place for Carroll to get its supply from the regional partnership with Wythe County and Wytheville.

Instead of coming from Little Reed Island Creek or wells spread out through the county, most of Carroll's water will come from the New River from Austinville.

Hillsville officials have lamented the loss of Carroll as a sewer treatment customer, as Town Manager Larry South did in his 2011 budget message.

"Right or wrong, what they are doing will most likely result in increased fees to Hillsville water and sewer customers," South wrote as part of the town budgeting process.

At the outset of the partnership with Carroll, Galax is the recipient of about 112,000 gallons per day of sewage from the county through the new Woodlawn system, according to figures from Preston Hill, the PSA's director of outside operations.

That's one-third of the system's 340,000 gallon per day capacity.

Sewage now flows from the Carroll County Industrial Park towards Galax.

Another component of the system is the Southwest Virginia Training Center, which produces about 350,000 gallons of wastewater a month, according to information from the PSA office. The training center had used a "package plant" operated by the PSA, so that sewage never went to Hillsville.

Work continues to launch a public sewer system that includes Interstate 77's Exit 19.

A major reason for the push to get the sewer system to the exit is the Wildwood Commerce Park, with its hundreds of developable acres and easy access to the high volume interstate.

The Exit 19 area will only have about 40 residential sewer customers at first, according to the PSA. But that would change with any successful effort to develop the exit.

Carroll County and Galax officials negotiated a wholesale treatment rate of $3.42 per thousand gallons for the county.

The Carroll Public Service Authority adjusted its rates last year in order to keep up with federal funding requirements, Larrowe recalled. Those are the rates the new Woodlawn sewer system customers will pay.

"The rates for the service will remain the same as they were adopted by the PSA last year under the mandate of [U.S. Department of Agriculture - Rural Development]," the county administrator noted. "The rates were set to the minimum USDA would allow for the projects to be eligible for grant funds."

Carroll County has been a wastewater treatment customer of Galax for a number of years through its Gladeville-Cranberry sewer system, City Manager Keith Barker noted. That system has sent Galax an average of about 65,000 gallons of sewage for treatment per day for some time now.

The deal that Galax made with Carroll County has expanded that amount to about 260,000 gallons per day, he noted. The agreement has mechanisms to allow Carroll to get even more flow, if need be.

Galax had excess capacity after the loss of high volume water and sewer customer National Textiles, which was doing about a half million gallons a day.

The treatment plant has a capacity of about three million gallons per day, Barker said. "We're nowhere near using the three million gallons."

Providing that service to Carroll County will help the city generate revenue for the system and maintain a reasonable rate for the citizens, the city manager said.

This cooperation may lead to jobs, too, and employees from any new business at Exit 19 would likely come from more places than just Carroll.

"I think it was a good opportunity for them [Carroll County] and the City of Galax," Barker said about the utility relationship between the two localities. "It's another example of regional cooperation that's going to help everyone."