Fancy Gap utility project questioned

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Citizen asks for state and federal investigation of a sewer project that he claims was approved without public knowledge and benefits a county official personally.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

A Fancy Gap resident has made a complaint to state agencies that the Carroll Public Service Authority did not follow proper procedures in extending a county sewer utility project to Joy Ranch Road.
Stephen Gregson shared a letter with The Gazette that he sent to Rural Development representative Robert Hilt on Aug. 22 and with Jeffrey Gargiulo of the Virginia State Inspector General’s office on Sept. 18. The investigation is now in the hands of the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, because the matter involves federal funding.

In an e-mail to Gargiulo, Gregson notes that Carroll County received $5 million in federal stimulus funds for the $8 million water and sewer project in Fancy Gap.
The letter says the county gave proper public notice for the Fancy Gap water project, sought a request for proposals, went out for bids and award a contract for design — but did not do the same for the sewer project.
Gregson said his basic question is “how can a project of this scope go without any procurement for a design of this $4.2 million sewer project and how can a separate Joy Ranch Road Sewer project be added to this project.”
He points out that Joy Ranch Road is not even in Fancy Gap. It is “over the mountains, seven miles away as a crow flies.”
Gregson has not been able to find any official documentation of PSA approval to add Joy Ranch Road to the project, nor was a public hearing held on the matter.
“For months we requested, if any additional monies were available, they would be kept within the Fancy Gap area due solely that during the original preliminary engineering report many families who desperately need public sewer were left out,” Gregson said.
He also alleged that having sewer service on Joy Ranch Road benefits county PSA director Gary Larrowe because he owns property there. Larrowe is also the county administrator.
When Gregson brought these concerns to the attention of county officials, he alleges that he was “threatened.”
“As of this date, we have been maliciously attacked by the county on our Christian motor coach retreat and have been advised to contact your office,” he wrote to Gargiulo.
(Carroll officials discussed in a July supervisors meeting that the county planning commission had improperly approved the site plan for Gregson’s Agape Motorcoach Retreat, something that Gregson disputes. County Attorney Jim Cornwell advised that the supervisors should move to vacate Gregson’s plan.)
Cornwell was out of the country and could not be reached Friday to comment on Gregson’s letters. PSA Chairman Tom Littrell, who is also on the Carroll Board of Supervisors, said he did not wish to comment on the matter until he had time to learn more about Gregson’s concerns.
In the full letter to Hilt, who now oversees the Fancy Gap utilities project for the federal Rural Development agency, one of the questions Gregson raises is when the Carroll PSA authorized the Joy Ranch Road extension. The preliminary engineering report for Fancy Gap makes no mention of a sewer addition on Joy Ranch Road, nor do other project documents, the letter says.
Gregson also questions the sewer extension’s funding: “How can a locality get funded without going through procurement for a design that exceeds $300,000 on a $4.2 million project?”
He understands from county staff members that funding for the extension came from the Fancy Gap sewer project money.
“There is no record of authorization,” the letter says. “Why were citizens not notified there was a need of sewer services on Joy Ranch Road through public hearing, [the Fancy Gap District] supervisor or representative?”
Gregson says in his letter that it appears the Joy Ranch Road sewer addition was never intended to be a part of the Fancy Gap sewer project as originally designed, but instead “was done without approval and now appears to benefit the Carroll County PSA executive director’s personal real estate.”
A letter from the Rural Development office states that officials with the federal agency are reviewing the matter, but Hilt noted that “issues pertaining to procurement decisions made by the Carroll County Public Service Authority... will need to be addressed by the CCPSA.”
Another letter to Gregson from Gargiulo, also shared with The Gazette, says that neither the State Inspector General’s office nor the state Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline “has the authority to investigate this allegation since it does not involve a state agency or a state employee. Therefore, I have forwarded your information, including information that I found, to the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate.”