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PSA chairman responds to utility project allegations

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Tom Littrell says a citizen’s claims falsely allege that the Fancy Gap sewer project was improperly bid and benefits a county official.

By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff

HILLSVILLE — The chairman of the Carroll County Public Service Authority is standing up for a county sewer utility project that was recently criticized by a Fancy Gap resident.
Stephen Gregson has asked for an investigation of the approval process for a sewer project in the Fancy Gap area, which he claims was not properly bid or publicized. He also claims an extension of the utility project personally benefitted a Carroll official. He has sought opinions from state and federal authorities.
PSA Chairman Thomas Littrell, also a member of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors, issued a written rebuttal letter to The Gazette on Monday, answering allegations from Gregson that appeared in an article published in the newspaper that same day.
Gregson last week shared with The Gazette letters he sent to Rural Development representative Robert Hilt and Jeffrey Gargiulo of the Virginia State Inspector General’s office. Rural Development is looking into Gregson’s claims, and the case has been forwarded to the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture because the sewer project involves federal funding.
Gregson has said that the sewer project went forward without public knowledge or PSA approval and that project extension to Joy Ranch Road directly benefits County Administrator Gary Larrowe, who is also the PSA director.
Carroll County received $5 million in federal stimulus funds for the $8 million project to bring county water and sewer to the growing Fancy Gap community. Gregson claims the water project was handled properly by the PSA, but the sewer project was not.
Gregson said that no public hearings were held on the sewer project, the county did not give proper public notice for the work, did not seek a request for design proposals and did not properly issue a request for bids or award a contract for design.
In his letter, Littrell says Gregson’s allegations are untrue. “The Carroll County PSA has done nothing of intent to circumvent any local, state or federal rule or authority with any project and particularly the Fancy Gap project.
“Carroll County PSA bid the project as allowed and authorized by USDA-RD and was notified to move forward on the project in regular fashion.”
Littrell also explains in his letter that the PSA intended for the Joy Ranch portion of the sewer project to potentially be used for a force main pressure line to Joy Ranch, where it would become a gravity line to the Woodlawn system near U.S. 58. This would allow it to avoid at least two pump stations along the way.
“In the long term, there is a cost to running sewage through unnecessary pump stations, and this Joy Ranch route would have lowered the future cost,” Littrell explained. “However, due to the fact that a critical landowner would not provide a necessary easement, the line direction reverted to the current route.”
During the bidding process for the Fancy Gap project, the Joy Ranch gravity system was bid as segment “E” and the PSA asked for permission to add the portion into the project and Rural Development approved this change in writing from the state engineer, Littrell explained.
“Therefore, Joy Ranch Inc. [a children’s home] — and other citizens along the way — could get much-needed sewer service just as the fine folks at Fancy Gap would gain benefit from,” he said.
Littrell also spoke to Gregson’s claim that Larrowe will directly benefit from this project, as he allegedly owned property on Joy Ranch.
On the contrary, Littrell replied that Larrowe “is a life-time resident of the community and has no property that joins the path of the sewer line.”
Littrell noted that Larrowe’s family owns property that is nearly 1,200 feet away from the line, but that he has no easements, rights of way or ownership that would allow him access to the line. “Plus, the topography of the property would not allow a connection without a costly pump station on his behalf,” Littrell pointed out.
Littrell stated in his letter that he was surprised that Gregson would lodge these complaints, when he has benefited from the project.
“The PSA did not have to extend the water and sewer lines to his property. However, by doing so, the cost of the project increased significantly by adding lines, a road, increased pump station capacity and the purchase of a well. [Gregson] actually gained more than $500,000 to benefit his property and interests,” Littrell said.
“Just as an example, Mr. Gregson had said that he would give the PSA his well and, as it turned out, the PSA had to purchase his well from Mr. Gregson and he is still complaining about utility services,” he added.
In his letter, Gregson said that had been  “threatened” by county officials after he brought his concerns to Larrowe.
In July, Carroll officials vacated a previously approved site plan for Gregson’s Agape Motorcoach Retreat after they discovered that the Carroll Planning Commission had improperly approved the site. Gregson disputes that it was improperly approved.
In reply to Gregson’s claims of being threatened, Littrell stated that he was not aware of any threats being made, nor does he have any knowledge of letters that have been exchanged between Gregson and other officials.
“Plus, the Fancy Gap water and sewer project has no bearing on the Agape Motor Coach project other than Agape is a user of the newly installed water and sewer at Fancy Gap,” Littrell wrote.
Despite the negative comments, Littrell said he hopes that the community will see the positive results of this project.
“Public service is an important aspect of communities and I wish to make citizens aware that, if it had not been for the vision of the PSA/board of supervisors and the commitment to the citizens, the Fancy Gap water and sewer project would still be on paper, rather than in the ground serving the public.
“A battle has been fought and won in gathering project dollars because the great folks at Fancy Gap had requested public water and sewer around Exit 8 that would allow for business growth and other opportunities,” he said.
Littrell hopes that citizens see “positive aspects of the growth in Carroll County based upon the fact that we have utilities in all I-77 interchanges and are prepared for the future.”