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Regional water authority reaches agreement

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE – The Virginia/Carolina Regional Water Authority officially announced last Thursday that it has reached an agreement with a property owner for an option to purchase land to build a new regional water plant.

In the authority’s regular meeting Jan. 8, Chairman Bryan Edwards — who also serves as Sparta, N.C., town manager — said testing is still needed on the proposed site, and should be finished around April 1.

The site includes four acres in the High Meadows at New River subdivision, off Moxley Ridge Road in Grayson County. Moxley Ridge connects to Nile Road in Alleghany County, N.C., then connects to U.S. 21, the main corridor that will connect both Independence and Sparta to the water plant.

The action taken at the Dec. 30 meeting does not finalize the land purchase, but it gives the authority an option to do so in the future.

“The option provides the authority the ability to conduct extensive testing of the sites for suitability for ultimate development of the intake and the treatment plant,” a press release issued by the authority said. “If the test results show that the property is suitable, approximately 4.0 acres will be purchased from a development company, High Meadows at Virginia LLC, at a price determined by a professional third party appraiser, for the intake, treatment plant and as easements for ingress and egress and for both raw water and finished water lines.”

The press release also mentioned the conservation easement that was filed Dec. 30 in Grayson Circuit Court.

Last week, The Gazette obtained the easement, which appeared to reveal the proposed location. The easement is for approximately 20 acres of property surrounding the proposed intake location.

It will also protect the raw water intake by prohibiting any development adjacent to the location.

The easement involves land connecting a 1.44-acre site along the river — the proposed location for the intake system — and Moxley Ridge Road.

The water authority also addressed various environmental and aesthetic concerns in Thursday's press release: “The project will utilize riverbank filtration to obtain raw water. This innovative method allows water to be drawn from the riverbank without any structure being constructed in the New River.”

It continues to say that the treatment facility will also use “membrane filtration,” which is also considered an innovative treatment method.

The plant is being built to serve the towns of Independence and Sparta, Grayson and Alleghany counties and the new state prison being built outside of Independence. It will be capable of producing one million gallons of finished drinking water per day, which according to projections will meet the needs of the service area for the next 40 years.

Also during the meeting, authority’s engineer Bobby Lane of Lane Engineering updated members on various items.

Lane first talked about the pilot testing, water quality and quantity testing being done at the proposed intake site.

“We do now have access to the intake site,” Lane told authority members. “We are still working with Appalachian Power to provide temporary power for our pilot plant.”

Plans are to begin testing the pilot plant around Jan. 20, but Lane said that would depend on whether the power was in place.

Lane told members that work continues on obtaining easements to connect the water line to U.S. 21.

He also noted that funding for the project is about $200,000 below what they hoped it would be at by this point.

Plans are in the works to prepare a letter for Edwards to send to Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Abingdon) requesting consideration of additional federal funding under president-elect Barack Obama's proposed economic stimulus package, which would pay for public works projects, like infrastructure and schools.

“We hear that the program will be administered through the Health Department in Virginia and through DENR in North Carolina,” Lane said. “Our project seems to fit all of the criteria associated with this initiative.”

Lane told authority members that bids had been requested for the plant’s water intake.

A pre-bid conference is scheduled on Jan. 15, while the official reading of the bids will take place in the Grayson County Board of Supervisors room, at the courthouse in Independence, on Jan. 22.

During the meeting, Lane asked the authority to authorize the chairman and vice-chairman to act on the bids prior to the February meeting, if they are within the engineer's estimate of $475,000.

The action would not officially accept the bids, but would allow Edwards and Authority Vice Chairman Kenneth Vaught to notify attorneys and funding agencies of the intent to accept bids, and have documents ready for approval at the February meeting.

The authority passed the request unanimously, as well as a motion to pay $3,300 to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for a permit, and a third motion to approve $4,000 for a Phase I archaeological study for the proposed plant site.

Lane also updated the authority on plans and specifications for the water plant. He said plans have been submitted and are nearing approval.

The environmental assessment has been revised to show the new location for the plant and intake and the revision is being reviewed.

“We will hopefully have our approvals and be ready to advertise as soon as the water testing is completed,” Lane said.

In regards to the already approved bids for the lines along U.S. 21, Lane said the construction crews are ready to mobilize and get to work, pending approval of paperwork by attorney Webster Day.

Once Lane finished updating the authority on engineering matters, Edwards told members that the initial concerns from some property owners regarding easements possibly had been taken care of.

He said the authority was considering an alternate route that would run along the existing roadway, getting the line out of the High Meadows subdivision and onto Moxley Ridge Road.

Lane added that once the line meets the North Carolina state line, it would mainly be in the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s right-of-way along 21.

Treasurer Don Adams also provided the authority his monthly report.

Adams noted that the authority had $49,000 in the bank account, prior to being handed a $8,536 check from the Virginia Department of Health.

Adams asked the authority to begin seriously considering the hiring of a director or manager for the plant.

He added that the position was talked about from the beginning and that money was actually in the budget to pay for it, once funding became available.

Lane said that the money for administration would be coming from a Rural Development loan that was expected to close in May or June.

Lane estimated that $20,000 had been put in the budget for administrative expenses.

Plans are to hire the director or manager now, so they can be involved during the construction.

John Brady, Sparta town council member, agreed with Adams and said the water authority needed to begin working on things now.

Lane said he and Authority Secretary Brian Reed would get together and create some type of job description, possibly for review at the February meeting, with a hiring range between March and April.

Edwards suggested the person could work out of their home two or three days a week at first.

Vaught added that a small office could be included in the designs for the new water plant, which could serve dually as a meeting spot for the Authority in the future.

Lane said plans were already in place to include a small office space and/or meeting room.

In December 2008, the authority awarded the construction contracts for the water lines between Sparta and Independence, and work should begin by the end of the month.

Construction of the total project, including the water lines, the intake, water plant and two storage tanks, is scheduled for completion by summer 2010 — the same time the new state prison is set to open in Grayson.

Costs for the project are expected to be approximately $8.3 million, with funding from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, the United States Department of Agriculture-Rural Development, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Virginia Department of Health and the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission.