Neighboring water project larger than connection to Nottoway

Published 3:09 am Friday, September 29, 2023

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Neighboring Prince Edward County wants to get into the water business, starting with an expansion into Nottoway County. But the county’s plan doesn’t end there. It’s actually the first part in a three phase project, one stretching out over several years. 

That’s why some of the price tags mentioned for this water expansion are significantly different, because multiple people and groups aren’t talking about the same thing. Some are referring to the overall price tag for all three phases, while others are simply mentioning what it would cost to get things started. 

So Phase I refers to the expansion into Nottoway County. Under terms of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Prince Edward County and the Virginia Department of General Services (DGS) dated May 23, 2022, the county would build and pay for a water line running up to the Nottoway border. DGS would then cover the rest of the cost to connect it with the Piedmont Geriatric Hospital, Nottoway Correctional Center and Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation, along with the Town of Burkeville. 

Phase II of the project would go the opposite way, running water out to the Heartland Innovative Technology (HIT) Park in Prince Edward, which is currently being developed to recruit a data center to move in. 

Phase III of the expansion would go further into Prince Edward, running down past The Manor Golf Club and all the way to Hampden-Sydney, providing water lines as an alternative to the wells some residents dug in order to get water. 

The current price tag for all of that, all three phases, comes out to $80 million, with the majority of that money being spent in Phase I. Phase II and Phase III combined run an estimated $30 million. 

What about Phase I? 

As for Phase I, the price tag is split into three pieces. First, Prince Edward would pay between $13 and $14 million for the water line itself, based on current estimates. Then they would need a water plant, which would be another $28 to $29 million. A water intake operation would run another $9 to $10 million, putting the total cost for this phase at $50 to $55 million.

As for how that’ll be funded, we go back to the MOU, that agreement signed in May 2022. “DGS will be responsible for all costs of designing, engineering and constructing (the Nottoway portion of) the water supply project,” the document states. That’s where the state funding ends. All maintenance and any further work needed will fall on Prince Edward, as the MOU says “the Commonwealth shall not be responsible for any costs incurred by Prince Edward in meeting its obligations under this (document).” 

Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley said in addition to the state support, the county has been applying for federal grants to help cover the cost of its obligations. And when we say obligations, that means to provide 300,000 gallons to the Nottoway facilities the first year. Within five years, that would increase to 615,000 and 680,000 by the tenth year. 

What about Nottoway and Crewe? 

Now there’s another part of this to mention and it’s the impact any decision would have on the Town of Crewe. Currently, Crewe provides water for the three state facilities, which generates roughly 70% of the Town’s water revenue. As of now, Crewe produces 500,000 gallons of water a day on average, with 70% going to the state facilities. That’s well within the state’s current needs. However, there is a concern on the state level about Crewe being able to meet those next two goals of 615,000 within five years and 680,000 gallons within a decade. 

Town officials, meanwhile, say there’s no reason to worry. Crewe Town Manager Jay Scudder said prior to 2022, there had been discussions with the state about doing infrastructure improvements at the Crewe facility and running a pipe out to Blackstone, to get extra water as needed. 

“Crewe and Blackstone have plenty of water to do anything,” Scudder said. 

He questions why there was a need to pivot to Prince Edward’s project, when Crewe was providing water for the facilities in its own county and nothing has shown they wouldn’t be able to continue doing that. The Herald looked in local and state documentation and couldn’t find any complaint or situation where Crewe failed to provide the needed water. 

Nothing set in stone with Nottoway

And here’s where we start wading into controversy. 

State officials say until the actual construction starts, nothing is set in stone. 

“No decisions have been finalized,” said Dena Potter. She serves as director of communications for the DGS, the agency in charge of handling this deal. “The administration is continuing to evaluate options to supply water to the three state facilities, Piedmont Geriatric Hospital, Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation and Nottoway Correctional Center.” 

If a better deal than the one with Prince Edward comes around before construction starts, DGS officials are open to it. They point to a line in this year’s budget, which says the permission given to Prince Edward to run a water line will not “limit the ability of DGS to pursue the project contemplated herein or any other solution it later determines will meet the necessary water needs of the identified Commonwealth facilities.”

Basically, if the Town of Crewe comes back with what the state deems is a better offer, the current deal with Prince Edward won’t prevent them from taking it. 

What it would do, however, is potentially put the state on the hook for several million in costs and expenses. In that 2022 MOU document, it states that if “either party violates this MOU, the aggrieved party may seek recovery of its actual costs and expenses incurred.” 

So if the state decides not to go with the Prince Edward option, the county can turn around and get its money back. But so far, county officials say they’re comfortable with the deal.  

“The state came to us, said put your best offer on the table. We did and Crewe did,” said Doug Stanley. “The state chose us. And Prince Edward has been doing its due diligence to meet the state’s timeline for water.” 

Not a new issue

County records show the Sandy River expansion isn’t a new proposal. Looking back over Prince Edward minutes from supervisors meetings, you’ll find discussions dating back to 2011. That includes talks with Crewe officials. Stanley says if they want to discuss a partnership of some kind, Prince Edward would be willing to listen. 

“We’ve approached Crewe in good faith – and more than a few times – to try to find a solution that works for all parties involved,” Stanley said. “They have not responded to our offers to sit down and talk about this. But we remain willing to talk with Crewe if and when they are ready.”

Stanley added that beyond current facilities, this project could end up helping both counties, if it can attract new companies. 

“Prince Edward’s primary competition for economic development is not Nottoway; and Nottoway’s primary competition is not Prince Edward,” Stanley said. “We are both facing stiff competition from other regions of Virginia and surrounding states. Finding ways to attract economic development to the area helps both counties. That starts with ensuring our region can offer a reliable public water supply.”