By Stefanie Jackson – Hampton Roads Sanitation District representatives met with Northampton and Accomack citizens, officials, and other stakeholders Aug. 15 to outline HRSD’s proposal to take over sewer service in parts of both counties and get several towns “out of the sewer business” by 2023.
“We protect public health and the waters of Hampton Roads by treating wastewater effectively” is the pledge from the HRSD website, which HRSD representatives echoed at the Thursday night meeting that packed Exmore’s town hall.
As a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Hampton Roads Sanitation District is required to serve Eastern Shore towns if they request to join the district.
The towns considering joining HRSD are Nassawadox, Exmore, Melfa, and Onancock. The towns would be connected to Onancock’s wastewater treatment facility, which has excess capacity.
The Onancock facility received major upgrades in 2012, and it can treat up to 750,000 gallons of wastewater per day.
Accomack County would also connect its public buildings in its county seat, Accomac, to the Onancock facility.
The Hampton Roads Sanitation District would pay about $20 million to $24 million to construct the main sewer pipe that would run along Route 13 (possibly in the railroad right-of-way) and carry wastewater to the Onancock treatment plant.
The pipe is called a “force main” because the wastewater is pumped, or forced, through the main pipe to the plant.
HRSD would take over the sewer business, both service and billing, in each participating town.
Towns would be alleviated of the headaches of receiving 24/7 service calls and billing customers, and HRSD would collect the money, resulting in a “win-win” scenario for the towns and the district.
The Hampton Roads Sanitation District charges each customer, no matter where they live in the district, a flat, base rate of less than $55 per month – with one caveat.
HRSD will pay for the main sewer pipe, but each town will have to pay for the system that will carry the town’s wastewater to the force main.
Exmore, for example, currently has 350 customers (homes or businesses) connected to its sewer system. If the town wants to make sewer service available to its entire population and reach 900 customers, it would need to do a buildout that would cost about $5 million.
That new debt and about $500,000 of old debt on Exmore’s sewer system would be shared by customers in Exmore, adding more than $20 to each sewer bill, for a monthly total exceeding $70.
Because HRSD does not take on debts, its Eastern Shore customers could also become responsible for the debt remaining on Onancock’s wastewater treatment plant, about $4.5 million.
That could give Exmore customers a monthly bill of more than $80.
No town would be required to join the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, but without Onancock and its wastewater treatment facility, HRSD would have to completely rework its proposal.
Towns that want to join the Hampton Roads Sanitation District must petition the second circuit court. That process is expected to happen between October 2019 and March 2020.
HRSD and the participating localities will likely sign a contract between January 2020 and June 2020.
It will take about one year, until April 2021, to procure the funds for the project. Construction will take about two years, with project completion expected in April 2023.
The Hampton Roads Sanitation District started in 1940 and provides sewer service for 20% of Virginia’s population, 1.7 million people in 18 localities.
There are more than 500 miles of sewer pipes in HRSD’s collection system. HRSD operates more than 100 pumps, nine major wastewater treatment plants, and seven smaller wastewater treatment plants.
The Hampton Roads Sanitation District has the capacity to treat 249 million gallons of wastewater per day.