By Stefanie Jackson – A concerned citizen is keeping a dialogue open with Exmore town council members on which sewer solution is right for Exmore.
“You’re representing the people of Exmore,” Ken Dufty reminded the council Feb. 3.
Exmore must decide to enter an agreement with a public organization, Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD), or a private company, Aqua Virginia.
Dufty does not favor the HRSD option because rates are determined by eight commissioners who are appointed by Virginia’s governor.
The commissioners are not elected; therefore, the voting public has no say in HRSD’s business practices, including how high it raises rates.
HRSD’s rates have doubled within a decade, Dufty noted.
He also suggested that some local government officials with ties to Riverside Medical Group have been unfairly biased toward HRSD, which could relieve Riverside of its sewer business in Nassawadox.
Riverside still owns and operates the sewer system in Nassawadox, even though Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital relocated to Onley three years ago.
Dufty named the former chairman of the Northampton board of supervisors, Spencer Murray, Northampton supervisor John Coker, and Accomack supervisor Robert Crockett as having potential conflicts of interest.
Murray and Coker have served as officers on the Northampton Medical Services Foundation, which was formed to help Northampton County transition after the hospital relocated to Accomack County.
Crockett became the vice chairman of the Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital board in 2017.
“You have to raise an eyebrow” and ask, “is this an incestuous relationship?” Dufty said.
“I think it’s good that … we can maybe help Riverside get out of the Nassawadox plant. I’m not saying not to do that. I’m saying they should be forthright in saying what their agenda is,” he added.
Murray declined to comment, but Coker said the Northampton Medical Services Foundation “has nothing to do with Riverside.”
The foundation has worked since 2014 to attract an emergency or urgent care facility to Northampton, but the county does not have a population large enough to sustain such a facility, Coker said.
The Northampton Medical Services Foundation has donated its funds to other health-related nonprofits like Eastern Shore Rural Health System and the soon-to-be-built Northampton County YMCA. The foundation will be shut down by the end of the year, he said.
Crockett could not be reached for comment.
Dufty also believes Exmore councilman Chase Sturgis may appear to have a conflict of interest.
Sturgis is an employee of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, whose executive director, Jeff Holland, is a proponent of HRSD.
“Why would anybody … who has been elected by the people in Exmore want to get into HRSD?” Dufty asked.
“It’s going to bankrupt this town. There is no question about it,” he said.
“We haven’t seen any solid numbers from anybody else,” Sturgis said. “What if we get to the point that the system we choose isn’t a great financial decision, and everybody gets voted out? The citizens are still stuck with the project.”
Dufty said his comments were “not personal” and “not an insult.”
“I think you do a fantastic job here,” but “you have to wonder what is going on,” he said.
If Exmore wants to expand its collection system and serve more sewer customers, it must pay for the project that will cost millions of dollars.
Dufty’s “bottom line” is that if Exmore wants HRSD to run the system, the town must transfer ownership to HRSD, and Exmore will be stuck with a bill for infrastructure it doesn’t own.
But his arguments could become moot if soil test results are unfavorable.
Town Manager Robert Duer pointed out that if the soil does not percolate well, Aqua Virginia will not be able to implement its rapid infiltration base technology, and “HRSD is the only solution.”