By Stefanie Jackson – Exmore has the opportunity to receive $5 million in additional grant funding from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for the town’s sewer project, which is included in Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed outgoing state budget.
Town Manager Robert Duer credited Congresswoman Elaine Luria for getting the $5 million grant included in the proposed budget.
“She’s the only politician ever been in my office that said she was going to do something and did it,” he said during Monday night’s Town Council meeting.
Luria had visited Exmore to discuss the sewer project with town officials and relayed their concerns to the governor, who included the necessary funding in his budget.
A total of $68.6 million from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund has been proposed in the budget for five Virginia water and sewer projects, which also includes $3.6 million for Wachapreague’s sewer project.
The fund was established by the American Rescue Plan and may be used for water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
If Exmore receives the additional grant funding from DEQ, the town’s sewer project will be fully funded – without exceeding the town’s $5 million borrowing limit.
Exmore previously was approved for a $3 million DEQ grant; if those funds could be combined with the additional $5 million from DEQ, that would give the town $8 million in DEQ grants.
Exmore also was approved for a grant of more than $6.3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
The grants combined with a USDA loan of $3.2 million would give Exmore nearly $18 million to spend, plus $2 million in cash the town would provide for a contingency, Duer estimated.
He asked Town Council members to contact their state representatives – who include Del. Robert Bloxom and Sen. Lynwood Lewis – for the best chance of the General Assembly approving the $5 million DEQ grant in the state budget.
“I implore you to call these people and tell them Exmore needs this help,” Duer said.
“I don’t beg very often, but the worst thing can happen is we go to Richmond and somebody says, ‘Well, Del. Bloxom, have you heard from Exmore?’ and (if) he says, ‘No, I haven’t heard a damn word,’ do you think we’re going to get our $5 million?” Duer asked.
If the Town Council is persistent in communicating Exmore’s need to state representatives, “that will push us over the top,” he said.
Director of Utilities Taylor Dukes presented the Town Council members with a draft wastewater connection ordinance for their review. A condition of receiving state funding for the sewer project is that every home and business in town must hook up to the new system.
Only Broadwater Academy will not be required to connect to the new system, due to the distance to the school and the excessive cost of running the pipe to the facility, Dukes said.
Every Exmore sewer customer must sign a wastewater user agreement, and each document must be notarized.
Exmore will be required to file more than 830 easements with Northampton County to allow town employees on private property when necessary to service the sewer system. The town will own the sewer pipes, the pump station, and the pole on which the control panel will be attached, Dukes said.
Town officials are anticipating some citizens will decline signing the wastewater user agreement – for example, homeowners who have recently made costly updates to their septic systems and don’t want to connect to the sewer.
Exmore will need to condemn property or invoke eminent domain (a legal process by which a government takes private property for public use) if a homeowner or business owner refuses to sign the wastewater user agreement.
Everyone must be connected by July or August 2023, when the new system will be turned on, Dukes said.