Noman Cole, the "father" of a major new regional sewage plant in Virginia, recently charged that the Prince William County government "has done a super con job" in blaming the plant for sharply higher sewer and water rates.
Donald L. White, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, replied, "If there were any con jobs done, they were done by Noman Cole," who was chairman, of the State Water Control Board when the decision was made to build the Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority (UOSA) plant.
While and other supervisors have been outspoken in their opposition to shutting down their own Greater Manassas Sanitary Dist(GMSD) plant and connecting with UOSA, which is scheduled to begin operations on June 26.
The battle centers on rates - a subject hot enough to bring out more than 1,000 angry GMSD users at a public hearing last week - but touches on regional versus local control, water quality and, Cole says, politics.
The Prince William government has made "the start-up of UOSA the 'fall-guy' as a cover for the real source of GMSD's problems and their cost increase," Cole said in a detailed study of the proposed GMSD rates.
White countered that "Mr!Cole has got to do something to defend his white elephant."
The UOSA plant was to replace 11 small, outmoded plants at a cost of $42 million when it was designed seven years ago. It will serve Fairfax and Prince William countles and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.
It ended up costing $82 million because of inflation and Environment Protection Agency decisions which increased construction costs and delayed completion by two years.
Prince William opposition to the UOSA plant rose as the cost of UOSA rose. The plant is considered the most advanced in the United States, capable of turning out an effluent clean enough to drink.
At the same time, the county board was expressing hostility to almost every regional body in Northern Virginia, refusing to appropriate money for the Council Of Governments, the regionsl Health Systems Agency and a project for monitoring the Occoquan Reservior. The reservoir is the source of drinking water for 6000,000 Northern Virginians, including residents of Prince William.
On March 28, UOSA wrote to White as board chairman to inform the county that the estimated cost of treating sewage would be about 90 cents per 1,000 gallons. The letter also daid that Prince William county flows last year were 42 percent of the total for the region to be served and that "if this ration continues . . .charges each month to Prince William County would be about $92,700."
That figure has now become the source of contention, because the Prince Willioam flows included sewage from two locations in Manassas treated by the county.
In early April, Ehite made a motion that the county pay its share of the UOSA but continue to operate its own plant, not using UOSA. He passed out an information sheet that said quarterly bills for GMSD residents would rise from $36 to $140 if the county hooked on to UOSA, Last week, however, White denied that he had ever heard of the $140 figure.
His motion was deferred to allow the county attorney to investigate the legality of the actionon.
But reports of a 400 percent increase in water and sewer bills stunned GMSD's 6,000 users, building opposition to UOSA.
Then in early May, the board advertised for Public hearing a sewer and water rate of $104 per quarter, a sharp reduction from the $140 figure, but still a 300 percent increase.
In mid-May, GMSD administrator John Sloper developed a new proposed rate of $77 for the user who comsumes the average 21,000 gallons of water per quarter.
The initial cost figures were "outlandishly high," said Cole who believes they were artifically increased to create opposition to UOSA.
Ehit and Sloper blame the change in figures on UOSA with White saying, "We never got the same figures twice form those guys.
Cole said that the present GMSD rate of $1.72 per 1,000 gallons is based on sewer costs of 49 cents for treatment , 8 cents for administration, 16 cents for maintenance and operation and 40 cents foe debt service. Water costs 59 cents for a total of $1.72.
GMSD's present $77 proposal includes a 9-cent increase for sewer administration and a 27-cent increase in sewer operation and maintenance even though the GMSD sewer plant would be shut down, Cole said. It also includes a 23-cents increase for water, Cole said. The total non-UOSA increase is 59 cents per 1,000 gallons.
The GMSD rate also includes 48 cents for UOSA debt service which Cole said could be paid by the income from tap fees at the current rate of $2,000 per tap.
The GMSD rate to its customers for UOSA sewage treatment is $1.30 instead of the 90 cents which UOSA charges because GMSD estimated that for every gallon of water that flows through a meter into a home about 1.5 gallons of sewage must be treated.The reason is that GMSD pipes leak and storm water enters its sewer mains and must be treated. Cole argues that this 40 cents increase in the rate is not UOSA's fault but GMSD's problem because it has not kept its system in adequate repair.
He also argues that GMSD treatment costs have been artificially low because GMSD, during periods of heavy flow, has simply allowed sewage to flow untreated, in violation of state and federal law.
Sloper argues that going into a regional facility will not allow a cut in administration, operation and maintenance costs, in part because GMSD has to absord insurance costs formely picked up by the county. He said GMSD would seek federal grants to try to correct the infiltration problem and that he was "personally opposed to using connection fees to pay debt service."
Cole contends that by holding charges at present levels, using tap fees to pay the UOSA bond debt abd shutting down the GMSD treatment plant, the rate would be held to $2.51 per 1,000 gallons, a $17 per quarter increase which he considers reasonable for the protection iit will provide the fragile Occoquan Reservoir.