Citizen protects against high water rates in the City of Manassas Park have refueled a drive by the Upper Occoquan Sewer Authority (UOSA) to seek a $12 million reimbursement from the Environmental Protection Agency to cover the expensive construction of a new sewage plant.
The authority, which runs a new $31 million wastewater treatment plant near the Occoquan Reservoir, claims that EPA construction requirements for the sophisticated facility that opened in July caused a $33 million cost escalation, of which the local share was $12 million.
The effluent from the new sewage treatment facility is purer than that from conventional sewage treatment plants.
The authority documented its assessment of the overrun in a report published last month. Copies of the report are being given to local congressmen who have promised to support UOSA in seeking the reimbursement, said Millard Robbins, executive director of the sewer authority.
Manassas Park water bills, which reflect the costs of sewage treatment as well as the cost of water, have climbed 400 percent in recent months to cover the city's share of the high construction costs. Citizens outraged by bills that average $6.25 for each 1,000 gallons of water used have finally gained the ear of the State Water Control Board members, who also have promised to support UOSA, Robbins said. More than a dozen residents in the Prince William city have been going without water rather than pay the high bills.
Angry Manassas Park citizens have written a letter to President Jimmy Carter complaining about the cost overrun, and local Congressmen have directed similar complaints to EPA officials, Robbins said.
"The EPA so far has taken the position that there is nothing in the law that would permit reimbursement for a cost overrun," said Fenton Roudabush, chief of water facilities management in EPA's Virginia section. "They've (the authority) beeen seeking reimbursement for awhile, but this trouble in Prince William has given some new interest."
"It's nothing new that we're seeking reimbursement, but the Manassas Park problem has highlighted the situation created by the overrun and generated support for our efforts," Robbins said. "All the users have been hurt by the overrun, but Manassas Park is the most visible victim."
The Upper Ocoquan treatment piant serves the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, and Prince William and Fairfax counties, which shared the $12 million burden.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week indicated they would send board Chairman John F. Herrity to a meeting with the EPA at the invitation of Rep. Herbert Harris (D-Va), whose seat Republican Herrity is seeking. No date has been set for the meeting, where the cost overrun would be discussed.
"We (Fairfax County) go along with the authority in supporting that the money he returned," said acting county executive J. Hamilton Lambert. "The issue is, if you're forced to do something because of a law that is invalid, you should be compensated."
Lambert was to an EPA [WORD ILLEGIBLE] requirement for the plant that has since been revoked. EPA ordered that the UOSA plant be built in "operable units," so that each completed section of the plant would be able to fully treat some sewage. In conventional construction, the plant would not provide the intended sophisticated treatment until the whole project was completed.
Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) said the EPA was taking a "burn rap" on the reimbursement issue because the constroversial and expensive construction requirement was set and revoked by Congress, not the EPA.
Robbins said if the authority does not receive satisfactory response from the EPA, local congressmen intend to introduce the reimbursement issue as legislation in the next congressional session. He said the authority would not consider legal action until the petitions and legislative action produce some results.