Four months ago, Fairfax County officials were battling with the Northern Virginia Builders Association (NVBA) over its heavy lobbying for statewide legislation that builders said would streamline the processes developers must follow in bonding public facilities.
Now, on the eve of the July 1 implementation of controversial House Bill 1033, which drastically changes the way Fairfax bonding processes work, county officials and the builders group apparently have reached a truce.
Officials on both sides say they "trust" each other to abide "by new state regulations."
Builders say they expect Fairfax County's Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which oversees the bonding process and issuance of various permits, to comply. County officials say they are confident that programs they are implementing meet requirements of HB 1033 and that developers will follow newly established procedures.
Even though Fairfax must now allow certified engineers employed by builders and developers to make certain inspections of public facilities built by developers, Fairfax officials said they have not given anything away.
"Quite the contrary," said William Rucker, deputy director of DEM. "HB 1033 provides for as many as three partial bond releases."
Those releases are tied to completion of portions of a project or development. Developers seeking partial releases will have to submit reports "sealed by a registered professional engineer" detailing what has been done in order to get a partial bond release, Rucker explained.
NVBA's chief executive officer, Sam Finz, agreed. "By no means did the county relinquish anything. For a developer to have final release, the county still has to go out and make an inspection."
Rucker said "the only time a private engineer will sign off on a section of a project would be if the county doesn't get out there" in the 30 days mandated by law. Rucker said county inspectors have more time to conduct a final inspection and release bonds. He said the county must make sure roads that are to be taken over and made part of the state highway system are accepted into the state program before a bond can be released. Rucker said facilities that are to be publicly maintained, such as storm-water retention ponds, must be accepted by the county for maintenance before final bonds can be released.
County officials, privately employed engineers and builders said they believe that private inspections of public facilities can work because the professional reputation and certification of each engineer will be on the line every time the engineer certifies to the county that work in a particular development has been completed.
Supervisor Audrey Moore said the building community now has the chance to prove to the county what it can do. The builders association has pushed for major changes in bonding regulations for several years.
Private engineering firms contacted said they thought the existing pool of professional engineers in the Washington metropolitan area would be able to handle any new workload that might be forthcoming as a result of Fairfax permitting private inspections.
Engineering firms said their employes already were doing a lot of the work necessary to fill out the forms that they expect the county will to require as part of their original contracts with their clients in the development community.
However, Tony Ahuja, an NVBA official, said the private inspections process could create a new base for engineering businesses. But the program Fairfax will be operating under as of July 1 is considered temporary because the county board of supervisors put a "sunset" clause in procedures to be followed to implement the new state law.