The question of whether to allow public access to Lake Manassas for fishing and boating is about to return to the Manassas City Council.
The council’s Finance Committee on Wednesday discussed a staff recommendation to spend $44,900 to study potential risks to the city’s water supply if the lake were opened to the public for recreational purposes. The staff also proposed creating a task force to work with a consultant on the study.
Although a majority of the committee opposed funding the study and forming the task force, Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R) agreed to a request from committee chairman Marc T. Aveni (R) to forward the matter to the full council for its consideration. Parrish said the council will take up the issue Nov. 24.
The city-owned lake supplies drinking water to about 100,000 residents of Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County, officials said. To protect the drinking water supply, the city eliminated public access to the lake in the 1990s. It banned boating in 2004.
The council voted in September to have staff members explore options for opening the lake for recreation, including financial, operational, environmental and security issues.
Tony Dawood, deputy director of public works and utilities, said that staff members recommended a study to address concerns about the safety and security of the water supply before considering other operational and financial issues, which include securing public access to the lake and involving other partners in the project. The appropriation of $44,900 for the study would come from the water fund balance, he said.
Dawood said that several people agreed to serve on the task force, including Glenn Moglen and Thomas Grizzard, the current and former directors of the Occoquan Water Monitoring Laboratory; and James Schornick and Richard Milligan, members of the City of Manassas Utility Commission.
“There’s been a lot said about the safety and security of that lake and . . . I think much of it is based on outdated or incorrect information,” Aveni said.
Council Member J. Steven Randolph (I) said he was reluctant to take any action that might jeopardize the city’s water supply.
“Water is a necessity,” Randolph said. “You have to have it, not only for the City of Manassas, but a great part of Manassas Park and parts of Prince William County.
“I understand the desire to open it up for other uses, but I feel like, even [with] a few weeks left, I still have this responsibility . . . to the citizens, to do what I think is right,” said Randolph, who will retire from the council at the end of the year. “And I don’t think at this point we need to move forward with this.”
Aveni countered, saying, “If we’re going to say the lake is closed, then I would want a report justifying why the lake was closed from a water quality and security position. We don’t have that right now.”
Although council member Mark D. Wolfe (R) joined Randolph in opposing funding for the study, with only Aveni favoring it, Aveni asked Parrish whether he would schedule the issue for the full council to decide.
“I think the most important thing that the City Council can do with regard to Lake Manassas is protect it from any sort of problems, whether it be terrorism, safety and security, or [a] challenge to the water system itself,” Parrish said.
“So my concern is, what’s it going to cost the citizens of Manassas?” Parrish said. “Because if the government opens it, there’s going to be a cost. . . . I’m thinking about citizens of Manassas, because they’re the ones that are likely to have to pay for it.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.