The Manassas City Council voted Monday not to proceed with a study that could have led to opening Lake Manassas to the public for recreational uses such as fishing and boating.
The council voted, 4 to 2, against a motion by member Marc T. Aveni (R) to spend $44,900 from the water fund balance to study potential environmental and security risks of opening the lake for recreation. The city’s Utility Commission had voted unanimously to recommend conducting the study, officials said.
The city-owned lake supplies water to Manassas, as well as parts of Prince William County and Manassas Park. The city eliminated public access to the lake in the 1990s to protect the drinking water supply, and it banned boating in 2004.
Council member Mark D. Wolfe (R) spoke against the motion, saying that most potential users of the lake would not be residents of Manassas, but that the city and taxpayers would be paying for the study.
“No one has come up with anything approaching a viable business plan, [either] short-term or long-term, regarding the lake, the cost of the lake and the liability of the lake,” Wolfe said. “And until that’s done, we’re putting the cart before the horse here.”
Council member Ian Lovejoy (R), who joined Aveni in voting for the study, called the cost of the proposed study “a drop in the bucket” compared with the money the city spends annually on security for the closed lake.
“What I find shocking is that over the last five years, we’ve spent a quarter of a million dollars keeping the lake shut,” Lovejoy said. “At our current path, over the next decade we’ll spend $800,000 keeping the lake shut, at roughly $80,000 a year.
“The very questions that people are asking are resolved by this study, and compared to the immense money that we’re going to be spending keeping the lake shut, I think the $44,000 is perfectly reasonable,” he said.
Manassas Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R) responded that although the City Council voted several years ago to add a police officer, “ostensibly to provide lake security,” that officer performs many duties unrelated to the lake.
“That police officer isn’t dedicated to the lake,” Parrish said. “For us to tell citizens . . . that we’re spending $250,000 every three or four years to keep the lake shut is simply not correct.”
Council member Andrew L. Harrover (R) said the city should prioritize its recreation needs before funding a study on Lake Manassas.
Vice Mayor J. Steven Randolph (I) added that protecting the water supply should be the council’s primary concern.
“The water is a necessity,” Randolph said. “While it’s nice for fishing and boating, these are amenities.”
Randolph said that he took over stewardship of the lake, along with other City Council members, when he was first elected to the council in 1986.
“I want to leave that lake in as good a shape as I found it,” Randolph said.
Aveni said he found the discussion “very disturbing.”
“This lake should be open because it belongs to the people,” he said. “It should be available to the people for limited use, within certain guidelines. You can look no further than the Occoquan Reservoir, which is the drinking supply for a lot more residents than [Lake Manassas]. It is safe. It is well managed. The public has access to it.”
Aveni said that he is not ready to drop the issue.
“I’m not going to let it go,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I have enough people who are coming to me about it that I can’t let it go. The more that area develops, the more population, the more people are seeking nearby nature, it’s almost criminal to say you can’t use that lake.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.