News

Fairfax Supervisors Mull ‘Knock Out Punch’ Water Legislation Tuesday

 

Law Would Mandate All New Hook Ups With Fairfax System

 

In defiance of what Falls Church officials contend was a court-mandated agreement to permit free competition for water services in 2010, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors may act next Tuesday to enact an ordinance requiring all new developments in the county to hook up to Fairfax Water.

 

Law Would Mandate All New Hook Ups With Fairfax System

 

In defiance of what Falls Church officials contend was a court-mandated agreement to permit free competition for water services in 2010, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors may act next Tuesday to enact an ordinance requiring all new developments in the county to hook up to Fairfax Water.

The startling power move would represent a major blow to independent water service providers not only in the City of Falls Church, but in the City of Fairfax and the Town of Vienna, as well. All have traditionally served customers located in Fairfax County.

But in the case of the increasingly-adversarial relations between Fairfax County, its water authority, and the City of Falls Church, what the County Board is contemplating will have massive consequences, ones which most likely will wind up being sorted out in the courts.

As Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press Wednesday, if the County Board gets its way, and all the anticipated massive new developments in Tysons Corner are compelled to pay the cost of hooking up with the county’s system, the cost to those developers will be prohibitive.

“The developers would have to bear the cost of running new lines to their locations, even though they would be laid right next to existing, fully operational lines that have been maintained by the Falls Church water system for more than half a century,” Shields said.

“We run a world-class system” with almost 100,000 customers in Fairfax County, Shields said. When asked why he thinks Fairfax County is determined to exact enormous sums from developers to overlap the Falls Church system, Shields said, “You’ll have to ask them that.”

Many observers point to the huge sums of money that the county will be able to pocket if it gets its way in this matter, especially as the extension of the Metro system through Tysons Corner is completed and the area undergoes an explosion of new development.

However, that motive was never mentioned by the County Board in a half-hour discussion of the subject at its Nov. 1 meeting. Then the board approved the item to be publicly advertised for a Dec. 6 hearing with only one dissenting vote (from Pat Herrity, who said more time is needed to fully examine the consequences of the move).

Supervisors Linda Smyth of the Providence District and John Foust of the Dranesville District, each with many constituents served by Falls Church water, argued that the issue was simply equity in rates for customers. Foust added that should Falls Church provide water to all the new development, the cost would be passed on to residential customers already paying higher rates.

But he did not mention that Falls Church’s system is already in place, obviously mitigating any costs, whereas Fairfax Water would have to lay a whole new system of pipes to get to where most of the new development will go.

Smyth noted that her constituents are served by all four water systems in the region – Fairfax County, City of Fairfax, Vienna and Falls Church. It was noted that rates charged by City of Fairfax’s system and Vienna’s are both considerably higher than Falls Church’s system charges.

According to public documents, the average rate for use of 24,000 gallons per quarter is $86.55 (even with a rate increase earlier this year) in the Falls Church system, $103 in the City of Fairfax system and $109.28 for Fairfax County users of the Vienna system.

A second astonishing feature of the proposed County Board action would require county-led regulation of the rates that all the systems currently serving county residents and business can charge. “This has never been proposed in Virginia before,” Shields told the News-Press, “that one jurisdiction can claim to regulate the rates of other independent jurisdictions.”
At the Nov. 1 County Board meeting, Braddock District Supervisor John Cook expressed concern that the county’s sweeping water grab would not only alienate its regional jurisdictional partners and lead to likely litigation, but it could lead to an erosion of years of regional cooperation.

“This is not friendly to the City of Fairfax,” he said, which borders on his district. “It will flow into issues beyond water,” He called the plan “a Standard Oil approach to dealing with water.”
But Supervisor Gerry Hyland expounded, “Enough is enough!” He said Fairfax County residents have been “discriminated against” by paying uneven rates.

Herrity noted that other jurisdictions heard about the County Board’s proposal “not from us, but by reading about it in a newspaper,” and he said more time was needed to evaluate the cost of “dual infrastructure” development.

Shields concurred with that suggestion. “We would like them to defer action Tuesday, to allow more time to discuss the approach they’re taking,” he told the News-Press. He noted that there has been “almost no” communication between Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church on the matter. “They haven’t responded to our expressions of concern.”

He cited the consent decree that accompanied the Fairfax Circuit Court ruling on the litigation that pitted Fairfax against Falls Church, in which the Fairfax Supreme Court ordered Falls Church to refund two years of “returns on investment” from its system in 2010. The consent decree called for free and full competition for water services by both parties, a court-mandated agreement that would appear to be violated by the County Board’s proposed move.

Shields said Falls Church officials have been in contact with their counterparts in both the City of Fairfax and Vienna, even if lines of communication with Fairfax County have been cut off.
The proposed plan will be the subject of a County Board public hearing scheduled for 4 p.m. next Tuesday at the County Executive Building.

Shields said it is “possible” he will speak there in person, but he will at least provide a written statement.