By a unanimous vote today, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a two-part plan to grab control of all water services provided to citizens and businesses in the county. The first part of the plan, which goes into effect as of midnight tonight, stipulates that all new development and redevelopment efforts in the county must hook up with the Fairfax County Water System, even if new lines must be constructed to reach locations that already have access to existing water lines of the systems of either the City of Falls Church, City of Fairfax or Town of Vienna.
A spokesman for the Lerner Group, developers of the Tysons 2 Center in Tysons Corner, with plans for massive new growth in the area, strongly protested the measure, saying it could cause “substantial economic harm” to its interests because it acted on 1985 agreement to build 12 inch water mains that hooked into the Falls Church water system, and any new growth now would require altogether new construction to hook up with the county’s system. Also strongly objecting was the Mayor Jane Seeman of the Town of Vienna, with most members of her Town Council present, which resolved unanimously to oppose “any attempt to inferfere with our rate setting.” No spokesmen of the City of Falls Church or City of Fairfax spoke at the hearing that preceded the vote.
Speaking in support of the county board’s move were spokesmen from the Falls Hills Civic Association, the McLean Citizens Association, the Eudora Civic Association, the Tall Oaks Neighborhood, the Highland View Homeowners Association, all representing populations residing in the county having to pay higher rates charged by Fairfax City, Vienna or Falls Church.
A second part of the ordinance passed today establishes a county mechanism effective next July 1 that will review rates charged by all jurisdictions providing water to country residents to establish that the rates they charge are “fair and reasonable.” Supervisor John Cook contended that “most of the energy behind this” comes from the “Falls Church situation,” through an amendment to exempt Fairfax City and Vienna that he and Supervisor Pat Herrity supported failed. Fairfax County Public Works Director James Patterson pointed out that criteria for “fair and reasonable” will include concern for jurisdictions that use water fees to subsidize new development hook up charges and new capital improvement projects (CIP) that zeroed in on accusations against the Falls Church system.
Disregarding concerns expressed by Supervisor Cook that forcing a significant reduction in rates charged by other jurisdictions such that those jurisdictions “may not be able to remain in existence,” Supervisor John Foust stressed that as a result of the process, “I certainly expect that Falls Church’s rates will be lower.”
Cook also cited comments by State Sen. Chap Petersen that he will introduce legislation in Richmond to counter today’s vote, and threats of litigation, saying that acting as quickly as the board chose to today will result in significant additional costs to counter such moves, and ultimately leave the decision “in the hand of others.”