Local Commentary

Editor: Only Win-Lose Option on Water

For anyone not following the process closely over time, it is hard to fathom why the water dispute between Fairfax County and its neighbors, including the City of Falls Church, City of Fairfax and Town of Vienna, cannot be sorted out through mature, adult communication and negotiations.

Falls Church’s new state senator, Dick Saslaw, expressed this point of view at his first town hall meeting with Falls Church constituents last weekend. A state lawmaker since 1976, and the most powerful Democrat in the senate, his 35th district was redrawn to encompass Falls Church during redistricting last spring. He was officially sworn into his newly-configured district just last week, and not surprisingly he’d not spent much time focused on the water dispute coming in.

But from what he’d seen, he said, he could find merit on both sides of the dispute between Falls Church and Fairfax. That is a refreshing perspective, given that it is normally cast as such an uncompromising black-and-white matter by protagonists on various sides of the issue.

What Saslaw hadn’t discovered, at least until most recently, is that Fairfax County officials have no interest whatsoever in any negotiations on this matter. It is strictly a game of hardball. To them, there is no “win-win” option, there is only “win-lose:” Fairfax wins, Falls Church loses. That’s the way they intent to play it until they’ve broken the backbone of Falls Church and walked away with all the marbles.

No elected official in the county seems interested in challenging this approach, even if it smacks of a baldfaced case of lunch-stealing bullying. The only exception appears to be State Sen. Chap Petersen, who announced his intent to carry a bill in Richmond on behalf of the Town of Vienna to seek redress against the county’s power grab.

But Petersen began backing away even before arriving in Richmond, without a doubt having it made very clear to him by his Fairfax County colleagues that he’d best reconsider. So, who stands up for the little guy, or for justice, in this scenario?

It is stunning to witness everyone in the county falling into such a lock-step on this matter. Everyone on the County Board voted in December to mandate all new water hookups in the county be with the county’s water system, period, and that the county can regulate the price of water that neighboring systems charge. With that vote, everyone who spoke out tacitly accused Falls Church, in particular, of acting like a bunch of crooks.

True, the Fairfax Circuit Court ruled against the City taking a “return on investment” for the risk its citizens incur to operate a system with 100,000 customers in the county. But that policy by the City was undertaken with extensive legal consultation and documentation that the practice is common elsewhere in Virginia and across the U.S. Falls Church isn’t perfect, but its no nest of scofflaws.