Petersen Confirms Plan to Delay Anti-Fairfax Water Grab Measure

Fairfax area State Senator Chap Peterson confirmed to the News-Press yesterday that his earlier plans to introduce a bill in the state legislature this month to block last month’s “water grab” action by Fairfax County have been revised.

Peterson said that he’d talked to the attorneys representing the Town of Vienna and City of Fairfax – both jurisdictions in his senate district – “and we’re all of the same mind.”

The new plan is to delay a legislative remedy until the matter is played out in the courts. “(We should) see how the litigation on the new (Fairfax) ordinance plays out. If we lose, then we may need to amend the law. There’s no point in filing legislation if the law currently supports us, and makes the county’s conduct illegal.”

State Sen. Dick Saslaw first revealed the new approach at a town hall meeting in Falls Church last weekend. Saslaw told the town hall that he knows personally the attorneys for both the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County, and mused that it would be best if the two parties could sit down and talk out a mutually-acceptable outcome.

But Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields was in the room, and he explained that repeated overtures from Falls Church to work things out with the county have fallen on deaf ears. If nothing else, the county with its million residents has legal fire power massively superior to Falls Church, with its 12,300 residents.

State Del. Jim Scott, who was also at the town hall, concurred that Fairfax County has been unresponsive to attempts to talk through the matter.

“Frankly, I can see both sides of this issue,” Saslaw said. When he asked Shields the differential in rates between what the county charges its residents for its water, and what Falls Church charges county residents for water, Saslaw did some instant math and said the difference comes to about $10 a month for an average household.

“That’s about the cost of lunch at McDonald’s,” he quipped.

The ordinance passed by the Fairfax Board of Supervisors last month, and currently in effect until the final outcome of litigation or eventual legislation prevents it, mandates that all new water hook ups in the county, residential and commercial, be with the county’s water system.

This is despite the fact that the Falls Church Water System, now serving over 100,000 customers in the county, has an extensive 497-mile network of pipes and pumping stations over a 33-square mile area, mostly in the county.

All new water hook ups would require the laying of new county system-owned pipes over the top of the Falls Church ones, and the costs would be passed onto county customers.
At least one major county commercial user based in Tysons Corner, the Lerner Group that built the Tysons 2 shopping center, came before the Fairfax County Board to express strong opposition to the Fairfax ordinance, claiming that it would have considerable, harmful economic effects.

He said his company worked under earlier terms of an informal agreement between the county and Falls Church to hook up 12 inch pipes to the Falls Church system, and that to move ahead with new development would require undoing all of that and incurring the considerable costs of aligning with the Fairfax system, instead.

The second component of the new Fairfax ordinance establishes a method for Fairfax County to have oversight over the rates charged Fairfax customers by Falls Church, Vienna or Fairfax City water systems. If they’re deemed too high, an oversight board can recommend to the County Board that they be ordered down.

That new mechanism is slated to go into effect on July 1.