News

Fairfax’s Bulova, F.C.’s Snyder Exchange Letters as F.C. Sets to Open Water Bids

2 Leaders Dispute Costs & Legality of Water System Sale

A rapid exchange of written correspondence between Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova and Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder has occurred this week, precipitated by Snyder’s dramatic open call before a live TV camera at last week’s F.C. City Council meeting that Bulova break Fairfax’s silence and discuss openly the future of the Falls Church water system.

2 Leaders Dispute Costs & Legality of Water System Sale

A rapid exchange of written correspondence between Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova and Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder has occurred this week, precipitated by Snyder’s dramatic open call before a live TV camera at last week’s F.C. City Council meeting that Bulova break Fairfax’s silence and discuss openly the future of the Falls Church water system.

Falls Church is preparing for a public meeting this Friday in the Council chambers of City Hall to open bids from parties interested in acquiring the expansive Falls Church system, which serves 120,000 customers in Fairfax County. A bid minimum of $44 million has set a baseline for the bidding, which, after written bids are opened, will take the form of active bidding on the spot. The process will begin at 10 a.m.

Bulova issued a letter by e-mail to Snyder and the Falls Church City Council Monday night, just as the Council was in a closed session to discuss its water system options. In it, she referenced the report in last week’s News-Press of Snyder’s challenge, and endorsed the position of the Fairfax Water Authority that the Falls Church system be merged with the county’s “to create one of the most robust water systems in the region, if not the country.”

But Bulova’s position, like that of the county’s water authority publicized earlier, made no mention of compensating Falls Church for such a merger. That aspect prompted Snyder’s swift response, e-mailed Tuesday to Bulova, and copied to Charles Murray, general manager of Fairfax Water, among others. It noted that “to date, Fairfax Water has not offered any value for the (Falls Church) City system.”

In an exclusive telephone interview with the News-Press yesterday, Bulova stated that any negotiated merger between the two water systems “will have to take into account what the county, through its taxpayers, has already invested in the Falls Church system,”

councilpicFALLS CHURCH City Council members heard Finance Officer Richard LaCondre (foreground) report last Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)She said that Fairfax Water Authority officials have attempted without success to meet with Falls Church officials about such matters. She said that county users of the Falls Church system have invested in it through the portion of their user rates that have been designated for maintenance and upgrades, and that all taxpayers have “paid” by way of the fees paid to the Falls Church system by developers as part of any new development process in the county.

In his letter, Snyder added that “the City has adopted the course we have because of the pendency of the Fairfax County ordinance that is due to go into effect on July 1, that would allow our rates to be arbitrarily set below our costs and prevent us from competing to obtain new customers.”

That ordinance, he wrote, “amounts to confiscation of the assets our citizens took the risk to build.”

Snyder concluded, “A very good outcome, in my view, would be for Fairfax Water to make the most competitive proposal and win the bidding process.”

Also contested in the letter exchange were apparently conflicting legal opinions provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on whether it could sell its water to a private “investor owned utility” (IOU) or not. The Corps and its Washington Aqueduct currently provide the water for the Falls Church system.

In her letter, Bulova cited the Corps’ chief legal council’s opinion of May 17 “concluding on behalf of the Corps that the Washington Aqueduct is not permitted to sell water to a non-governmental entity” under a 1947 law.

But Snyder disputed that, writing that the Corps counsel’s determination “has not been officially released. Importantly, the matter is under final review by the Office of the General Counsel for the Army.”

According to Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields, Falls Church had obtained a written confirmation from the Corps’ headquarters, drafted in memo form dated March 8 and not for general release, that the Corps could legally sell water to an IOU.

Contrary to allegations that the City moved ahead to solicit bids from IOUs without such assurances, Shields said that “written confirmation” from the Corps “had been obtained by us.”

In her letter to Snyder and members of the F.C. Council Monday, Bulova stated, “I believe a merger of the City’s system with Fairfax Water’s would not only lower rates for both your residents and ours, but if you sell to the ‘highest bidder,’ rates for all your customers very well may increase substantially.”

Bulova’s letter was in response to the public call by F.C. Vice Mayor David Snyder, reported in last week’s News-Press, that she make an offer to the City for its system. Snyder’s dramatic remarks became the lead headline in last week’s News-Press, and apparently did get the chairman’s attention.

The letter, addressed to Snyder and copied to the rest of the Council, was titled, “Re: Your reported direct appeal to me as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair to break the County’s refusal to negotiate in good faith on the future of the Falls Church system, while offering nothing but ‘confrontation, litigation and confiscation.'”

In his reply Tuesday, Snyder wrote to Bulova that by Fairfax’s bidding to acquire the Falls Church system, it would benefit from a “good buy,” he stated, “Because, according to our expert, to replicate our water infrastructure would require the expenditure of more than $300 million, while the City has set a minimum bid of $44 million.”