York Supervisors Accept Hybrid Regional Sewer Plan

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York Hall
York Hall

The York County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 Tuesday to enter into the hybrid sewer plan, a move that will hand off responsibility to Hampton Roads Sanitation District for fixing some of the most problematic sewage basins in the county.

The hybrid plan emerged in 2013 after localities did not support a study that determined HRSD should take control of all of the sewer systems in the region. By accepting the plan, York County has handed off the larger problems to HRSD while keeping control of day-to-day customer service and smaller problems in the sewage system. The state and federal governments have ordered Hampton Roads localities and HRSD to adopt a plan which prevents overflows, a phenomenon which occurs when rain gets into the sewer system through degrading pipes and manholes.

The supervisors had been skeptical of the hybrid plan during past discussions, as much of the ultimate fallout from it remains unknown. They blasted the plan at their Feb. 4 meeting, as a firm cost estimate from HRSD for accepting the plan was unavailable then. Supervisor Walt Zaremba — who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting — called the idea of voting on the plan without a cost estimate “insane.”

Since then, county staff produced an estimate of $53 million for not accepting the plan and $38 million for accepting the plan, with HRSD picking up about $26.5 million. York County is responsible for the remaining cost, which could be up to $12.2 million. A more firm cost estimate from HRSD will not be available until 2016.

“These things are going to cost us a lot of money one way or another,” Supervisor Thomas Shepperd said. He said he felt comfortable with the work done by county staff to estimate how much the plan would cost, though he noted county staff and the supervisors were “starved for facts.”

“We’re sitting here trying to divine the future, and the cost issue for us is probably the biggest concern,” Shepperd said. “We know that the repairs have to be done.”

Supervisor Sheila Noll was concerned about York County citizens paying for repairs in other localities. She said the repairs in other counties would cost York citizens more on their bills. Noll also noted the York sewer system is in “relatively good shape.”

HRSD General Manager Ted Henifin said the hybrid plan was the best course of action because any rate increases can be spread against all of the customers across 17 localities. Henifin said the cost is not firmly tied to the condition of a sewage system. He said the entire system is pressurized because of a lack of elevation in the area, meaning overflows can happen anywhere.

“What led us to this point is the belief that we could solve [the requirements from the state and federal governments] more cost effectively for the region,” Henifin said.

Supervisor George Hrichak said he was upset about the the cost estimate from HRSD not being available until 2016.

“To me, it’s not an ideal situation,” he said. “I’d like some of the details up front. In the long term, based on what I’m told and what I’ve read and what I’m hearing, [the hybrid plan] is going to be a better situation for the taxpayers and the maintenance of the system.”

Williamsburg City Council approved the hybrid plan Feb. 13. The James City County Board of Supervisors has yet to vote on the plan. They have expressed concern in the past about how much it would cost citizens. All Hampton Roads localities have until Feb. 28 to vote on the plan. If one decides not to participate, the entire plan could unravel, leaving York County on the line for the estimated $53 million in repairs.