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Much of the neighborhood at Carver Gardens, a small community in Upper York County, has experienced spots of flooding over the last 10 years.
It is not uncommon to see water leaks and small puddles in the streets and yards, said Montgoussaint Jons, the president of the Carver Gardens Civic Association and a member of the York County Planning Commission.
The leaks are coming from aging pipes owned by a man who cannot afford to upgrade the water system and is in debt to the county for more than $90,000.
Jons, a Carver Gardens resident since 1984, has brought the failing water system to the attention of the York County Board of Supervisors, who want to make the replacement of the pipes a priority.
Jons said he has periodically seen water creeping up from the ground and going underneath the houses — always in the same spots — on his daily walks around the neighborhood.
His neighbors on Drew Road have had pipes break, causing damage to driveways, which must then be repaved. Because of the constant flooding, mold and mildew are also a concern, Jons said.
The 210-home neighborhood, located off Merrimac Trail near the Route 199 interchange, is nearly 70 years old — and so are its water pipes.
The aging cast iron pipes are 2 inches in diameter and are severely rusted and decayed, resulting in lower water pressure for many of the residents.
“People have lost hope,” Jons said, explaining Carver Gardens residents have gotten used to the quality of water. “The neighbors said it’s always been a problem.”
The private water system, which covers about half of Carver Gardens, is run by Larry Lamb, who owns York Public Utilities Inc., otherwise known as Mountain Lakes Water Company, in Stanardsville.
The other half of the neighborhood gets its water from Aqua Virginia, another private water system who also provides water to the nearby neighborhood of Queens Lake.
Because the neighborhood was built in the 1950s when not many other buildings existed around that area, the public water system could not reach it, resulting in a private water system having to be installed.
Jons and the other Carver Gardens residents pay a flat rate of $38.50 per month for their water — a rate that increased by $10 in January.
“My thinking was, he’s going to take care of the water situation,” he said of Lamb. “I was expecting an improvement [in the quality of the water after the rate increase,] and I didn’t see it, so that struck a chord,” Jons said.
He began digging into the company, speaking with Lamb and comparing his monthly bill with his neighbors who get their water from Aqua Virginia, which charges based on the amount of water used each month.
York County attorney Jim Barnett said Lamb, who pays the county to distribute the water from Newport News Waterworks, began falling into debt about three or four years ago.
York County charges 10 percent interest for late payments and other delinquencies, and Lamb is now more than $90,000 in debt to the county, Barnett said.
In 2012, the county filed a court order against Lamb, saying if he fell behind in payments, the county could take over the water system.
“His debt to the county keeps mounting,” Barnett said at an April 14 Board of Supervisors meeting after Supervisor Walt Zaremba brought the issue to his fellow supervisors’ attention after Jons approached him.
On April 9, Jons wrote a letter to the State Corporation Commission asking the agency to address the failing water system.
“Our aim is to make sure your department is aware of the challenging conditions my community is facing,” he wrote. “It is reasonable to assume that if this situation is not addressed in a timely manner, our community will be faced with potential health risks and a serious threat to our overall quality of life.”
Barnett said Lamb was looking to “get out of” owning the private water system and wanted to the county to take over Mountain Lakes.
Brian Woodward, the county’s acting director for environmental services, said a project to take over and upgrade the water system has been laid out in the county’s strategic capital plan for water, wastewater and stormwater, but no funding has been proposed and no date for the takeover has been set.
“It’s on the priority list, but it’s down on the priority list,” Interim County Administrator Mark Carter said at the Board of Supervisors meeting.
The estimated cost to upgrade the failing system is $2.5 million, Woodward said.
If the county decides to take the system over, upgrade it and connect it to Newport News Waterworks, it would have to charge Carver Gardens residents about $3,500 in connection fees.
Barnett said another option is to “work out a deal” with Lamb and examine the rates York County implements for him to purchase water from Newport News Waterworks.
He said county staff will put together a comprehensive list of options for the Board of Supervisors, who will decide whether and when they would like to act.
“The bottom line is, people up there need water,” Chairman Tom Shepperd said. “We can’t mess with this guy anymore and his company. Let’s fix this problem.”
In the meantime, many Carver Gardens homes will soon be getting a makeover thanks to more than $900,000 in funding in the form of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Housing Partnerships, a locally funded nonprofit that helps repair houses for low-income families, will be helping to renovate some of the houses in several stages while also completely rebuilding three homes.
Contractors will start on the oldest houses first, working to upgrade heating, plumbing and electrical systems in the homes as well as install windows and repair roofs.