By Linda Cicoira
Virginia American Water, a subsidiary of the New Jersey company American Water, will move forward with talks to possibly buy Cape Charles water and sewer operations, according to unanimous town council vote taken Thursday night.
It was made clear during the session that the move is a fact-gathering one for officials and the public and is part of a process that was started about 18 months ago when an unsolicited proposal was made by a private utility company. Officials did not say if Virginia American Water was that company or if it was the second company to show interest after an advertisement for proposals was made.
Town Manager John Hozey said a consultant was hired to help with the process but will not be paid from town coffers. So far, those funds, for which totals were not available, have come from the interested parties.
Hozey said both companies were interviewed by the town and appeared to be “solid legitimate providers.” Council members dispelled rumors that construction of a new town hall is the reason for considering the sale.
According to Virginia American Water’s website, the company serves about 350,000 people in Alexandria, Dale City, Hopewell, and the Northern Neck. “To ensure your water is of the highest quality, we strictly follow regulations that are set by local authorities as well as federal standards set by the … EPA,” the site stated.
At the public hearing that proceeded council’s vote, residents expressed concern about possible higher rates, pollution, and expansion.
Northampton Supervisor John Coker, who lives in Cape Charles, said the town is doing the right thing to have a professional group look at operations. However, he said it would be wrong to sell to a “for-profit organization” instead of using the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, which he said is helping other towns on the Eastern Shore at no cost.
It was later noted that HRSD does not assist water utilities.
A local engineer suggested the town outsource management while keeping the valuable sewage plant, which was obtained with a no-interest loan.
Hozey said he would be providing more information in the coming weeks. A new director will soon be taking over HRSD. Two town meetings will be held in February regarding the issue. One will be on a weekday and another on a weekend day “to capture people’s availability,” Hozey reported.