By Ted Shockley
Is it a conflict of interest for people with a connection to Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital and its Board of Directors to advocate for a taxpayer-funded takeover of the still-functioning Nassawadox wastewater plant owned by the hospital?
The prickly proposal of running a wastewater line from Nassawadox and Exmore to connect with Onancock’s treatment plant continues to prompt questions from elected officials.
The Northampton County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to begin the initial steps of qualifying for Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s oversight with the wastewater line. But county didn’t commit to the project, and no money or property changed hands. It was a 4-1 vote, with Robert Duer of Exmore voting against.
“This does not obligate us to anything,” said Chairman Spencer Murray of the vote.
Duer openly wondered about the ethics of having hospital board members championing a project that would include a public buyout of the hospital’s Nassawadox sewer system, which still services several customers in the area.
“The system in Nassawadox is privately owned,” Duer said. “We’re going to take tax dollars and start to bail out privately owned sewer systems?”
“Where do we start that and where do we stop that?” Duer asked.
He also wanted to know if there was a “potential or perceived” conflict of interest with Riverside board members advocating using tax money to take on Riverside’s wastewater system.
“I think the public needs to know that, so the public can do due diligence,” Duer said.
“Well, the public can do its own investigation,” said Murray. “But I don’t know that there’s a conflict.”
Murray said Riverside cannot abandon its Nassawadox wastewater system but is receiving “tremendous pressure” from the state Department of Environmental Quality to upgrade the system.
Murray likened wastewater expansion to rural electrification, in which larger projects helped people afford a necessary service.
“It is the way we have grown the country,” Murray said.
“I think one of the better uses of tax dollars is to support those areas that can’t support themselves,” Murray said.
“Everything does not work regionally, but I believe wastewater treatment does work regionally.”