Should we build the desalination plant in James City County? It could be the right move for the county, but we have a deadline approaching in a few short years with Newport News that could create haste in our decision making process. Questions are starting to surface regarding impacts of a desalination plant and I am sure more will come. More than ever, James City County needs a strong negotiating position with the water authority in Newport News.
When the board of Supervisors voted 8 years ago to pay Newport News $25,000,000, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The 25 million payment was only buying James City county an option to purchase water via infrastructure we have not built. And the clock is ticking on an extension to this right to purchase. Newport News Waterworks (NNWW) expects $25 million or more in 2019, just to continue to have the right to purchase. Let’s ask the BOS to examine that timeframe. Let’s ask the BOS to negotiate the repurchase figure down. Let’s look for ways to have Newport News recognize officially and financially we are going to be purchasing water from our own resources.
The Board of Supervisors (BOS) has a very tough job to do. If we pay Newport News again, it cements a decision of 8 years ago, that may not have been the best course. If the BOS leaves NNWW behind as an option, it may lose the previous 25 million behind as a lost investment. But we should not continue down a wrong path, just because we paid a toll to start the journey. Either way the decision is tough. The BOS needs our support and they need us to be informed.
The curious thing is Newport News does not have a lot of water. It has several reservoirs, but most of the substantial ones are outside the city. Little Creek Dam Reservoir is in James City County and is massive. Skiffes Creek Reservoir is in James City. Another is in New Kent, again massive. Another in Charles City County, again massive. A few are in Newport News, but they are very small.
I am confused why we are paying NNWW for the right to buy water, that in large part, comes from our county. This must be why our BOS is looking to the desalination plant as an alternative. My sense is that NNWW has a pattern of bullying less populated counties to preserve the huge need it has for water. I think all of that water is pipelined down to Newport News right through our county. That could be a weakness in their negotiating position.
Maybe the situation requires a hard look at the ownership of these water assets and the land around them. Are these truly deeded to the City of Newport News? Does James City County have opportunity to renegotiate permits and leases, rezone these areas with easements for access? Does James City County have taxing authority over them? We need to battle back, especially with our own geography.
I think exploring the desalination plant is an excellent maneuver to negotiate lower rates for the purchase of water from Newport News, and it may end up being the real solution to our problem. But the BOS needs to learn more about the impacts of a desalination plant and also enter a posture of strong negotiations with the water authorities in Newport News. Let’s support and applaud our Board of Supervisors. This is not an issue they created, yet they are trying to solve it for all of us. Newport News may be large, but it lacks natural resources it needs to supply water to the city. That is a weakness we need to take advantage of in this process.
Bobby Jankovic, Broker/Owner
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