PSA Sewer Meeting: Hot Time in Cheriton Fire Hall

PSA Chairman Bob Panek, who also is assistant town manager for Cape Charles, spoke to a crowd of 100 at Monday night's meeting. (Wave photo)

PSA Chairman Bob Panek, who also is assistant town manager for Cape Charles, spoke to a crowd of 100 at Monday night’s meeting. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

September 17, 2013

Nearly 100 people turned out Monday night to hear and question plans by the Eastern Shore Public Service Authority to pipe sewage from commercial properties near Route 13 to the Cape Charles treatment plant.

PSA Chairman Bob Panek, who also is assistant town manager for Cape Charles, found himself in hostile territory: not a single speaker during the meeting supported the sewer expansion. The reason was clear: cost – initially $1.8 million, which could balloon to $12 million in a later phase encompassing Cheriton and surrounding areas.

The PSA is recommending mandatory sewer service for 70 commercial properties with a total tax value of $18 million. The project would cost $1.8 million, or 10 percent of the total value of the properties. The $1.8 million would be borrowed with an annual debt service of $124,000 for 20 years.

Northampton County Board of Supervisors has already voted to pay 25 percent of the debt service from the County’s general fund, meaning that all county taxpayers will pay a share. The remaining 75 percent would come from a special tax district encompassing the 70 commercial properties, where property taxes will nearly double.

Panek said the PSA is acting on the basis of a July 2012 survey of the 64 commercial property owners affected. There were only 10 responses to the survey: 5 “yes,” 4 “maybe,” and 1 “no.” Panek said that although survey response was “thin,” those who responded “positively” (meaning “yes” or “maybe”) own about a third of the total assessed $18 million.

Of the 70 parcels included in the special tax district, most are vacant, meaning they presently have no need for sewage treatment. The two big users are McDonald’s and Hardee’s, Panek said.

Public Service Authority

Public Service Authority members at the meeting had their backs to the wall, literally and figuratively. From left: J.T. Holland, Garrett Dunham, Taylor Dukes, Chairman Bob Panek, Carl Harris, Sean Ingram, John Reiter. (Wave photo)

Questions and answers at the meeting included the following (names of speakers appear when known):


Question (Deborah Bender): Isn’t it correct that you (Bob Panek) have caused the Town of Cape Charles a $289,000 yearly debt, and now you’re getting the County in debt?
Panek: No, you’re wrong. [Cape Charles] Town Council made that decision.

Question (David Gay): If you build it and customers don’t come, who pays the cost?
Panek: Taxes pay for it.

Question from several speakers: Why can’t we vote on this in a referendum?
Panek: You’ll have to ask the County [Board of Supervisors].

Question: You said that it takes 5,000 users to obtain “reasonable” sewer rates. If Cheriton signs up, how close would we be to 5,000?
Panek: Not close at all.

Question: Who asked for a sewer system?
Panek: It is a top priority of the Board of Supervisors.

Question: The survey was 5 yes, 4 maybe, and 1 no. You’re going to tell me I’m the only one who voted no? And us 69 property owners have to pay 75 percent of the cost? Where did they come up with that?
Panek: I can’t answer that.

Question: Has Cape Charles Town Council accepted [receiving sewage from the County]?
Panek: Yes

Question (Andy Buchholz): Verbally.
Panek: You’re wrong. It was in writing.

Question: The northern part of the county is taking a $40 million hit [with the loss of Riverside Hospital]. Wouldn’t it be better to switch phases [to develop sewerage there first]?
Panek: We talked with Riverside Hospital, but they have put off all decisions on what to do with their remaining campus in Nassawadox.

Someone annotated the PSA chart showing the proposed special tax district in red. (Wave photo)

Someone annotated the PSA chart showing the proposed special tax district in red. (Wave photo)

Question (Eyre Baldwin): How many businesses would go away if you didn’t have a [sewer] pipe? None. So why are we taking care of Food Lion and McDonald’s? Have you done a rate structure?
Panek: No.

Question (Eyre Baldwin): So we still don’t know our [monthly] payments. It’s like trying to buy a car without knowing the payment.
Panek: The Board of Supervisors will not vote [on sewer plans] until the rate structure is known.

Question (Eyre Baldwin): When will the rate become available? Why are the Supervisors moving forward with engineering?
Panek: $95,000 is budgeted for a contract to update engineering work.

Question (Deborah Bender): The [Cape Charles] September 5 work session was cancelled until after the public hearing. Are you negotiating with yourself?
Panek: I’ll take that as a comment, not a question.

Question (Joe Brown): If we haven’t attracted industry in 40 years, what makes you think we will today?
(No response)

Question: The oyster shucking houses are all gone, etc. Where is the economic development coming from? It ain’t here!
(No response)

Question: That’s an awful lot of red [commercial properties] along Route 13. I thought the highway department said for many years to [be careful about] 13 development, because it could cause a bypass to be built.
(No response_

Question: What is an “affordable” monthly sewer rate?
Panek: 1.5 percent of median household income, or $45/month.

Question: The 500,000 gpd sewer plant was cut back to 250,000 gpd because Bay Creek would not pay for expansion, and Bayshore Concrete is on a septic system. Why is the Town [agreeing to] taking other sewage, and not Bayshore?
Panek: Because of the annexation agreement.

Question: I own two properties and never received a survey. If I had I would have responded. Amend the results to make a second “No.” And who are the property owners that responded. Isn’t that a matter of public record?
Panek: Absolutely. We’ll do that [make the information available].

Question (Andy Buchholz): How many [sewer] connections can we have at the maximum? Will [County expansion] limit houses in Cape Charles?

Question (Lisa Harmon): Will Bay Creek kick in money for expansion?
Panek: We’ll have to have that discussion with Bay Creek.

Question (Lisa Harmon): Does having more customers [outside Town limits] do away with the annexation agreement [with Bay Creek]?
Panek: The agreement is unclear.

Question: Why is the smell so bad?
Panek: The problem is the pumping station vacuum system. With the lack of development in Bay Creek, the sewage stays in the pipe such a long time that it goes septic.

Mike Stillman asks a pointed question. (Wave photo)

Mike Steelman asks a pointed question. (Wave photo)

Question: Do we [affected commercial property owners] have to pay both [the 25 percent and the 75 percent] taxes?
Panek: Yes.

Question: So what you’re saying is, you built a multi-million-dollar system and now you want us to pay for it?

Question (David Steelman): That map is not in red, it’s in blood.

Question (Mike Steelman): Raise your hands if you’re for this. [No one, including Panek, raised his hand.] We need to send a message to the Board of Supervisors and the PSA that the technology is good, but they need to construct a model that will not put an undue burden on property owners.

Question (Bruce Evans): The PSA has no power to decide this. You need to go raise hell with the Board of Supervisors next week at the public hearing.

Question (Philip Morris): Why is the water coming out in the harbor brown?
Panek: I’ll address that after the meeting. It has been in the [Town] Gazette.



6 Responses to “PSA Sewer Meeting: Hot Time in Cheriton Fire Hall”

  1. David Boyd on September 17th, 2013 9:28 am

    Good, accurate reporting. Thanks for keeping us informed.

  2. Kearn Schemm on September 17th, 2013 9:48 am

    One heck of an article. I forgot to go last night, but it looks like all the bases were covered. Those who can make it should “raise hell” with the Board of Supervisors next week at the public hearing.

  3. Marie Frocke on September 17th, 2013 3:30 pm

    After reading all the posted questions and the responses that Bob Panek did respond to, any intelligent citizen will come to the unequivocal conclusion that Bob Panek and the Northampton Board of Supervisors have no idea of the colossal ramifications that the proposed sewer expansion will have on property owners. The additional taxes proposed on commercial properties will discourage new businesses and possibly will force established businesses to move or shut down.

  4. Deborah Bender on September 18th, 2013 9:42 am

    I would like to thank all of the residents of Northampton County who attended the meeting on Monday night in Cheriton. It was great to see so many people come together for the greater good of Cheriton, Cape Charles, and the newly created “special tax district.” It was clear from Bob Panek’s inability to answer the many questions that this proposed southern node project has not been properly thought through and will hurt the small business people in Cape Charles and Cheriton. I thought it odd that Mayor Joe Habel’s “90%” did not show up. I personally feel that Mayor Sullivan, IF she wants to represent and listen to the people instead of only special interest groups, should attend these types of meetings as well.

    During the meeting Bob Panek stated that the Cape Charles Town Council is behind this sewer pipe project and people should talk to them about this issue. To that end I would like to encourage people to come to the Cape Charles Town Council meeting this Thursday, September 19, at 6 p.m. at the firehouse in Cape Charles, and bring your concerns and comments to the mayor and Town Council. Be sure and come a few minutes early to sign up to speak. If you do plan on speaking, type up your comments and give them to the clerk after you speak so that all of what you say is included in the minutes of the meeting.

    There is also a Public Hearing at the Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, September 23, at 7 p.m. in the County board room in Eastville.

    We have got to keep this fight alive if we want to succeed in keeping the “PIPE” from destroying Cape Charles, Cheriton, and all of the small businesses in the newly created “Special Tax District.”

    Again please let me say thank you to all of the people who were there this past Monday night. YOU ROCK!

  5. Donna Bozza on September 18th, 2013 9:29 pm

    The format of this article with direct quotes was very helpful Thank you. The NORTHAMPTON COUNTY SUPERVISORS are the ones who need to see and hear the strong opposition to this project. Even if Cape Charles says no, the PSA has already stated that the County can hook up to the system on County-owned property in Eastville. Cape Charles Supervisor Mr. Randall is all for this project. Remember — there is an election this November for his seat. He won’t be getting my vote.

  6. Irene Morris on October 9th, 2013 6:23 pm

    After reading the Eastern Shore News article, I realized that Northampton County Chairman Randall is absolutely correct. The Board of Supervisors has absolutely no control over the entity the Board created. PSA totally disregarded Supervisor Hubbard’s comment (8-26-2013 meeting), “I must have in place an acceptable, long term fixed rate cost for treatment of waste water to be used by the project.”

    Surely, PSA was aware of the comment as the Executive Secretary was present to hear the comment and the Secretary responded by saying, “Detailed information would be available through engineering services although the PSA has not executed an engineering contract at this time.”

    PSA executed a $70,000 engineering contract on 9/16/2013.

    It is possible the Board of Supervisors could approve the tax district at their next meeting without another hearing. There is a need to get a WRITTEN or RESPONSE IN PUBLIC FORUM of their intentions. This fact needs to be exposed to the public. Although the WAVE deals with Cape Charles issues, Cape Charles is part of the County and it appears Cape Charles residents will contribute to the sewer construction project.

    This is just one of several poorly thought-out decisions by Board and staff. Is it not time for whoever made these decisions to be held accountable?