COMMENTARY: Time to Disband the PSA
By DAVID BOYD
January 19, 2015
It is time to disband the PSA.
Originally the PSA (Public Service Authority) was tasked with developing a plan to construct a sewer which would serve Riverside Hospital in Nassawadox, in hopes of keeping that facility in Northampton County. When it became obvious we were going to lose the hospital, the PSA lost its primary purpose. At that point, Northampton County and four towns — Cape Charles, Cheriton, Nassawadox, and Exmore — revamped the PSA to handle wastewater issues in those towns and the surrounding County. The PSA would build or take over in-place wastewater treatment facilities and manage the operations and maintenance of them.
Of interest in this regard is the fact that Eastville, the County seat of Northampton County, chose not to join the PSA. Then the citizens of Cheriton found out what the monthly fee would be to treat their wastewater and they asked to be removed from the plan. Nassawadox and Exmore are no longer included in the plan in its present format either. So, this appears to have evolved into a plan to construct a pipeline to help bail Cape Charles out from its boondoggle of an overdesigned sewer plant, at the expense of Northampton County taxpayers.
The perpetrators of the PSA plan. however, claim the purpose is to attract business along Route 13, which contradicts the intent of the County Comprehensive Plan.
Since then, the PSA has spent more than $130,000 in grants and tax money with nothing to show for it. On September 16, 2013, the PSA held an informational meeting about a proposed tax district to pay for sewerage for commercial properties. At that meeting, more than 90 percent of the speakers said that they did not want a sewer pipe from Route 13 to the Cape Charles wastewater plant, or the related tax district. Immediately following those comments, the PSA voted to spend $70,000 for engineering plans for a pipe to the Cape Charles plant. Someone was not listening.
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Cape Charles originally designed its plant for 500,000 gallons/day with Bay Creek to pay for a substantial portion of it. When it became clear Bay Creek was not going to be anywhere near built out, and they refused to pay for any of the plant, the Town of Cape Charles nominally scaled back the “official” capacity of the plant to 250,000 gallons, while leaving it readily upgradable back to 500,000 gallons and costing nearly as much as a 500,000 gallon plant. And of course the sewage bills paid by Cape Charles residents have increased greatly due to this over-designed plant.
Exmore has had its share of troubles with its sewer plant, as has Onancock.
The population of Northampton County has declined from 18,000 in 1930 to 12,000 at present. Less people means less sewage load. EPA studies conducted for local creeks show twice as many fecal coliform bacteria coming from wildlife as from people. The EPA has repeatedly stated that septic systems are very effective in treating sewage in rural areas, and are far more cost effective than central sewers in areas of low population density.
There are a number of much more pressing issues in Northampton County than a sewer system. We could really use an emergency care facility when the hospital leaves in a couple of years. Our school system is badly in need of new or updated physical facilities, as well as better salaries to retain good teachers. Let’s spend our hard-earned taxpayer dollars where they are really needed.
On September 23, 2013, the County held a public hearing about the proposed tax district at which the majority of public comments opposed the pipe plan. The Board of Supervisors voted to table the project. But the PSA pressed on with the engineering and plans to pipe commercial sewerage to Cape Charles. Someone is not listening.
The people of Northampton County want clean water. They want livable communities. They want their tax monies spent wisely. They want an economy that does not destroy the rural character of the Shore. They want their elected and appointed officials and public servants to listen to them.
The PSA is not listening to the people. Its goal seems to be to serve the interests of developers. It is time to disband the PSA, which has been hijacked by special interests, and find local ways to meet the water and wastewater needs of Northampton County citizens in a cost-effective manner.
Submissions to COMMENTARY are welcome on any subject relevant to the Cape Charles area.