County Halts Support of PSA Highway Sewer Project

County Board Room was nearly full Monday night; "usually only about five people show up," observed Supervisor Larry LeMond. (Wave photo)

County Board Room was nearly full for Monday night’s public hearing. “Usually only about five people show up for County meetings,” observed Supervisor Larry LeMond. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

September 24, 2013

After hearing an hour of public opposition Monday night to creating a special sewer tax district, Northampton County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to table the issue. “We heard you, we listened, there will be no action on this plan until we get a better understanding of what to do,” announced BOS Chairman Willie Randall.

Some 20 speakers addressed the Supervisors, only one of whom was in favor of the plan to tax and charge commercial property owners to pipe sewage to the Cape Charles treatment plant.

Randall also had a message for persons unhappy with Public Service Authority Chairman Bob Panek, who masterminded the sewer scheme. “The Board of Supervisors does not appoint town representatives to the PSA,” Randall clarified. “Folks not happy need to talk to their town council.”

Randall also stressed that the PSA is “an independent body – the only power we have over the PSA is funding, and they’re not going to be funded.”

Randall seemed unaware that the Board of Supervisors had already funded the PSA to the tune of $130,000. Informed of this by a reporter, he insisted that the money had come from a grant, not from the County budget. But when a reporter from the Eastern Shore News repeated the question, he turned to County Administrator Katie Nunez and asked, “That was grant money, right?”

“No,” Nunez responded – “that’s County money.”

As the Wave reported earlier, PSA members voted unanimously September 16 to approve a $70,000 contract with the engineering firm Hurt & Proffitt to begin surveying the sewer project. A Hurt & Proffitt survey team has been observed working in the vicinity this past week.

Among the speakers at the public hearing in Eastville was the new CEO for A&N Electric Cooperative Dodd Obenshain, who complained that two of the 68 properties included in the proposed special tax district belong to ANEC and are used for substations. “We have no need for water or sewer for a substation,” Obenshain said, requesting that the ANEC properties be exempted from the special district to avoid paying a higher tax.




Eyre Baldwin remarked that it was “interesting that A&N had to come here tonight to tell you what the PSA didn’t know.” Baldwin also raised the oft-repeated conflict of interest issue regarding Bob Panek, who in addition to serving as PSA chairman is also the lead official for water and sewer affairs in Cape Charles. “Perception is key,” Baldwin said – “if it’s not an illegal conflict of interest, it’s a moral issue.”

Cape Charles Business Association President George Proto said he “has yet to hear a single business owner in Cape Charles support the [sewer tax district] idea – or a business owner outside the town either.” Proto noted that the Wave had published his letter to Cape Charles Mayor Dora Sullivan, which may be read by clicking here.



The sole speaker in favor of the tax district was Katherine Campbell, who identified herself as “a weekend resident of Machipongo.” As a real estate agent, Campbell said she was representing a commercial property owner in King’s Creek Landing who favored the sewer project as a possible way to attract an urgent care facility to locate on his property. “Getting the facility is a tall order, but we can’t get it without sewer,” Campbell said.

But an adjoining Tower Hill resident, David Boyd, reported “huge opposition” both in his subdivision and in King’s Creek Landing. Boyd said he had gone door-to-door with a petition against the sewer pipe, and “every person signed it without hesitation.”

Deborah Bender presented the Board of Supervisors with 26 pages containing 266 signatures of persons calling on the BOS to halt the sewer plans. “Take the money away from the pipe and give it to the schools,” she said. She also noted that Chairman Panek had stated that the sewer system needed 5,000 customers in order to provide an affordable rate. “The entire county population is what, 11,000?” she asked.

Granville Hogg, who is running against Supervisor Randall this November, noted that no member of the BOS or PSA “will experience a tax increase.” He also referred to questions raised at the information meeting the previous Monday that were not answered. “You have kicked this sleeping dog,” he said – just look around you this evening.”



Cape Charles Marine owner Phil Morris, whose property would be affected, asked, “Why should the County bail out Cape Charles – they spend money like crazy.” Morris also wondered why there was a need for a sewer now, when “a hell of a lot less people live here now than when we came here in 1984.”

Phil Richardson, also an affected property owner, kept his message short: “How do you expect us to generate the taxes for this?”

Mary Miller was concerned about “how and why the [proposed] special tax district was created – many small business owners are included who cannot pay it,” she said. She added that a “23-acre parcel [in the proposed tax district] is owned by the County’s number-one tax delinquent.” [According to County records, the largest delinquent tax is owed by Landmark Holdings, aka Tavi.]

Bob Myers of Exmore said the project would “incur PSA debt that every property owner will have to pay for the benefit of very few property owners who said “Yes” to the survey. [Myers submitted his statement to the Wave, which may be read by clicking here.]

Frank Wendell asked why a public hearing was being held when there was no information about the sewer rate. “And why is the PSA doing engineering studies if there hasn’t been a deal? How business friendly is it to double the taxes on small business?” Wendell noted that a survey of property owners had returned 5 “yes” and 4 “maybe,” which was taken as a positive response. “How is ‘maybe’ viewed as positive? It could just as well be negative,” he said.

Garrison Brown of Eastville said he owns two of the 68 properties “targeted by the PSA” and noted that “some of the properties are so small they could never benefit [from commercial development].”

Mike Steelman found it “odd that the PSA narrowed its search to the southern end of the county.” He said the County’s letter to property owners should have read: “Cape Charles is having trouble funding its wastewater plant.”

Roger Burn held up a copy of the proposed tax district map, which he said “reeks of strip development.” “Most businesses that locate [on the highway] will replace existing business,” he said.

Craig Richardson, reading a letter from his father, Robert Richardson, said that “a porta-potty at the Cape Charles light would accommodate all the people supporting this sewer project.”

Sean Ingram, who is a PSA member, said that “none of the PSA members mean any harm – we believe we should heed public opinion.” Ingram said he would welcome further public comment, noting that “I’m not hard to find.”

Dan Burke, a member of the Cape Charles Planning Commission, said that when the Town Commission met with the County Planning Commission, “they were totally unaware of PSA plans.” Burke also said it was “morally wrong” for a paid employee of Cape Charles to be on the PSA. “It’s unfair to the citizens of Northampton County,” he said.

A letter was read from Jenny Switzer, co-owner of T&W Block in Onley, objecting to the proposal as “not adequately thought-out” and would “cause undue hardship to small business owners such as T&W Block.”

Following public comments, the Supervisors made brief remarks. Larry LeMond said “I agree with you – 75 percent is too much for small business owners to pay. But some way, somehow, we’ve got to provide wastewater infrastructure. How we do it is the question.”

Rick Hubbard said that “a lot of facts and figures going around are not correct. We need better information. . . . If Cape Charles [sewer plant] is not a viable option, work for another option.”

Larry Trala said he agreed with other Supervisors, but “Northampton County has a reputation of doing nothing. Nobody wants to come to Northampton County because there are no jobs and no people.”

Oliver Bennett said that “as a teacher I see students graduate and I want to have employment for them. We must continue to look for ways to create employment.”

Willie Randall concluded with remarks reported at the beginning of this story.



3 Responses to “County Halts Support of PSA Highway Sewer Project”

  1. Deborah Bender on September 24th, 2013 7:12 am

    I thought the meeting was excellent. Every speaker identified their concerns. It was a large crowd of people and everybody respected each other. The Board of Supervisors all felt that a better plan must be made that will help, not hurt, the small businesses involved. People from Cape Charles were told to talk to our Town Council about removing Bob Panek. We will do just that.

    Now if only our Town Council could show respect to the public commenters the way the Board of Supervisors do. Maybe a few of our council members could attend a few BOS meetings to learn how to take comments and criticism and actually LISTEN TO THE PUBLIC.

    Hats of to all of the people that attended the meeting. Everyone of you ROCK!

  2. Gordon Campbell on September 24th, 2013 12:46 pm

    So, I am guessing that $70,000 of taxpayer money has been wasted. While the PSA might have the legal authority to start the survey work you would think that they would use common sense and hold off on spending any taxpayer money until the BOS and Town Council has made final decisions on the project.

    We should all demand an accounting from the BOS and PSA as to why that contract was awarded prior to the approval of the project.

  3. David Gay on September 24th, 2013 3:30 pm

    Another question is what happened to the balance of the $130,000 that the county gave the PSA? Has the $60,000 already been spent? If so, for what? If not it should be returned to the taxpayers!