PSA Briefing: Still No Agreement with Cape Charles

Cape Charles Wave

June 22, 2015

When the county’s Public Service Authority meets in a joint work session with Northampton Board of Supervisors today, the story will be the same as the past two years: still no agreement with the Town of Cape Charles on rates and fees for sewer service in the vicinity of the Cape Charles traffic light.

The joint meeting starts at 5 p.m. (June 22), followed by a regular meeting of the PSA. The public may attend but not speak at the joint work session, but public statements will be allowed at the regular PSA meeting.

The PSA will report to the Board of Supervisors on the status of the engineering tasks and will provide an estimated cost for the project and a construction timeline. The PSA will also provide an overview of the negotiations with Cape Charles about wastewater treatments costs and hookup fees. No agreement has been reached, with a major sticking point being the hookup fee. The PSA doesn’t want to charge county customers a hookup fee, while the town argues that since new town customers have to pay the fee, so should county customers.

Discussion will also include a special tax district and whether service will be mandatory for customers in that district. Back in 2012 the county allocated 25 percent of estimated construction costs from the general budget. But would-be commercial customers balked at having to shoulder 75 percent of constructions costs, and the PSA has been urging the county to assume a larger share of costs. A bond issue would be backed by the county.

One of the drivers of the whole commercial sewer plan is the hope that Harmony Investments will build a hotel on property it owns on Route 13 in front of Kings Creek Landing. According to County Administrator and PSA Executive Director Katie Nunez, Harmony Investments already has a special use permit for a mass drain field there, so the hotel could be built with or without a sewer pipe to Cape Charles. Nunez told the Wave she is not aware of plans to move forward with building a hotel at this time. Harmony Investments also owns the Sunset Beach Inn and Grille near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.


Harmony Investments was one of the few property owners that answered “yes” to all the questions contained in the PSA’s July 2012 survey of commercial property owners to determine interest and willingness to pay for wastewater treatment. Of 64 property owners contacted, only 10 responded. Other mostly positive responders were Woodlee Terrace Development Company (owner of Food Lion Shopping Center), McDonalds, Crile Crisler (who owns two undeveloped parcels in the service area), and Charles Williams of Fairview Mobile Home Park. In 2010, Fairview residents circulated a petition asking not to be included in the wastewater proposal, citing it as too expensive and expressing a greater need for storm water management. Fairview has since been removed from the proposed service area.

Phil Richardson, who runs a tire store in Cheriton, has been an outspoken opponent of the plan from the beginning. He responded to the survey with one sentence: “Keep taxing the few businesses left in Northampton County, maybe they will all go to Accomack.” His response was counted as a “maybe.”


1999 — Accomack and Northampton counties jointly form the Eastern Shore of Virginia Public Service Authority to study and potentially construct regional wastewater systems.

2005 — Accomack County withdraws from the PSA. Northampton County reorganizes it and studies several projects. When construction of the final study is declined, the county turns over its two grant awards to the Town of Cape Charles for its wastewater plant upgrade. The PSA goes dormant.

2010 — Following a joint public hearing June 28, 2010, Cape Charles, Cheriton, Exmore, and Nassawadox and the Northampton County Board of Supervisors review and amend the PSA Articles of Incorporation, now focused on:

1) Sewer expansion for Exmore and sewer service for Nassawadox, including Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital and surrounding areas;

2) Sewer expansion for Cape Charles and sewer service for Cheriton and surrounding areas; and

3) Conveyance of the existing Exmore, Cape Charles, and Bayview sewer and water systems to the PSA.

The Exmore and environs project was named the Northern Node project and Cape Charles and environs became the Southern Node project.

The sewer expansion for Cape Charles moved forward and a new plant was completed in 2011 at a cost of $19 million. Cape Charles wastewater bills increased substantially. The estimated cost of expansion of Cape Charles service to Cheriton and surrounding rural areas was $11.9 million. No state or federal agencies were willing to provide grant funding to make that project feasible.

2011 — The Board of Supervisors formed an ad hoc Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee with the primary goal of creating an Economic Development Plan and secondarily to review the whole Comprehensive Plan that was being updated by the Planning Commission. Representing the PSA, then-Chairman Bob Panek briefed the CPAC in March 2012 about PSA plans for both the Northern and the Southern Nodes. At that time, the plans did not include a commercial service area. Panek expressed frustration with the unwillingness of rural residents to pay for wastewater services. Discussion moved to providing wastewater treatment for commercial property owners and ways to incentivize businesses to hook up. Bill Parr, chairman of the CPAC, noted that developers expect to pay for sewage disposal but don’t want to own the system. Parr said that providing sewer service to commercial users would provide an immediate favorable economic impact and would soon spur commercial development.

2013 — Plans for a commercial service area in the Southern Node move forward, but a September 2013 public hearing on a special tax district to fund it meets with overwhelming opposition. BOS Chairman Willie Randall says the plans will be put “on hold.” But the PSA, not under the direct control of the Board of Supervisors, carried on with the project, signing a contract with the engineering firm Hurt and Proffitt for surveying and engineering studies. The PSA also initiated negotiations with Cape Charles about the cost of providing services.

2014 — The BOS asks the PSA to consider using the closer wastewater facility at Bayview for the Southern Node project, and the PSA gives Hurt and Proffitt a no-bid contract to study that option. Concerns are raised about a perceived conflict of interest for Hurt and Proffitt since they would profit more from the longer sewer pipe to Cape Charles, but the study went forward. Hurt and Proffitt determined that Bayview could not be used without extensive upgrades. No plans have been made for improvement of the Bayview facility. The PSA continues to push the plan to use the Cape Charles Wastewater plant.



3 Responses to “PSA Briefing: Still No Agreement with Cape Charles”

  1. Deborah Bender on June 22nd, 2015 11:46 am

    The PSA is supposed to be a public service authority. In other words they are supposed to be looking out for the PUBLIC. In reality they are looking out for developers. We do not need to burden this county with more debt that will raise taxes on everyone. For that matter 3 out of 7 PSA members are now against the poop pipe.

    Bob Panek has driven the town of Cape Charles into debt and now he is raining his stupidity down on the whole county.

    Stop this insanity and send the PSA packing NOW.

  2. David Boyd on June 22nd, 2015 12:01 pm

    This whole PSA project has so many things wrong with it, it’s hard to know where to start the list:

    1) Conflict of interest:
    Bob Panek simultaneously serving as PSA chair and Cape Charles rep. Hurt and Profitt getting paid to design the Cape Charles pipe and also getting paid on a no-bid contract to determine if Bayview is more cost effective than Cape Charles. Katie Nunez serving both as County Administrator and Executive Director of the PSA.

    2) Flawed/biased assumptions in all their anaylses:
    They get a total of 5 positive responses to their survey and Bob Panek tells the Cape Charles Town Council a few weeks ago there were 58 people in favor of the project because he counts everyone who doesn’t respond as a positive response. Hurt and Profitt’s study claims Bayview can’t provide enough capacity because IF Bayview, the Southern node and Cape Charles were 100% built out there would not be enough capacity. Bob Panek saying we may need 750,000 gallon plant because when Cape Charles, Bay Creek, and the Southern node are all 100% built out it may take that much. Have ANY of these people looked at the population censuses since 1930? Or the number of vacant lots in Bay Creek or the Southern node. At the current rate, NONE of these areas will be built out in the next 50 years.

    Do we really need to sponsor corporate welfare for Food Lion and McDonald’s when we have failing schools and are about to lose our primary medical facilities? Does anyone really think what kind of sewer system you have makes that big a difference, when many of our fundamental services have already failed?

    This project will saddle us and our children with unneeded debt for the next 20 years. This project started as a way to keep the hospital in Northampton County, then was going to treat Cheriton’s sewer needs, and has now morphed into corporate welfare almost nobody wants, but we will be paying for it for the next 20 years.

    It’s time to end the PSA once and for all.

  3. Don Bender on June 22nd, 2015 1:27 pm

    Well said David and I thank you for all of your work regarding this absurd idea of Bob Panek’s which has been thought up as a way to fix his complete screw up on the overbuilt sewer plant.