Legislative committee plans for General Assembly session, focuses on wastewater plant
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Dec 28, 2012, 15:36
photo by Caitlin Davis Herb Bragg, Jasmine Gore, Mark Haley, Roslyn Dance, Wayne Walton, Riley Ingram and Jackie Shornak setting priorities.
Hopewell’s Legislative Committee met on Dec. 18 to get its priorities in order before the next General Assembly session opens Jan. 9. For the meeting, local committee members were joined by Del. Riley Ingram, R-62, and Del. Roslyn Dance, D-63, Hopewell’s two representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates.
The top priority for the city is the $5 million included in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget for upgrades to the Hopewell Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility, or HRWTF. The funding will help the city’s wastewater plant construct a new nitrogen removal facility. The estimated cost of the entire upgrade to the plant comes in at approximately $75 million.
The wastewater plant is working to increase the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus it removes from the water to reduce nitrogen discharges into the James River.
Ingram said the biggest battle was getting funding for the project included in McDonnell’s budget. Now, the second battle is about to begin.
“We’re in good shape on this one,” Ingram said. “Now we’ve got to work hard to keep it in there.”
The day before the Hopewell legislative committee met, McDonnell released his proposed budget. In the Governor’s budget, $200 million is marked for water quality bond projects, including $5 million for improvements to Hopewell’s facility. The rest of the $200 million would divide into $59 million for sewer overflow projects in Richmond and Lynchburg, $35 million for urban storm water and $101 million to improve water quality throughout the state.
The HRWTF treats approximately 85 percent of the industrial waster from five major industries, in addition to domestic wastewater for Hopewell, a portion of Prince George County, Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex, Riverside Regional Jail and Fort Lee.
Mark Haley, HRWTF director, said at the meeting that while the price tag is high for the upgrade, the plant will be working on tests throughout the winter and into the spring to get the cost down.
“That is the goal, to see that number shrink,” Haley said. “We don’t know if that will happen yet.”
The next step for the HRWTF will begin early next year when Haley said he will begin a grant application process through the Water Quality Improvement Fund that could give the facility an additional $30 to $32 million.
“The challenge in that is that we’re at a 45 percent threshold for eligible costs,” Haley said.
The formula used to determine how much the city will receive divides the median household income by the average annual sewer charge.
“If we upped our sewer rates, we could get up to the sixtieth percentile,” Haley said. “The difference would be another $10 million in WQIF [water quality improvement funds].”
The decision to raise sewer rates will have to be made by Hopewell City Council. Haley said the rates have to be determined before he begins the grant application.
“When you apply, they ask, ‘What are your rates today?’” Haley said.
In terms of priorities for the city, securing the $5 million for the HRWTF ranks as number one.
“We support state funding in the amount of $5 million for the city’s Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility capital project for the purpose of constructing a new nitrogen removal facility to aid in compliance with Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and Nutrient General Permits from the established Federal Action Contingency Trust Fund,” states the priority of the legislative committee.
The second priority for the legislative committee also relates to the wastewater treatment facility. The priority states:
“We support continued funding of the Water Quality Improvement Fund in an effort to expand the plant’s facility and reduce nitrogen in our wastewater treatment process. In addition, we support this effort in regards to funding our $75 million capital improvement project.”
Dance said it is imperative to have the list of local priorities before the General Assembly convenes early next month.
“This is the reality of it,” Dance said. “When the governor introduces his budget and he has some good things that you like and some things that you don’t like. At the end of the day, when we get it as General Assembly members, then we listen to what you all have asked us to do, and what everybody has asked us to do.”
Dance noted that getting the $5 million for the wastewater facility in the budget was not a “cake walk” and that the process of getting those funds included in the budget started over two years ago.
“We just want to make sure you don’t want us to perform miracles,” Dance said. “We’re happy right now because it’s in there.”
Speaking after the meeting, Ingram said that he and Dance will work in the General Assembly to keep everything in the budget.
“We talked to the Governor, the Governor’s staff and we talked to the Secretary of Finance, Richard Brown, and they are all in sync and in support of what we’re doing,” Ingram said. “Del. Dance and myself, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure Hopewell is represented fairly and treated fairly.”
Mayor Christina Luman-Bailey said the city has been planning for that $5 million for quite some time.
“You’ve got to plant those seeds and look at the language ahead of time,” Luman-Bailey said. “Or it’s not going to happen. That $5 million would not be happening if that seed hadn’t been planted a year ago.”
Luman-Bailey said the most important seed that had to be planted was the language that was to be put into the bill.
“Modified language has to be put into certain bills so Hopewell will be in a position to get more help for the wastewater treatment facility upgrade,” she said. “It’s like everything has to fall into place. It’s like puzzle pieces. You can’t just look at one source and keep barking up that tree. You have to think ahead of time to what has to happen to the language and the bills.”
The Governor’s proposed budget amendments for fiscal year 2012-2014 are currently pending approval by the General Assembly.