March 4, 2009 â€“ Equipped with petitions and clipboards, Fluvanna citizens are canvassing the County to collect 1800 signatures ahead of a March 18 Board of Supervisors public hearing. At the hearing, supervisors are expected to approve creation of a James River joint water authority with Louisa County.
The petition asks that the following question be placed on the ballot: “Shall Fluvanna County join Louisa County in the formation of a joint Water Authority?” Citizens backing the petition hope to present enough signatures from Fluvanna voters to halt the Board’s decision and put the water authority before voters.
“We’re not taking a stand on the water authority one way or the other,” says Doug Johnson, who is spokesperson for the petition drive. “We just want an open airing of the issues. County officials have not given citizens sufficient time and facts to understand all the pros and cons or to provide informed feedback at the public hearing.”
The petition drive was launched when a few concerned citizens met together. “The subject of the meeting was the pipeline, and as we all discussed the issues and realized how overpowering the questions were, we decided we had to do something before it was too late,” says Johnson.
Both Fluvanna and Louisa officials want the joint water authority to promote economic development at Zion Crossroads. Fluvanna also hopes to ease water supply problems in Fork Union and at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. “It may be good for Louisa. It may be good for businesses and the prison. But are the joint authority and the pipeline really good for the majority of Fluvanna taxpayers who will never directly benefit and probably won’t ever get paid back for subsidizing this venture? That’s our question,” says Johnson.
Leroy McCampbell (589-1599), who is distributing blank petitions and collecting the signed petitions, says there are too many unknowns about the joint water authority. “March 18 will be citizens’ only opportunity to speak out on this issue, yet there are so many critical, unanswered questions. It was just a month ago that the counties formally agreed to this and only a week ago that we learned the date of the public hearing. This whole thing is being rushed to the detriment of citizen information and input.”
Johnson says the community information meetings last spring focused on the nuts and bolts of the pipeline, not the joint authority. “Since then, Fluvanna citizens have been given little or no information about the authority and its powers, no cost/benefit analysis, no update on pipeline costs. The County expects us, the taxpayers, to blindly foot the bill for this without having sufficient facts.”
What many residents don’t realize, says Johnson, is that, once created, the joint authority will endure for many years and set in motion events that will affect people’s pocketbooks, property and their ability to influence pipeline decisions in the future. “Think about it. Louisa officials are unaccountable to Fluvanna citizens, yet they’ll get equal say over a pipeline that cuts entirely through Fluvanna lands,” he states. “On the six-member joint authority board, Fluvanna voters will have only one elected official whom they can try to influence and hold accountable on pipeline issues. There’s a big sovereignty question here.”
Other issues that concern the petition drive group include:
Â· Louisa County will pay half on the pipeline, but is 50/50 adequate compensation for the use of Fluvanna’s land and access to the James River?
Â· Virginia statutes give the joint authority eminent domain powers and the pipeline will cut through some 200 Fluvanna properties, according to some supervisors. Should the joint water authority â€“ half of whose voting members are from Louisa â€“ have eminent domain authority over Fluvanna lands?
Â· Is Fluvanna striking the best deal with Louisa given the disproportionate impact on Fluvanna citizens and natural resources?
Â· If the pipeline is such a great business proposition, why don’t plans call for it to be supported by revenue bonds instead of general obligation bonds? (With revenue bonds, the system finances itself; with general obligation bonds, taxpayers underwrite the cost.)
Â· Does it make good fiscal sense to saddle Fluvanna taxpayers with a 6.1 percent initial pipeline tax increase on top of a projected 41 percent increase in real estate taxes for phase one of the Domino Plan?
For more information about the petition, call Doug Johnson at 286-6982, Leroy McCampbell at 589-1599, or go to www.FluvannaBlog.com. The joint authority public hearing will be at 7 p.m., March 18, at the Fluvanna circuit courtroom in Palmyra.