The James River Water Authority shouldn’t be deterred by thousands of public comments opposing the location for a water pump station, the authority’s attorney told its board members Wednesday.
“Frankly, I’m not surprised at all,” said Justin Curtis, an attorney for the water authority. “In dealing with water and wastewater stormwater utilities, the general public has no idea what you do. They have no idea what goes on behind the scenes.
“Folks go to their tap to turn on the faucet. They expect clean, cool, fresh water to come out 100% of the time. They expect to pay pennies per gallon for that extraordinary privilege. No one speaks up when water works the way it’s supposed to.”
The water authority wants to build a raw water intake and pump station in Fluvanna County to keep up growth in Zion Crossroads near Point of Fork at the confluence of the Rivanna and James Rivers, which is also known as Rassawek, the historic capital of the Monacan Indian Nation.
Most of the comments submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is reviewing a permit application for the project, opposed the location because of the historical importance of the site, among other reasons.
Members of the nation have opposed the station, and they and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources have said that an archaeologist conducting the initial site review for the station was unqualified.
Attendees and board members wore masks and sat six feet apart for the water authority’s first meeting since March when pandemic precautions put an end to in-person gatherings. Wednesday’s meeting in the Kents Store ARC Community Center was not live-streamed.
In March, the water authority submitted an application to the Corps with the Monacan Indian Nation heritage site as the preferred location for the project.
Curtis said the next step will be a request for more information from the Corps, which he expects to receive in a few weeks. In the meantime, Curtis said he’s working with the Monacan Indian Nation to discuss alternatives.
Marion Werkheiser, an attorney for the Monacan nation, continued to encourage the board to look into an alternative location known as Forsyth that’s further upstream for the pump station.
Werkheiser said the nation would support the water authority’s efforts to survey the area and talk to landowners whose land would be needed for the longer pipeline route.
“That’s a big sign of the nation’s willingness to work collaboratively with you to help you find a way out of the situation that you’re in now, get your project built and get it built much more quickly, and much less expensively than years of having to listen to me at these meetings,” she said, adding that if the Corps approve the project as proposed, the nation would sue to stop it.
Curtis said a consultant estimated that an archeological survey of Forsyth and the pipeline route would cost about $100,000 to $150,000. The Forsyth option is projected to cost about $10 million more than the Rassawek location.
Curtis said Wednesday that he didn’t want to recommend that the board spend money for an alternative location until they’ve exhausted all possibilities for Rassawek, which remains the favored location.
“The project team has not put our pencils down,” he said. “We’re working on other potential ideas and concepts that we definitely want to run down.”
Curtis did present an alternative pipeline route that would connect the pump station to the existing raw water main to address some concerns from the nation and the Department of Historic Resources. That plan includes drilling deep into the bedrock to run the pipeline to limit disturbance to the site beyond the pump station.
The Monacan tribal council met last week and didn’t prefer that option, Curtis said.
“We’re not done looking at things,” he said. “We’re not done listening to the public.”