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Lake Monticello residents ready to take fight over water rates to Richmond

The water may be placid but the water rates are rising fast at Lake Monticello.

Aqua Virginia, a utilities company which provides water and waste management to 36 localities across Virginia, has proposed an overall rate increase of 29.4% for its customers residing in the Fluvanna County gated community surrounding the manmade lake.

The company filed the proposal with the State Corporation Commission, which regulates the commonwealth’s utility services, on July 27 of last year. Aqua requested an increase that “reflects its costs and revenues for the twelve-month Test Year ended March 31, 2023.” The application proposed increasing water rates by 33.88% and wastewater rates by 21.08%.

The overall 29.4% increase equates to roughly $6.9 million.

Aqua Virginia spokeswoman Heather Keefer told The Daily Progress that the utility provider considered various expenditures from the year when determining the rate increase.

“Costs associated with this increase would recover money spent on infrastructure investment already spent by Aqua, ongoing capital infrastructure improvements, as well as operation and maintenance costs to run our water and wastewater systems,” Keefer said in an email. “There have been no significant changes in revenue with this filing.”

She mentioned that inflation as well as other factors that are out of the company’s control were also evaluated.

Members of the Lake Monticello Owners’ Association are not happy.

The association responded with a 27-page letter — largely assembled by Lake Monticello homeowner and retired lawyer Tom Diggs after more than 100 hours of research — that it intends to submit as a public comment to the State Corporation Commission declaring its opposition to the rate hike, claiming it is “unreasonable and unjust.” The hike would add $34 to the average customer’s monthly water bill for 3,000 gallons, which is already 89% above the average in Virginia, it says.

“For a family of four, we currently pay $191/month for water and wastewater (sewage). I’m estimating the proposed increase would raise my bill to at least $240/month. That’s higher than my average monthly electric bill which is about $200/month,” Lake Monticello resident Marieke Henry told The Daily Progress in an email.

A 2022 report conducted by water and wastewater rate analysis firm Draper Aden Associates found that households in Virginia pay, on average, a monthly water bill of $27.91 and wastewater bill of roughly $35.

The Lake Monticello homeowner association has yet to file its letter with the State Corporation Commission, but it has circulated it to several news outlets, including The Daily Progress. The Daily Progress asked if Aqua Virginia would like to respond to the claim that the rate hike is “unreasonable and unjust.” The company denied any knowledge of the letter.

“We are not sure what Lake Monticello Owner’s Association letter you are referring to,” said Keefer in an email.

At its monthly meeting Thursday, homeowner association President Larry Henson said that Fluvanna has partnered with other counties to oppose Aqua’s proposed increase. The association has also authorized spending up to $5,000 to fund the coalition of counties, according to Lake Monticello resident Mike Feazel.

A total of 705 comments were submitted to the State Corporation Commission as of Jan. 12 regarding Aqua Virginia’s proposed rate hike, according to the homeowner association letter. Of those comments, 580 of which were from Lake Monticello homeowners declaring their opposition.

The period to submit a public comment to the commission is open until April 23, a week before the case comes before the commission’s hearing examiner.

Individuals can submit a comment to the commission via email, traditional mail or phone; they may also fill out an online form on the commission’s website. The comments already submitted are accessible online. About 31% of the comments coming from Lake Monticello residents specify their concerns about water quality, according to the homeowner association letter.

“Probably the highest rates in the state want to go higher? We keep giving them more and more and the service gets worse and worse. I don’t think my water is even potable,” reads a comment submitted on Feb. 5 by Lake Monticello resident Michael Smith.

According to Keefer, the rate increase is needed to ensure that Aqua can focus on “operational and infrastructure improvements to provide safe, reliable water and wastewater service in the communities that we serve.”

Members of the Lake Monticello Owners’ Association constitute 28.2% of Aqua Virginia’s customers, and all of the lakeside community’s 10,126 residents rely on Aqua Virginia to provide water and wastewater services.

The document written by the homeowner association outlined several of the community’s complaints regarding the water company’s services, facilities and internal management, including low water pressure, foul odors from the wastewater pumping stations and poor water quality — issues that have long plagued the lakeside community.

The letter also makes note of three sewage leaks into Lake Monticello in the past year and a half. The first two leaks were caused by a failure of one of Aqua’s pumping stations, and the third resulted from overflow from a manhole that closed three of the lake’s five beaches and coves for several weeks.

“What really disturbs me is the fact that the lake had so many sewage spills last summer,” reads a public comment from Lake Monticello resident Cynthia Stenz. “We had guests that got sick over the July 4th week and did not know about this sewage spill until days later. Why were we not notified immediately? Where is the daily monitoring of the problem area of Jackson cove?”

The hike in the water rates will be a further strain on the pockets of homeowners in Lake Monticello where the average home value of mortgaged homes is $269,000, according to statistics included in the letter. Lake Monticello has a population of 10,126 on 4,635 lots with 8% of its residents living below the poverty line, according to the homeowner association.

Fifteen miles outside of Charlottesville, the community has grown quickly in recent years and is popular for commuters looking for more affordable living near pricey Charlottesville.

A public hearing has been set for April 30, where the examiner will weigh all of the information presented by the various stakeholders: ratepayers, corporations as well as government officials. The examiner will then make a recommendation to the commissioners who will be charged with making a final decision on the case.

The homeowner association met with Democratic Sen. Mark Warner on Friday to solicit his support in its fight.


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