First, a reminder. The Middleburg Town Council is gathering Friday evening, April 7, at 5:30 and again on Saturday morning at 8:30 for visioning sessions to discuss goals and policies.

Council will use a conference room at Salamander Resort.

All sessions are open to the public but the meetings will provide NO opportunity for direct public participation in the discussion

Therefore, I want your comments and suggestions in advance!

The text of our current,  2008 Town Visioning document is here: http://www.middleburgva.gov/documents.html.

Please read and send me your thoughts!

Middleburg Water

Ah, water!

Most people take water for granted until a problem arises.

How did our region miss the disaster Flint experience with lead contamination in their municipal water utility?

Did Middleburg come anywhere close to Flint’s many problems?

I am pleased the answer to both is a resounding no! Neither our water nor our finances ever remotely approached the dire problems in Flint.

Flint experienced a confluence of catastrophes that led to their crises. First, Flint had severe budget problems culminating in 2013, under the administration of an Emergency Manager imposed by Michigan. One of the manager’s budget “solutions” was to switch from consuming water from Detroit to using Flint River water. That change occurred in late April 2014. Flint did not perform the necessary professional due diligence to analyze likely impacts from the new water supply. For example, the corrosion from the much harder Flint River water was noticeable within a few months. Instead, they were oblivious, without any corrosion control plan. Residents complained about the smell and color of the new water in May, and Flint’s first public health emergency was high bacterial counts, resulting in a boil water requirement in August. Michigan Radio reported high lead levels in the water in late February 2015. A Virginia Tech independent study confirmed alarmingly high lead levels in September. Flint had some lead water lines that this corrosive water leached into supply lines.

In summary, Flint’s finances were heading towards bankruptcy; the state imposed an emergency manager who allowed poor decisions resulting in catastrophe. The state and local governments also mismanaged its communications to Flint residents and Flint continues to struggle today. Even switching back to Detroit water did not produce a resolution.

I am pleased to report that these conditions do not exist in our region, particularly Middleburg. Middleburg’s financial conditions are good to excellent. Middleburg employs a professional management company for operations and maintenance. The Town implemented several improvements in the past few years and its plans call for further improvements in the near future.

Middleburg noticed water quality problems in the late 1990s. In response, Middleburg contracted a professional engineering firm that analyzed Middleburg’s Water and Sewer system, producing a full report in 2003. This study allowed us to see the utility’s shortcomings so we could begin addressing them.

In 2005, the Town agreed to annex Salamander and approve the resort as an allowable use. The agreement included requirements that the developer build a second water treatment plant and a replacement wastewater plant to Town specifications and delivering the facilities to Middleburg once our engineering consultant and Virginia’s DEQ and VDH officials successfully completed all inspections. Salamander’s provision of the new facilities saved millions, and the old wastewater plant was well-beyond its useful life. Salamander delayed its opening until 2013, challenging our ability to fund these new facilities. However, Middleburg successfully mitigated that temporary setback. Salamander now contributes as a significant water customer.

In 2012, Middleburg contracted with a professional firm (M&FSG) to produce a rate model for our utility. We use the model as a budget tool each year to ensure that water rates are fair and sustainable. The rates also now include professional maintenance and management (Inboden Environmental Services) planned capital improvements, and long-term funds to replace eventual assets as they reach the end of their useful service. Last year, we repaired or replaced sewer lines and replaced several small and aged waterlines on Washington Street with a new 12-inch water main. You remember the street closures and other disruptions!

We also took advantage of coordinating the Washington Street work and additional waterline replacements on the eastside for residents with low flow levels. Coordinating with the VDOT traffic-calming project allowed us to get this work done with reduced costs at the same time as the Washington Street improvements.  This year the Town will complete the engineering of a replacement for the West-End Pump Station. Council will contract construction this fall after we solicit bids and award a contract to perform the work. The pump station is past the end of useful service and needs expansion to serve new customers. Soon the council will discuss how best to fund much-needed waterline replacements in Ridgeview as part of our ongoing budget review. I hope we can begin that work soon, at least in phases.

Our Town water utility is quickly modernizing and improving service in Middleburg. The utility also continues to mature financially. Fortunately, Middleburg has no lead waterlines. We also use four Town wells for water, with no real options to switch to another source. (So make sure you do your part to protect our groundwater!) Middleburg’s water utility is now well managed – we have no realistic risk of succumbing to the disastrous decisions or the catastrophes faced by Flint.

That is my opinion – what do you think?

Please send questions, suggestions, comments or complaints regarding any topic to letters@middleburgeccentric.com with Ask: in the subject. And, as always, feel free to tell me what you want to see in an upcoming column.