By Stefanie Jackson – Exmore town council members ended their 18-month-long deliberation Monday night and voted unanimously to partner with the public Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) to provide sewer service to the entire town.
To keep sewer rates as low as possible for town residents and business owners, Exmore officials have negotiated a “good deal” with HRSD, said Town Manager Robert Duer.
The town council chose the public option over a partnership with private company Aqua Virginia or building a brand-new sewer treatment plant.
Cost was a driving factor in the decision, since about 57% of Exmore’s 1,460 residents live in low-and-moderate income households.
A Virginia Department of Health consent order limits Exmore’s existing sewer system from serving more than about 350 customers.
A partnership with HRSD will allow Exmore to eliminate the consent order by decommissioning the existing sewer treatment plant and sending the town’s wastewater to Onancock’s treatment plant.
The wastewater will flow through a large underground pipeline called a force main, which will be built in Northampton and Accomack County to serve Exmore and other towns.
HRSD’s original proposal suggested Nassawadox, Exmore, Melfa, Onancock, and Accomac would participate and have wastewater treated at the Onancock plant, which has excess capacity and can process a total of 750,000 gallons per day.
HRSD’s “ambitious goal” is for the force main to be constructed and ready to operate by July 1, 2022, less than 18 months from now, Duer said.
Exmore will expand its collection system so the entire town can receive sewer service, about 900 homes and businesses.
The town intends to pay for the project by obtaining low-interest loan and grant funds from sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
Exmore initially was informed by its funding sources that the town would not be allowed to receive government funds for its sewer project if it partnered with HRSD.
That position changed after a preliminary engineering report, or PER, was completed, and it was discovered that Exmore could save money by partnering with HRSD instead of building a new sewer plant.
Exmore’s funding partners agreed it would be “foolish” not to choose the more economical option, Duer said.
Exmore will bear the distinction of being the only town in the Hampton Roads Sanitation District to maintain its own sewer system and bill its customers.
An HRSD pump station will accept Exmore’s wastewater outflow, up to 190,000 gallons per day, and direct it through the force main to Onancock’s treatment plant.
HRSD won’t need to build a new sewer plant in Exmore, so town residents will be spared the financial burden of a multimillion-dollar infrastructure project for wastewater treatment.
DEQ offered Exmore a $17 million loan that will more than cover the entire sewer project, especially since the town is only expanding the collection system, not building a treatment plant.
The total cost of the sewer project likely will be reduced further through DEQ loan forgiveness and additional grant and loan funds from USDA and DHCD.
Public hearings were held in December on Exmore’s intent to apply for USDA grant and loan funds and a DHCD Community Development Block Grant up to $1 million.
The application process for the block grant is competitive. Only $8.8 million in block grant funds are available this year, provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
Exmore can afford to borrow no more than $10 million, Duer noted.
The new sewer rates, expected to take effect in 2022, remain unknown. Duer expects to get the actual numbers in the coming months, likely in May.
This story was edited March 4.