By Stefanie Jackson – Exmore Town Council members encountered a huge obstacle to the progress of the town’s sewer project Monday night when they learned that its estimated cost had more than doubled within the last year.
Town Manager Robert Duer told council members, “You don’t know the level of frustration we’re having” over the estimated cost that was $8 million but is now $18 million, a $10 million increase.
“The cost of material … just keeps going up,” said Director of Utilities Taylor Dukes.
When a Town Council member asked why the project cost had skyrocketed, Duer said, “elections have consequences,” suggesting that current political leadership is to blame.
With the new price tag for the sewer project, Exmore would need to get $10 million in grants to cover the costs above the town’s $8 million “credit limit” or scale down the project, he said.
Exmore’s entire sewer system is outdated, both the collection system and the treatment plant.
The plan to update the sewer system included eliminating Exmore’s need to own and operate its own treatment plant. The town is partnering with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, which will build a force main along Route 13. Wastewater from Exmore and other nearby localities will be transported through the force main to Onancock’s treatment plant, which has excess capacity.
That means Exmore only needs to pay for the update of its collection system. The plan is to replace all the sewer pipes and expand the system so it can serve every home and business in town, about 900 total customers. A Virginia Department of Health consent order currently limits the town to 350 sewer customers.
The Exmore Town Council is expected to discuss the sewer project at its next work session, Monday, Oct. 18, 6 p.m.
Congresswoman Elaine Luria plans to visit Oct. 29 to discuss the sewer project and funding with Exmore officials, including one Town Council member.
Duer said the situation with the sewer project is “much worse than you all could ever imagine, but we’re going to … pull through.”
The New York, Philadelphia, and Norfolk Railroad Resurrection Ltd., which was established as a nonprofit, sent two letters of support for Duer to sign, regarding the organization’s efforts to save and restore portions of the Eastern Shore’s railroad, including in Exmore.
The railroad on the Shore was originally part of the New York, Philadelphia, and Norfolk line, after which the organization was named.
The letters described the railroad as a “critical piece of our history” and noted rail service on the Eastern Shore currently stops at Hallwood and is interrupted by track removal in Bloxom.
The organization proposed using rail bicycles on the remaining tracks “in response to the seemingly stalled construction of a bicycle path” along the railroad. The rail bicycles would attract cyclists to the railroad area while the bicycle path is planned and built.
The railroad group would assist the public-private partnership of the Accomack-Northampton Transportation District Commission and Canonie Atlantic Corp. in retaining rail and creating the bicycle path that will be adjacent to the railroad.
The organization also pledged to perform “excellent maintenance” on the rail vehicles, provide a “chase vehicle for fatigued cyclists,” and keep the traveled railroad tracks in good repair.
Duer said the group is making a “valiant effort” even though it may be unsuccessful in saving the railroad.
He saw no harm in signing one or both letters but noted the appropriate person to sign a letter of support would not be himself but Mayor Douglas Greer; the Town Council consented to the signing.
Last month, citizen Damion Geist also asked the Town Council for a letter of support – to run a tourist rail service on Exmore’s railroad tracks, from Oakland Drive to Willis Wharf Road.