By Carol Vaughn —
The Chincoteague Town Council at a workshop meeting Thursday, Feb. 17, discussed an agreement for Chincoteague Sunset Bay’s sewage facilities to be transferred to the Hampton Roads Service District.
A letter of intent for Chincoteague Sunset LLC to donate the facilities to HRSD was signed this week by Chincoteague’s town manager and HRSD’s general manager.
“The decision to pursue a limited service area with an existing DEQ-permitted facility and additional permits for expansion allows the town to offer, through HRSD, a partial solution to sewage collection, treatment, and disposal for commercial and public customers that do not have other viable options,” said Mayor Arthur Leonard, reading from a prepared statement.
Federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act will help pay for upgrades to the existing facilities and design and construction of a collection system for a planned service area.
The town also is pursuing other state and federal funding, which Leonard said “will help keep the costs of such solutions primarily within the private sector, without placing undue burden on local taxpayers.”
“The town of Chincoteague has been working and studying on sewage disposal for many years … and we continue to do so,” Leonard said.
Leonard recounted a timeline of recent efforts to address the town’s sewage needs, dating to 2011, when a committee was appointed to make recommendations to the council about wastewater needs.
It issued its final report in June 2013, concluding the entire island should not, at this time, transition from individual septic systems and private treatment systems to a single public utility.
The committee identified commercial areas of Main Street and Maddox Boulevard as primary targets for initial treatment efforts.
Chincoteague was included in a 2020 Circuit Court decision to include all of Accomack County in an extension of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s service area.
Todd Burbage, of Blue Water Development, approached the town in November 2020 about the town possibly acquiring Sunset Bay Condominiums’ sewage facility.
The town manager and an independent engineering consultant began evaluating the facility.
The council was presented with the possibility of the plant’s acquisition in executive session in November 2020, but passed on the opportunity in December 2020 due to time constraints that meant the town could not complete proper evaluation of the facility.
In early 2021, the town manager contacted Burbage to determine the company’s interest in transferring the facility moving forward.
In April 2021, the council heard that Burbage was still interested in transferring the facility to the town at a reasonable cost.
At a July 2021 public hearing about how to spend $2.98 million of ARPA funds, 75% of speakers said public sewage service was a priority.
The town then contacted HRSD to propose the HRSD assume ownership and operation of the Sunset Bay facility.
HRSD offered to provide a consultant to evaluate the plant and the proposed transfer and to commission a broader study to identify a more permanent solution for sewage needs in northern Accomack County.
HRSD performed onsite inspections in August 2021 and submitted a report in October — the council reviewed the report in executive session at the October workshop meeting.
Chincoteague that month negotiated with Burbage the transfer of the facilities to the town at no cost.
HRSD in October agreed in principle to accept the facility and permits from the town and to operate the plant going forward with the existing customers, and to develop additional capacity to utiliize unused permits.
The town agreed to pay for construction of the collection system and to control approval for connections to the system.
In November, the town agreed to pay for needed upgrades to the facility and to transfer the plant to HRSD.
In December, the town’s ARPA committee proposed using ARPA funds for the necessary upgrades and design and construction of a collection system for a planned service area.That month, Blue Water agreed that month in principle to transfer the facilities directly to HRSD to simplify the process.
Councilman Gene Wayne Taylor noted the facilities once built out would handle around 37,000 gallons per day.
“It’s not like an end-all, whole sewer system. We still have to expand later on. I think that should be explained,” he said, adding, “It’s a start. It definitely is a start and it gets you in with Hampton Roads Sewer District.”
“This is definitely a step in the right direction for the town,” said Councilwoman Denise Bowden.
She said Chincoteague’s commercial area “is so desperate for this, so I’m just hoping that, through all of this, we can make it work for everybody.”
Councilman William McComb thanked Burbage and called the agreement “a great advance.”
“I think it’s going to be extraordinary what it could do for our downtown, as far as revitalizing that.”
“It’s something the citizens want,” said Councilman Jay Savage, adding, “I think it’s a great start.”
Vice Mayor Chris Bott said the agreement is “a pretty big deal, if everything goes through, and it has been done … at no cost to the citizens, and it’s got a lot of potential going forward.”
Bott credited council members and Town Manager Mike Tolbert for their work that led to the agreement.
Leonard said information will be put out on what areas the limited service area will include.
The planning commission will take up discussion of the service area, according to Tolbert.
Tolbert in a telephone interview Monday said the town does not intend to require mandatory hookups.
“This will be mainly offered to commercial entities and they will have to pay to connect to it. We won’t be making it mandatory for anybody,” Tolbert said.
Once the transfer is complete, HRSD will operate and maintain the system, but the town will control approval for connections to it.