The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Warner budgets $200 million to help water plants meet strict standards; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Gov. Mark R. Warner’s budget for the 2006-08 biennium will include more than $200 million to help wastewater treatment plants meet tough new environmental standards.

That’s welcome news for the area’s sewage treatment plant operators, who are facing multimillion dollar upgrades to meet new standards designed to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

“Getting our state finances back on track has allowed us to make significant progress this year on Chesapeake Bay restoration,” Warner said at a press conference Tuesday.

The Democratic governor made his remarks flanked by Republican House Speaker Bill Howell.

“We have paired the strictest water quality regulations in the nation with the single largest investment by any state for bay cleanup, all with a 2010 deadline looming,” he said.

New rules enacted earlier this year require plants to remove more nitrogen and phosphorus compounds from their discharged water. Those nutrients contribute significantly to the “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay.

Warner’s budget, which will be released in total on Friday, will include $242 million for sewage and drinking water projects.

Of that, $200 million is set aside for the 92 plants in need of upgrades in the state’s Chesapeake watershed.

Upgrades paid for by the funds would remove some 2.6 million pounds of nitrogen compounds from the commonwealth’s rivers every year — about two-thirds of the reductions the state is obligated to achieve by 2010, Warner said.

Dozens of small and large plants along the Shenandoah River and its forks will have to be upgraded in the coming years, five of which are in Shenandoah County.

One of those plants is located on Stony Creek. Rodney McClain, the general manager of the Stoney Creek and Toms Brook-Maurertown sanitary districts, is staring down a $6 million upgrade to meet the new standards.

The prospect of help, in the form of grants from the Water Quality Improvement Fund, is welcome news.

“We actually tapped it to do our … optimization plan and preliminary engineering report,” McClain said. “We were able to get a 50 percent grant toward that.”

The district already had a grant application pending before Warner made his announcement.

Last year’s decision to spend some of the state surplus, $50 million, on the fund was welcome news, but “we thought, ‘Well, that’s not going to go very far when talking about a billion dollars that’s going to have to be spent,” he said.

Operators had been waiting on the announcement for some time.

“We thought it might be around $100 million, but $200 million, that’s very nice,” said Wellington Jones, the director-engineer of the Frederick County Sanitation Authority.

The authority is working to upgrade its Parkins Mill plant, which will cost somewhere around $33 million. With the new funding proposed, it’s much more likely the authority will get the $8 million from Richmond it’s hoping for.

“They’ve got something like $60 million in the [fund] this year, and they’ve got something like $350 million of requests,” Jones said, adding that $200 million over the next two years would be helpful.

With state coffers flush with cash, the spending won’t require a “flush tax” that has been talked about in other bay states like
Maryland, according to Warner spokesman Kevin Hall.

“This is just discretionary spending” to be included in the entire budget from general tax revenues, he said.

The goal, other than cleaning up the bay, is to get the upgrades rolling without causing a major spike in sewer bills across the state.

The General Assembly convenes in January.