The saga of the Montross water system has taken one step closer to completion. Last month, the Montross Town Council held a public hearing on their plan to apply to the USDA’s Rural Development to help with the replacement of their waterline, which was livestreamed from the council’s office, bringing along Charlie Reidlinger from Resource International as well, since he had a presentation to make on the plans for the system. The resolution itself was adopted unanimously after a lengthy public hearing during the Town Council’s meeting.

According to Reidlinger, a preliminary engineering report, or PER, is needed before the people at Rural Development decide to approve anything.

“There are certain aspects they like to see in a preliminary engineering report,” he explained to the council.

The primary concerns in this case included an environmental assessment, the silver lining being that since it was for the replacement of existing pipes, a full assessment was not necessary. The long and short of it is that the system is old, with pretty much no fire flow in many of the subdivision water lines, and with the new high school coming, the need for the project becomes quite clear.

The overall costs were clocked in at $472,900 for construction on Route 3, another $234,000 for areas like Jefferson Street, Rectory Road, and so on, with another $160,000 for meter readings. The biggest part of projected costs, however, lies with complying with a regulation that came out courtesy of the Department of Environmental Quality, which required that gravel-packed wells be covered with a concrete cap and a new concrete-packed well installed in its stead.

This puts the town and county in a situation where both have two wells, and both have to be replaced. Cue the proposal that the town and county whip up a pair of joint wells instead of both having to do two wells each on their own, at a projected $800 grand price tag that it clocks in at if the town and county went their separate ways. The joint wells idea is possible largely because the Montross wells are smack dab in the middle of the county, and it all comes from the same aquifer to begin with. The total price tag is estimated to be in the realm of $2 million.

While people were unable to submit comments in person, that did not stop town residents from sending in emails and writing letters. Leonard Carlson, a town resident and chairman of the town’s Planning Commission, was the first to have a response read.

“If you have asked town residents the question ‘What does the town do for you for living here, and paying a property tax, trash, and water fees?’ The majority response would be that we have an excellent water system of supply and quality, and hope it will be continued by our town council. (…) I believe the Town Council needs to proceed with water rate fee adjustments and a loan for the new water line. Since town water is considered such an essential system to residents, the town should have control of its own line. For other towns in the state like Montross, a loan this size is not unusual for an essential function.”

Carlson’s comment also addressed concerns about whether this was the right time to continue with the new water system, given that the economy got squashed flatter than a pancake under a ten-ton anvil due to the panic from the pandemic in the last three months. According to Carlson, “Economists are predicting a recovery in one year or less as states reopen.”

Eddie Weston, the fire chief of the Westmoreland Volunteer Fire Department, had also sent a letter in support of the new water system, stating that “with every water break, our citizens’ lives and property are put in danger. Currently, if there was a large fire in town, we’d be in danger of collapsing the town’s water system. It needs replacing.”

According to Reidlinger’s plan, the water rate would go up to $30, which is still less than half as much as neighboring counties. While grants are not going to be available for the project, a loan with an extra-low interest rate is, thanks in no small part to the water system income surveys that had been sent hither and yon over the last year or so.

The projected path for the continuation of this saga starts with sending the adopted resolution for the new system to Rural Development. After that, they will have to answer questions from the RDA’s engineer. Once he’s satisfied, he’ll send a letter of conditions. Before the year is up, Reidlinger suspects he’ll be able to go to bid and start going through red tape, with things carrying well into next year.

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