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Conservancy wary of Jefferson Co. water projects

September 14, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Harpers Ferry land conservancy is concerned about four proposals to extend water and sewer service in Jefferson County, saying they could trigger development that would forever change the county's landscape.

County officials working with the projects say the Harpers Ferry Conservancy is exaggerating the effects of the plans and that facilities are needed to correct water quality problems in the county.

The projects being considered by the Jefferson County Public Service District include a public water system for the Blue Ridge Mountain that will cost about $5.7 million, sewer service between Charles Town and Harpers Ferry, sewer service for the Walnut Grove subdivision north of Charles Town and new sewer service for the Job Corps and Jefferson High School.

Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, said he does not think the public is aware of the projects or their potential impact on the county.

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Expanding central water and sewer service will open the area to widespread growth, particularly along the Blue Ridge Mountain, where a number of undeveloped lots await construction, said Rosa.

"You're going to see the disintegration of this great landscape when everybody chops their trees down. These are all issues that will shape the destiny of the county," Rosa said Tuesday.

Although Rosa believes residents are not aware of what is being planned, county officials as far back as 1996 were warning that the county's well water supplies were "very vulnerable" to contamination, and that public water systems needed to be expanded to rural areas.

In the past, residents in the Keyes Ferry Acres subdivision on the Blue Ridge Mountain have been advised to boil their water after bacteria was found.

Rosa said he has not looked into those issues.

Although Jefferson County Commissioner Al Hooper believes Rosa is exaggerating the effects of the water and sewer service, he said there have been problems in the way planning has been handled.

The county is conducting a study to determine its water and sewer needs, and that should have been completed before planning for the Blue Ridge Mountain water project got started, Hooper said.

"We got the cart and the horses all mixed up here. The timing is all screwed up on it," Hooper said.

But Hooper acknowledged that something needed to be done quickly to address water quality problems in the Blue Ridge Mountain area.

Responding to Hooper's statement that the county's water and sewer study should have been completed before planning the Blue Ridge project, public service district board member Carl Schultz said the PSD's role is to meet the needs of the county.

After the sewer and water study is completed, public hearings will be held on its recommendations about how water and sewer service should be extended through the county, Schultz said.

The bottom line is that growth is coming to the county, and there will have to be central water and sewer service to accommodate it, said Schultz.

"I think the county will grow with or without the PSD," Schultz said.

Hooper agreed the growth is inevitable.

"You can't put a moratorium on all these people trooping over the mountain," Hooper said.

The Harpers Ferry Conservancy filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the public service district, requesting a number of records regarding the water and sewer projects.

But there were "big gaps" in the information, and the conservancy filed papers in Jefferson County Circuit Court on Aug. 26 asking that the PSD be ordered to make certain records available, according to Rosa.

In a hearing before Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. on Tuesday, the Public Service District agreed to list the records it believed the conservancy should not be allowed to view and the reasons they are exempt from viewing.

If that does not satisfy the conservancy's request, Steptoe could rule on the matter, said John Skinner, the PSD's attorney.

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