A Lynchburg Times investigation: Bedford Secrets

Bedford Supervisors instructed water board to delay report’s release
Study reveals potential for millions in savings for county

By Emily Williams
The Lynchburg Times

A report commissioned by the Bedford Public Service Authority (BCPSA) found that Bedford County could see millions of dollars in long term savings with the creation of a water line from Smith Mountain Lake to Forest. Upon hearing the Preliminary Engineering Report’s (PER) findings, the county board of supervisors requested that the BCPSA delay the study’s release, citing long term consequences for the county.

“Implementing a regional water system within Bedford County and connecting to other regional systems will provide uncalculated value in the future,” reads the report which is still in draft form.

The Lynchburg Times obtained a copy of the Lakes-Bedford-Forest Water Supply Preliminary Engineering Report through a FOIA request. The PER, which cost the county $45,000, was conducted by Anderson & Associates Inc. and can be found in its entirety on LynchburgTimes.com. BCPSA Executive Director Brian Key expects to finalize the PER within the next few weeks.

According to a member of the BCPSA board, who asked to remain on background, the supervisors in a joint committee meeting last September, requested that the authority not release the study for fear that it would interfere with an upcoming announcement concerning the conversion of Bedford city to a town. The board member explained that when the transition was delayed, the PER was put aside as well.

The board member went on to express his frustration with how long the BCPSA was unable to use the PER as a result of the delayed release. He emphasized that the report had great fiscal importance to the BCPSA and would be instrumental in planning for the authority’s future.

“The powers-to-be don’t seem to want us to know what’s going on,” he said.

January 13, Bedford County Administrator Kathleen Guzi informed Key that the Bedford Board of Supervisors decided to “hold-off” on the release of the study. Guzi explained that while the study held some short term benefits, in the long term making the study public was against the county’s best interest.

“While releasing the PER may achieve some short term benefits, it is in the best long term interest of all of Bedford County to hold off on the release,” wrote Guzi.

The Times attempted to contact the county administrator and all of the supervisors Wednesday. None responded by press time. Look for updates at LynchburgTimes.com.

Out of the many options examined in the PER for a Smith Mountain Lake water line, the report recommended that the most cost savings would come from connecting the SML and Forest Central Water Systems. In the PER, this option is compared to continuing to purchase water from the city of Lynchburg.

The option, A2 in the PER, would cost the county a total of $33,909,016 to construct. With this initial cost in mind, the PER estimates that costs for A2 would break even with Bedford County’s current water policy in 26 years. Based on Lynchburg’s average annual water rate increase of 3%, using the A2 plan would result in $28 million in savings by 2058.

In addition to cost savings, the report also predicted that water quality will improve for customers as a result of a more direct route from its source.

In 2006, the Lynchburg City water system served over 66,000 people who used 11.25 million gallons a day. Over the next 50 years projections show that demand on the Lynchburg water system will double. Bedford County is Lynchburg’s biggest customer and according to BCPSA board members, enjoys a great working relationship the city.

In a meeting Tuesday, the Lynchburg City Council was briefed on the region 2000 Water Supply Plan which included a proposal for drought response. In the briefing, council was informed that according to 2006 data, Bedford County was responsible for the largest water deficit in region 2000, meaning they used more water than they contributed.

Council member Jeff Helgeson expressed concern that if a drought were to occur, Lynchburg citizens would suffer more as a result of how much water the city sold to surrounding counties and cited Bedford in particular.

“I’d hate to see us flowing water out to our neighbors, meanwhile our folks go thirsty,” said Helgeson.

City manager Kimball Payne responded that surrounding counties would have to follow the same drought protocol as the city. Payne added that Bedford was looking at alternative sources of water such as Smith Mountain Lake.

In the April meeting of the BCPSA board, members struggled with the financial implications of buying so much water from the city of Lynchburg. While the county pays the city monthly for their projected water usage, Key informed the board members that the county owed the city an additional $15,000 for its water. This number is down from a potential $90,000 due to Lynchburg waiving a peak demand factor fee.

Key also explained that the rising water rate in Lynchburg was the primary reason the BCPSA was forced to raise rates in the county this year. Key worried that concern for the county’s relationship with Lynchburg was a factor in the supervisors delaying the PER’s release. He added that if Lynchburg were to apply the peak demand fee it would trigger an immediate need for an alternative water source.

“I think [Lynchburg] would be challenging us to find an alternative source if they brought the fee back in. I know that’s the reason the county is asking us to still hold onto the PER because they just don’t want to challenge the city,” said Key.

When asked if releasing the PER on Smith Mountain Lake could cause Lynchburg to charge the peak demand factor fee in the future, Key was doubtful.

“The PER is just a study, and that’s why I’m still really puzzled why releasing a study that shows what options there are is such a big deal. Just because you have something that says it’s the best thing to do, or even a feasible alternative, doesn’t mean you actually fund it or start the construction. I wouldn’t think the PER itself would throw Lynchburg into a tailspin,” said Key in the April meeting.

PER’s are a common method used by localities when deciding on large capitol projects. Any recommendations made in the reports are not binding to local governments and are used simply to inform future decisions.

“I don’t think that it’s such a significant issue that it would alienate either of our localities,” said Key.

– emily@LynchburgTimes.com

Download PDF: BedfordPER.PDF

Bedford Virginia PER

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