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Shields: Fairfax Water Lawsuit Aims to Expel F.C. from County

F.C.’s Manager Cites ‘Eliminatin’ Goal in Q & A

The City of Falls Church’s water system is the victim of a takeover push by the Fairfax Water Authority that is seeking to “eliminate” other water systems from providing service in Fairfax County

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In an exclusive Q and A with the News-Press this week, published below, this is the assessment of Wyatt Shields, City Manager of the City of Falls Church, in response to a $21 million lawsuit filed recently by the County’s water system against Falls Church’s.

Shields said that the consequences for Falls Church, should Fairfax win the lawsuit slated to go to trial in September, would be a hefty water rate increase for the users of the City’s system that includes over 100,000 customers in Fairfax County.

He claimed that County Water officials are coercing customers in the area of the County traditionally served by Falls Church, including telling a mixed-use developer in the area of the Dunn Loring Metro that its County zoning approval is contingent on its signing up with Fairfax Water.

Jeanne Bailey, public information officer for Fairfax Water, when contacted by the News-Press yesterday about Shields’ allegations, referred to a letter by Fairfax Water board chair Philip W. Allin published on the authority’s web site.

The letter claims that Falls Church has “blocked” the efforts of Fairfax Water to offer water service in the Dranesville and Providence districts of the County. It also asserts that Falls Church’s practice of using water fees to “subsidize City operations unrelated to the water system” amounts to an “illegal tax.”

But Shields, in his Q and A, said that “this is expressly permitted in the City Charter and is common practice among local governments in Virginia and across the country.”

The following is the full transcript of the News-Press’ Q and A with Shields:

Q. What is the City of Falls Church response to the allegation by Fairfax Water that Falls Church Water is seeking to monopolize and poach?

A. We believe this allegation has no merit under the law, or as a practical matter.

Q. What is your reaction to the demand that Falls Church water funds not be used in Falls Church’s operating budget?

A. This is expressly permitted in the City Charter and is common practice among local governments in Virginia and across the country.

Q. What is your reaction to Fairfax’s claim for punitive damages?

A. The claim for punitive damages is flawed and baseless.

Q. What do you believe is the intent of the Fairfax action?

A. The City of Falls Church has repeatedly reached out to Fairfax County officials in an attempt to initiate a dialogue so that we can understand the County’s goals and objectives with respect to the provision of water service to the county. We think it would be beneficial to know what their intentions are.

Regarding the Fairfax County Water Authority, we believe that Fairfax Water’s goal is to take over the service area traditionally served by the City. Indeed, in a recent letter, Fairfax Water stated its mission is to “eliminate” the other water systems providing service within the county.

Fairfax Water began contacting developers in the City of Falls Church’s traditional service area in 2007 to request that they connect to its system as opposed to the City’s. Those efforts have been unsuccessful for various reasons, including that Fairfax Water’s connection fees are significantly higher than those of the City.

Most recently, the developer of a proposed mixed-use project near the Dunn Loring Metro is being required to connect to Fairfax Water as a condition of its zoning approvals. The City has objected to this coercive approach, and Fairfax Water has brought the current lawsuit in response.

Q. How much will it cost Falls Church to litigate this?

A. Although it is difficult to reliably predict the actual cost of litigation, it is anticipated that the cost of the lawsuit will be considerable for the City Water Utility fund.

Q. What will the consequences for the City of Falls Church be if Fairfax County wins this action?

A. Fairfax Water has demanded millions of dollars in damages based on its claim that the City is a monopolist in public water service. The City could have a judgment entered against it that requires it to pay damages. Fairfax Water has also asked that the City’s water system and its charter be declared unconstitutional.

In all events, if Fairfax Water prevails in this suit the principal consequence is that the City’s water customers may see their water rates increase as City ratepayers will have to cover those damages.

Q. What would a mutually-agreeable resolution look like, and is it feasible?

A. The City of Falls Church and Fairfax County should be sitting down to discuss what the County’s long-term objectives are, and through dialogue, determine what is feasible.

Q. What can citizens and Falls Church’s water customers do to help promote a peaceful resolution that does not punish the City, its taxpayers and water customers?

A. Citizens should expect their local governments to work together and resolve differences.

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