News

F.C. Officials Heartened: 9 Respond Interested in Future of Water System

Fairfax Co. Says It Has Veto Power, F.C. ‘Disagrees’

Coming out of a lengthy closed session Monday night, the Falls Church City Council authorized the release of a statement from City Manager Wyatt Shields Tuesday indicating that the City received a robust nine responses from water industry leaders to the City’s Request for Expressions of Interest (REI) in the future of its water and sewer systems.

Fairfax Co. Says It Has Veto Power, F.C. ‘Disagrees’

Coming out of a lengthy closed session Monday night, the Falls Church City Council authorized the release of a statement from City Manager Wyatt Shields Tuesday indicating that the City received a robust nine responses from water industry leaders to the City’s Request for Expressions of Interest (REI) in the future of its water and sewer systems.

In an exclusive interview with the News-Press Tuesday, Shields said, “We heard from everyone we wanted to, including large national investor-owned companies that currently run systems in Virginia. “We are pleased to know leaders in the water services industry want to be part of this discussion,” he said.

Among the nine respondents was the Fairfax County Water Authority, with whom Falls Church has been in a running dispute in recent years. As Falls Church’s water system has over 100,000 customers in the million-strong Fairfax County, county officials have moved aggressively in the courts and on their own Board of Supervisors to circumscribe the functions of Falls Church system.

In an unusual move, the county water authority made its expression of interest in a merger with the Falls Church system open to the public, issuing it to, among others, all members of the F.C. City Council. In the letter, General Manager Charles M. Murray contended that any transactions contemplated by Falls Church would require “the blessing of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.”

Shields, while saying of Fairfax Water that he is “glad they close to participate,” made it clear in his News-Press interview that “we have a different conclusion” about the county’s alleged”required blessing.”

(In a related developments, Falls Church filed suit against the county seeking to nullify its recent action to assert veto power over Falls Church’s water rate structure. Also, in a decision issued Tuesday, the Virginia Supreme Court denied Fairfax’ petition to appeal the August 2011 ruling by Judge Jane Roush that dismissed all litigation seeking refunds from the City for alleged overpayments of water bills).

Shields told the News-Press that the City’s three options will be to sell the system, to set up a separate authority to operate it, or keep the status quo.

He said the Council will review options in a series of closed meetings as contact and conversations with the interested parties proceed. The Council will then come into an open session to vote on its preferred course sometime later in the spring. That will provide an opportunity for any decision that is not for the status quo to appear for voter approval on the November 2012 ballot.

According to Shields’ written statement Tuesday, the nine respondents include American States Utility Services, Aqua Virginia, Corix Infrastructure, Fairfax Water, Government Services Group, United Water, and Virginia American Water.

“The Falls Church City Council is undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of options for the future of City water and sewer systems, with the goal of providing the best possible stewardship of the City’s utility assets on behalf of its taxpayers and customers,” the statement read. “The City issued the REI on February 13 to seek input from qualified utility entities that may have an interest in entering into an agreement for the purchase of the City’s utility assets. The options under consideration include sale to a public or privately owned utility operator, creation of a new water authority, and maintaining the current ownership structure.”

F.C. Mayor Nader Baroukh was quoted in the statement, “I am pleased by the strong expressions of interest from national and regional leaders in the water and waste water field. The Council will use this valuable input to evaluation options going forward.”

Falls Church has operated a successful public water supply system since the 1930s, growing significantly beyond its borders. Falls Church’s total service area is approximately 33 square miles, with 34,500 accounts and annual revenues of approximately $20 million.

Falls Church is a wholesale customer of the Washington Aqueduct, which provides drinking water for the City, Arlington County, and District of Columbia. The system delivers an average of 17 million gallons of water to its customers each day, with a maximum capacity of approximately 38 million gallons per day.

 

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