Concerns about the uncertain outcome of the James River Water Project led one county leader to say this week he isn’t ready to support several other high-dollar capital projects.
Eric Purcell (Louisa district), who joined the Louisa County Board of Supervisors in January, voiced doubt about funding for a new emergency services station at Lake Anna and an enclosure for the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center pool, though he said he supports them.
“The water project is kind of in a hamster-spinning wheel,” he said. “We have other requests coming forward for more money for more water lines to go to different places. To me that’s like adding bathrooms onto a house with no well. We’ve got to get a handle on it or we can’t go forward with these other things.”
Purcell acknowledged he has more to learn as a new board member, but said he needs to hear more about the status of the water project.
“All I’m hearing is, ‘It’s going to happen in three months, it’s going to happen in five months,’” Purcell said. “Nobody’s giving me any answers.”
Purcell’s comments came during the supervisors’ first budget work session of the year on Feb. 3. The board spent little of the two-hour meeting reviewing capital projects. Instead, they discussed requests from outside agencies such as Region Ten and the library.
The draft $12 million capital budget represents the first year of a $61 million five-year capital improvement plan. The two largest items in the plan are a new career and technical education center for Louisa County Public Schools, projected to cost $14.4 million, and a $15 million addition to the middle school.
The county has spent all but $1.1 million of the $43 million allocated for the main part of the James River Water Project. But a fraction of the roughly $10 million needed to actually draw water from the river has been spent, because the federal Army Corps of Engineers still hasn’t granted a construction permit.
Local officials continue to argue with the Monacan Indian Nation about whether the site chosen for the water project is suitable. The Monacans claim Rassawek, their ancestral capital city, was located there.
Supervisor Duane Adams, whose Mineral district includes the proposed Lake Anna rescue station, said after the work session that he does not share Purcell’s unease about the capital budget.
“I’m not certain the James River funding directly impacts the capital budget,” he said. “There is a consensus on the board that we want more in-depth information, but I don’t know how tightly those things are connected.”
Speaking at the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce meeting on Tuesday, County Administrator Christian Goodwin said there is an $8.3 million capital projects fund balance that can be used to help pay for pricey items.
“These are some big numbers, but we have planned for those big numbers,” he said.
Purcell said he is especially concerned about a proposal to spend $2.5 million in fiscal year 2022 on a pipeline to carry water from Ferncliff to the future site of Shannon Hill Business Park. He wondered why the county would commit funding to that project when it depends on the James River construction, which is in limbo.
Supervisor Tommy Barlow (Mountain Road district) said he agrees with Purcell about the risk of ongoing delays for the James River project.
“It’s costing a lot each time it’s pushed back,” he said.
Purcell said he was looking forward to hearing from the county’s water project consultant, Timmons Group, in the next few weeks.
The supervisors don’t have to approve a budget for fiscal year 2021 until May.