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Arnon Chapel Water Project Debated

>Forced water conservation, a lack of fire hydrants, and potential exposure to radon for some homeowners in Great Falls have caused the water authority to push for extending the water main line.

Jean Bailey, with Fairfax Water, says the expansion is “not a done deal, but that they are “working closely with the homeowners, local civic organizations, and the district supervisor’s office to solve the water problems experienced in this section of Great Falls.”

The Riverside Manor community on Arnon Chapel Road is currently serviced by a county well. It is the only community in the county on public well water, and things haven’t gone smoothly in the last couple of years. Times of drought have meant residents being told to conserve water and the county trucking out water to the well in order to ensure service. Troubling to many residents is the fact that traces of radon have been found in the well.

“There are three basic reasons we’re doing this [extending the line],” said Bailey. “No. 1 is system reliability.” Bailey cites the drought conditions and restrictions as the primary causes here but adds, “No one can add onto the system because it’s at capacity.”

“Then we have fire protection. Out there we don’t have your standard fire hydrants that have a consistent supply. In the rest of our system, we provide hydrants every 1,000 feet. We’d be adding a layer of protection to our fire service,” Bailey said.

The existing fire hydrants are operational and have nothing to do with the local volunteer fire department’s ability to respond to a call.

“THIRD IS THE WATER quality issue. Generally speaking it’s excellent, but we have found radon in the water,” Bailey said. “It’s not an acute health risk at this time,” she said. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed standards regarding radon in water that are not in place yet.

In July, Fairfax Water (formerly the Fairfax County Water Authority) held a meeting to provide information to residents on the issue and what they propose to do. Before the project can proceed, the Board of Supervisors will need a vote on the matter, which is scheduled for October.

Dranesville District supervisor Joan DuBois recently replaced the water board member she appoints with a new one. The new appointee (each supervisor appoints one member) is Dewey Bond from Great Falls.

On Sept. 14 the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) will hold a general meeting at which the water line will be discussed at length. John Ulfelder with the GFCA said, “The underlying issue for the broader community is that a number of people oppose extending the water line.”

To connect to the water main, the line would run from Walker Road, in front of Great Falls Elementary school, down and east to Arnon Chapel Road, all the way down to Chesapeake Drive. Construction is anticipated to take nine months, after nine months of planning and studies on the feasibility of the project.

Ulfelder said the Riverside Manor homeowners association “board felt this was an appropriate thing to do.” He said the majority of homeowners and their representatives that the GFCA have heard from are in support of the project. There are 53 homes in that subdivision.

ONE REASON RESIDENTS support the project, said Ulfelder, is the improved fire protection made possible by the added fire hydrants. “I’ve talked to a couple of people who’ve told me that the cost of home insurance in Great Falls has become an issue because of the lack of fire hydrants. That’s addressed for those folks [served by the water line]. There are always trade-offs in each direction,” said Ulfelder.

Bailey said the project will be designed to have as little impact on traffic and residents as possible. “We want to stay in the easements as much as possible and stay out of the tree lines,” Bailey said. “I can’t say there won’t be times traffic won’t be disrupted or rerouted, but we’d be mindful of the commuter traffic and of school schedules.”

Dianne Van Volkenburg, with the GFCA said, “They’re going to have to dig up a ton of road. It’s not a small project.” Paul Santos, also with the GFCA, said, “I’m disappointed they are talking about bringing it back here. I’ve got sympathy for those folks, but I lament the fact that several trees along that route will be ripped up.” The environmental impact of the proposed project is one of the main issues being addressed by the GFCA.

THERE HAS BEEN SOME CONCERN raised that extending the water line is a precursor for bringing in sewer lines, something Great Falls residents have historically opposed.

“We have nothing to do with sewer planning or how that service comes to Great Falls,” said Bailey.

Ulfelder said the two lines are often confused by people but that bringing water out to the residents of Riverside Manor is not a way to piggyback other services into Great Falls. “There will be people who confuse it,” said Ulfelder. He adds, “There will be some people who come to the meeting who want us to oppose the extension of water because they believe it will bring more density and development to that area.”

Bailey said, “Some people think the water line brings growth. There have been a lot of homes [built] along the path in the past five years. We did not stop growth or start it.” There is a possibility that River Bend Road residents will ultimately be able to access the water line as well.

Residents outside of the affected community have the potential to benefit from the installation of the new water line. Those with private wells or new construction will have the option of hooking into the line. The fee for that service is generally $8,000. “Everyone usually pays that fee. It’s just when you buy the house the builder has rolled it in, so you don’t notice it,” said Bailey.

“Growth pays for growth. That’s always been our policy,” said Bailey. She said, however, that plans for this water line are not related to their wanting to acquire new customers.

The homeowners for whom the line is being extended will not have to pay for the service. “They won’t have to pay a dime for the hookup. Their quarterly water bills will increase somewhat to cover the costs of the project, though,” said Ulfelder. There are a few unimproved lots within the community that have not been developed. It’s unclear at this time whether those homeowners would have to pay to take part in the service if they construct homes in that area.

The existing wells will eventually be capped and filled if the water line is extended.

According to Ulfelder, members of the GFCA board have not yet decided whether to support the project. “I think we’re waiting for the meeting. Not to stake out a position, but to make the greater community aware of it and to gauge how people feel,” said Ulfelder.