Although the waterline is already being installed near Great Falls Elementary School and will soon be running down Walker Road, residents refuse to accept that nothing can be done to stop Fairfax Water from coming into Riverside Manor.
A letter, signed by former county supervisor Jack Herrity and former district supervisors Rufus Phillips and Lilla Richards, was presented to current county supervisor Gerald Connolly, who took it to the Board of Supervisors meeting last Monday night and gave it to County Executive Anthony Griffith to investigate.
The issue at hand, according to the letter, is whether the Board has the authority to intervene with the installation of the waterline based on challenges to similar projects in the past.
“When Rufus was supervisor, we revised all the water plans and went to each other’s meetings as often as possible,” Richards said. “At that time the water station on Seneca Road was an issue. I had served on a committee that talked about the placement of sewer in the county and it was extremely clear that Great Falls was trying to avoid water and sewer to protect the watershed from development.”
That water station was moved to Colvin Run Road, she said.
“The citizens of Great Falls have not agreed to this rather dramatic change of policy,” Richards said. “It’s not a small thing to run that line down River Bend Road. It has nothing to do with zoning. You don’t need to change zoning to develop the land. The whole idea was to keep more dense development out.”
Some of the resentment and concern among residents may stem from actions taken by former supervisor Ernie Berger in the mid-1990s, when a memorandum of understanding was executed between the county and Fairfax Water stating that pipelines under 16 inches in diameter did not need to be approved by the board prior to their installation.
“The language of that memorandum is very vague,” Richards said. “It said that measures could be taken to improve the water system but not to add another water line. They [residents of Great Falls] feel like they’ve been misled. The Master Plan doesn’t say you can extend a water line.”
Some of the anger is directed toward current Dranesville Supervisor Joan DuBois, she said.
“SHE SHOULD HAVE made a motion that the Board revisit the memorandum of understanding with Fairfax Water, to change the language,” Richards said, to give special protection to environmentally sensitive areas.
“If I were Supervisor, I would’ve called for the deferral, and if my [Water] representative would’ve voted against it, I would’ve asked Dewey Bond to come into my office with his letter of resignation,” she said.
Herrity, although he believes the Board of Supervisors could step in to delay the waterline, doesn’t think the project can be stopped.
“I don’t think it’s an opposition to the water but to the development scheme behind it,” Herrity said. “There is no need to put more housing in that area. It was a forced scare issue in the 1970s and there’s no reason for a different decision now.”
Herrity, who was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors from 1976 until 1988, said he couldn’t understand why the current leadership would not “put their lily-white bodies on the altar” and stand up for their constituents. There’s been vocal opposition against this, and it does make a difference to the people of Great Falls.”
He believes that the Board of Supervisors does have the authority to stop the waterline. “There’s all sorts of consequences that are pretty bad. Actually, I think it’s a disaster,” Herrity said.
If the installation of the waterline interferes with land use, the Board of Supervisors “has a leg to stand on” in getting the installation of the line stopped, he said. “Beyond that, I can’t see they have an argument. It’s not something the Board of Supervisors can do much about. If I were doing this, I would make my voice heard at the Board of Supervisors meetings.”
The Potomac River portion of Georgetown Pike is zoned for each lot to be two to five acres in size, Phillips said.
“There have been a number of five-acre developments out there, and I don’t want to see it broken up smaller than that,” he said of Great Falls. “When you extend water and sewer lines, there is pressure to make the lots smaller, and that would change the nature of Great Falls.”
The size of the pipeline is also an area of concern for Phillips.
“If they’re just finishing water for the 50-plus homes at Riverside Manor, why do they need a 12-inch pipeline? That’s much bigger than what they need,” he said. “From what I understand, the majority of Riverside Manor residents feel the same way about this waterline as the majority of the community at large.”
Supervisor Joan DuBois said that, while she was not at last week’s meeting, she had heard about the letter signed by Phillips, Richards and Herrity.
“LET’S SEE WHAT the county executive comes back with,” she said. She and Chairman Connolly have talked with other members of the board on two occasions and have “been advised they chose not to intervene” in the situation.
DuBois also said that the Riverside Manor homeowner’s board met Thursday night and Dr. Harry Miller and Gene Herbert, along with several other members of the board, arrived with the intentions to vote in members that were against the waterline during the board’s yearly elections. They were defeated, she said.
“As far as I’m concerned, that puts an end to it,” DuBois said. “It’s time to move on.”
If the residents still choose to fight the waterline, they will need an injunction immediately to halt construction of the line. “I think they would have to put a bond in to stop the project immediately,” she said.
Fairfax Water is still considered an authority, which means it is not governed by the Board of Supervisors that appoints the members, but by the Virginia Water and Waste Authority Act and the Virginia Department of Health.
Chairman Connolly was unable to be reached for comment for this week’s publication.
Jeanne Bailey, a public relations spokeswoman for Fairfax Water, said the board “is aware of the letter and that it’s been given to the County Executive. There’s more light that can be shed on the history of this issue, and we’re in the process of tracking it down,” she said.
Any policy changes or complaints made in the 1970s were “before any of our careers here,” she said. “This is a matter they have taken to the Supervisors, not to us.. There’s some concern over who brought the original water projects to the Board (prior to this Riverside project) that were shut down, like the Falcon Ridge project that was brought up by a developer.”