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Column: Cautious Optimism for Reston RELAC

Well, we are about to get our wish. According to the Joint Petition filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC), AQUA Virginia, the accidental corporate owner of the antiquated Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning (RELAC), is going away. AQUA finally found someone to take it off their hands.

In the background, that is definitely applause you hear coming from seats occupied by 400-plus long-suffering prisoners of the air-conditioning monopoly. Corporate AQUA service is abysmal. Rates soared. They invested nothing.

If the SCC approves the sale, RELAC will be locally owned and operated. Messrs. Mark Waddell, Craig Nyman and Michael Coleman will pay AQUA something in excess of $1 U.S. to acquire all the shares and assets for their new company, Reston RELAC, LLC. The actual acquisition price was redacted from the Joint Petition document and has not been made public. However, one can assume the buyers did not pay much more than what AQUA offered to sell old rickety to the Reston Association for a few years ago: $1 U.S.

Now, can the local owners pull it off? The system relies on four ancient, electricity-guzzling chillers vintage early 1960s. The chilled water is distributed through an aging, deteriorating web of pipes. Both will need big-ticket replacement to make the system efficient and affordable. The capital investment needed may be a stretch for the local owners who, according to the documents filed, have put up just $30,000 and gotten a bank line of credit of only $75,000.

The new team brings a welcome new approach to customer service. Unlike AQUA, they actually plan to provide it. They’ve already met with community leaders and are available to meet with Lake Anne users. A new interactive website for customers and home inspections with advice on system maintenance and improvement are also in the offing. AQUA had one onsite maintenance man (new owner Michael Coleman), but otherwise was totally unresponsive, often unreachable for customers.

First impressions of the new owners are positive. The facts that they are local and not a remote caretaker corporation are also reassuring. They appear to have the competence to manage the system. Whether they have a viable plan for the necessary system rehabilitation and the financial capacity implement it remains to be seen. There is cause for cautious optimism and we are all rooting for the new team to succeed.