It may not be unusual for citizens to complain about a lack of transparency on the part of elected officials, but it certainly seems unusual when one of those elected officials does so.
But that’s what TC Collins, a new member of the King George Board of Supervisors, alleged last week over information about the county’s Service Authority. He said county officials had shown a ‘lack of transparency to board members and the public’, both on sewage treatment plant issues and an upcoming discussion. on merging the Service Authority into county operations.
The two councils are due to meet at 5:30 p.m. on March 22 in the council chambers of the Revercomb Building to begin what promise to be lengthy discussions about a possible merger or even perhaps the sale to a private company of financially beleaguered water and sewer. system. There was no public discussion of the action, only acknowledgment by service authority members that they had been briefed by County Administrator Chris Miller about it.
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Collins said he also received a similar briefing at the same time as another supervisor. Such meetings involving two supervisors or service authority members are legal because they do not represent a quorum, but Collins still disliked the idea.
“This meeting was not open to the public and it’s not transparency,” Collins said, noting that since taking office in January he has become aware of communications between board members. administration and with the country administrator and that certain “information is not shared”. with each member of the board of directors. I am one of them.
As Collins began to read his prepared remarks, Supervisory Board Chairman Jeff Stonehill glanced at Vice Chairman Richard Granger, and both shrugged as if it was the first time they had heard about it.
Collins is a former school board member and police officer in the state of Virginia. Last fall, he ran unopposed for James Monroe’s district seat on the Board of Supervisors after unsuccessfully running for sheriff in 2019.
Collins does not serve on the board of the King George County Service Authority. Three of its members are residents who have been appointed by supervisors in their respective districts, and two members sit on both the service authority board and the county board of supervisors. They are Cathy Binder and Annie Cupka.
Collins criticized them, saying that “it is a conflict of interest, especially since the two are not Service Authority clients and have publicly stated that they have wells and do not want not that the county is absorbing the debt of the Service Authority”. He also complained that County Administrator Chris Miller wears “double hats” as acting director of the service authority and “cannot have the best interest of each entity”, said Collins.
Miller took on the role of acting director because the county was unable to find a replacement for Jonathon Weakley, who left as the Service Authority’s chief executive in August.
Collins’ remarks come as the Service Authority is once again making headlines for its operational issues. Up to 100,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into a tributary of the Potomac River in late January from the Dahlgren sewage treatment plant. Miller later said he believed problems in the facility, dating back to December, may have been responsible for the overflow. He also pointed out that Virginia Department of Environmental Quality officials were involved throughout the recovery process.
While the problems at the Dahlgren plant have improved, others have arisen at the Purkins Corner wastewater treatment plant, an older facility that is set to be decommissioned due to aging infrastructure. In recent weeks, operators have had to transport sewage from Purkins Corner to Dahlgren to be properly treated.
After the episode, Miller explained that this was not an unusual practice in the county, as it happens once or twice a month at all five Service Authority sewage treatment plants. It showed that the Dahlgren plant is back up and running, given that it’s the only one with the equipment needed to “pull water out of sludge,” Miller said. Then the dried waste is deposited at the landfill.
But Collins was clearly disturbed that members of the supervisory board were only told on February 25 of the sewage transport which began on February 18 from the Purkins Corner plant. Miller provided oversight board members with insight, noting that the problems were caused by “miscalculations or operator inconsistencies or shortcomings” as well as equipment problems.
Miller also told members of the Service Authority that over the years “personnel have been put in place [where] they were definitely working below the skill level we needed.
“These things are being identified,” Miller said. “These things are discovered and unfortunately they are discovered through crises.”
He compared the problem at Purkins Corner to a bathtub always containing water. When a power surge occurs, there is a risk of overflow. The tanks containing the solid waste were never fully emptied, and Miller said operators struggled to keep levels manageable.
Last year the Service Authority hired Imboden Environmental Services as consultants, but their employees took over some management at Dahlgren and Purkins Corner due to the problems. Miller said Imboden workers also found sand and rags had accumulated in other tanks, which was also causing drainage problems.
Additionally, no one currently employed by the Service Authority has the Class 1 license the state requires to operate sewage treatment facilities. Consultants provide this permit.
Service Authority board member Carrie Cleveland wondered if it might not be better for the agency to invest its money in a higher salary for a sewage manager rather than continuing to pay consultants. Service authority board chairman Jim Morris said there was a shortage of Class 1 operators across the industry and “alternative options are going to have to be sought “.
Cleveland said she understood that, then added, “I’m not discussing the need for a contractor, I’m just stating the fact that we have a contractor right now and things aren’t going so well. Plus, we’re probably paying a lot of money for it.
In his remarks to the board of supervisors, Collins noted that he contacted Cleveland because she is his representative on the Service Authority and was unaware of the sewage haul from Purkins Corner. He said there is “a high price associated with this activity”.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425