2/14/2012 - Text amendment proposal for Wattsville sewage treatment plant falls flat at public hearing

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The answer was a unanimous no at the Accomack Board of Supervisors public hearing on a proposed text amendment to the County code which would have allowed the process of a planned unit development to proceed in Wattsville. Roughly 150 people attended the meeting which took place at Metompkin Elementary School in Parksley last night. The text amendment would have changed the County's definition of a public utility to more closely align with the Commonwealth of Virginia's definition as well as other benchmark counties, including Northampton. Such action would have allowed a planned shopping center and housing development to continue.

The meeting began with a presentation on the hotly debated sewage treatment facility by Mark Baumgartner of Atlantic Town Center Properties. In the presentation, Baumgartner addressed an Accomack County report which stated there was a "critical and serious" need for such a facility. The system is designed to take sewage, purify the sewage to a Level 1 quality as defined by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and then release it into what Baumgartner described as "horse pasture-like" fields.

A lengthy public comment period ensued, where all twenty six of those who took to the microphone did so in opposition. Citing concerns about the cleanliness of drinking water, strangling the agriculture and aquaculture industries, hurting tourism, not trusting the developer, constitutionality, logistics, odor and sea level rise, the citizens made their distaste with the plan clear to the Board of Supervisors.

Baumgartner was given a change for a rebuttal and argued that electricity is a public utility run by a private company, as should sewage. He finished calling the NASA Wallops Flight Facility a once in a lifetime opportunity and this plan is looking to harness the potential growth of the area. According to their studies, if it would have passed, it would have brought hundreds of jobs to the area and infused $840,000,000 into the local economy.

Then the question turned to the Boards legal authority to deny the request. County attorney Mark Taylor expressed it was his opinion that the Board had proper legal footing to render a decision.

Supervisor Ron Wolff made the motion, seconded by Supervisor Grayson Chesser. It passed unanimously.

"Disappointed in the ruling," Baumgartner said after the ruling. "We'll just have to move onto the next options... We're hoping that what we can do is sit down with the County and determine the best alternative. They actually told us that they were in support of this text amendment and that changed so well try the next option."

Supervisor Grayson Chesser felt quite differently. "I think the people spoke loud and clear."

Chesser said he was not worried about the County being sued.

"You can't live in fear. Shakespeare said a brave man only dies once a coward dies a thousand deaths. We have an excellent lawyer, I trust his opinion. You can't base all your decisions on whether or not someone is going to take you to court."

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