An unexpected Monday morning electronic mail message may have sealed the fate on Clarke’s decision, at least for now, to pursue a federal grant that would have helped bring water and sewer services to the county’s Double Tollgate area. Sheetz Corporation had expressed interest in placing a store at the site but now appears to be having second thoughts.
Clarke County Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston told the Clarke County Supervisors that an email from Sheetz said that the company is not willing to provide the county with a letter of commitment to develop the Double Tollgate intersection. Having adequate corporate interest and funding to pay for and justify sewer and water expenses is an important consideration for the Supervisors in balancing investment costs against return on investment and to satisfy federal reviewers that the grant money will generate jobs.
“Without the letter of endorsement from Sheetz I think that the chances of getting the grant are between slim and none” Johnston said.
Sheetz began as a small dairy/deli in Altoona, PA in 1952. Today, Sheetz is one of the fastest growing, family-owned convenience stores in the world, with more than 387 locations across six states â€” Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina â€” and more than 13,000 employees.
Even though Johnston said that the chances for development funding from the current grant are reduced without the commitment from Sheetz, Johnston asked the Supervisors to keep in mind that planning for the area will have to be done at some point in the future in order to support economic development there.
“I urge the board not to lose sight of the need to move forward with the planning process in order to resolve future Double Tollgate development issues” Johnston said. Johnston pointed out that, at a minimum, the Double Tollgate site will eventually need a storm water retention pond, sewer conveyance lines and a flow metering tank.
Withdrawal of support by Sheetz forced Monday’s discussion to focus on just how much money, if any, the Supervisors may be willing to spend to accommodate development at the Double Tollgate intersection.
“We need to speak to the major landowners and ask them what their commitment to development there really is” stated Supervisor Dunning.
“Before they answer they’re going to want to know how much it’s going to cost” replied Johnston.
Much of the development cost may hinge on the Virginia Department of Corrections which currently owns excess sewage treatment capacity at the White Post Correctional Facility said Larry Johnson, client manager for the county’s consulting engineers, Chester Engineers.
“The Department of Corrections (DOC) is currently 27K gallons under capacity there” said Johnson. “In 2012 DOC will need to have its permit for waste water discharge into Cripple Creek reviewed. You would have to work with DOC is you wanted the capacity increased.”
DOC’s waste water management facility in White Post has a 36K gallon daily processing capacity.
Johnson said that DOC currently charges a “per 1000-gallon” fee for waste water treatment, however, that fee is based on averaged costs across all correctional facilities located in state of Virginia. Johnson told the Supervisors that DOC’s current rates are therefore essentially being “discounted” due to economies of scale and that the county may be able to negotiate an agreement with the state to lock in the lower rates if it acts soon.
“I can’t predict what the DOC rates may be between 2012 – 2017” Johnson said.
“So you’re telling us that a relationship with DOC will be a critical element of whether or not we go forward and how?” asked Supervisor Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville).
“Yes” said Johnson. “This is a form of indirect subsidy.”
Planning Administrator Chuck Johnston pointed out that DOC has repeatedly floated the idea of closing the White Post facility and that the loss of its wastewater treatment capabilities could make development of the area more difficult.
“We need a policy in place for what we plan to do if DOC decides that the 200 acres there is no longer needed” Johnston said.
Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) expressed concern about whether DOC’s waste water treatment facility was really adequate for Double Tollgate and, if not, where additional funding would come from to address any deficiencies.
“If we are going to encourage development there then the plant needs to be adequate” Weiss said. “If the plant is not appropriately sized then I want the developer to pay for it.”
Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) affirmed Weiss’s concern that DOC’s waste water treatment facility may require improvements.
“It doesn’t meet the new standards, it was built using the old standards” Staelin said.
Chester Engineer’s Larry Johnson confirmed Weiss’s cost concerns to the extent that Clarke County could, in fact, wind up paying some of the costs associated with the DOC facility. “DOC is going to expect that Clarke County pay its fair share of the cost for improving the plant.”
As the Supervisors considered the complexities of how best to proceed with Double Tollgate, Chairman Hobert brought the discussion back to considering whether or not to move forward with a grant application that has a low likelihood of success and whether it pleased the board to go forward with the general planning process for the Double Tollgate area even though immediately development prospects had dimmed.
“There are so many issues outstanding and now we have a lack of commitment from Sheetz” said Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell). “With economic times the way that they are it’s risky to spend the money before we fully understand what we are getting into.”
Supervisor Byrd pointed out that in addition to solving Double Tollgate’s waste water treatment issues, finding a water supply to serve the area is also a challenge.
“The Frederick County Board of Supervisors have already said that they are not going to provide water to the area” said Planning Administrator Johnston. “So we can’t rely on Frederick County for water.”
“We need to keep going and get it solved” said Supervisor Weiss.
“My suggestion is that we nix the grant application and create a study group to look at all of the resources there and to review the excellent engineering reports that have been done” Supervisor Byrd said. “Once the study group comes back with recommendations we’ll be in better shape to decide what we want to do.”
A formal decision on the grant application process was deferred to the Supervisors’ next regular meeting scheduled for March 15.