SNOW HILL – Plans for a Virginia convenience store to hook up to Pocomoke City’s sewer system have come to a halt following concern from county officials.
Several of the Worcester County Commissioners last week expressed opposition to Pocomoke City’s plans to provide sewer service to the Royal Farms just over the Virginia line in New Church. A motion to schedule a public hearing on the proposal, which would require an amendment to the Worcester County Comprehensive Water and Sewerage Plan, failed with just two votes of support.
“This is Accomack County’s problem,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “Let them fix it. If there’s a public hearing to be had let them have it. It shouldn’t come before us.”
According to a staff report, the Town of Pocomoke City was seeking an amendment to the county’s water and sewerage plan that would allow the town to extend sewer service to Royal Farms, as its septic system was failing. Commissioner Josh Nordstrom, who represents the Pocomoke area, was quick to make a motion to schedule a public hearing for the proposed amendment.
Commissioner Jim Bunting said he didn’t agree with the request. He said other businesses would want to hook up to the sewer line if Royal Farms did. He added that Royal Farms was in Virginia.
“The company is not paying any property taxes to Worcester County or the Town of Pocomoke,” he said. “I don’t think this is the right thing to do and I will not be voting for it.”
Nordstrom said the town had been working toward the project for some time. He said the town was already pumping out the septic at Royal Farms and delivering it to the Pocomoke Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Nordstrom added that the connection fees involved would provide Pocomoke with enough money to make necessary improvements to its wastewater plant.
“The line is already running down there, the Virginia welcome center is on that line, so we’re not exactly setting a precedent,” he said.
He added that the business was in the Pocomoke watershed.
“This is just one business right at the state line that desperately needs help. Your closest wastewater plant is about 20 miles south, down the road in Onley,” he said. “This is in the Pocomoke area. it’s in the Pocomoke watershed. If we were to have an environmental disaster because this septic system fails and there is no way to contain it, then we would have a problem I the Pocomoke watershed.”
Commissioner Bud Church said he was opposed to the proposal.
“We’re picking and choosing who we’re going to do business with,” he said.
Bertino also voiced opposition.
“I’m certainly sensitive to the fact that Pocomoke is interested in doing this but I disagree wholeheartedly when it’s said an environmental problem or situation is on Worcester County’s shoulders,” he said. “The fact is Royal Farms made a determination when they built that store that they were going to do it and build it in Accomack County.”
He said the store’s connections should go talk to Accomack County officials. He added that while the county did extend sewer to the Virginia welcome center, that agreement was with the Commonwealth of Virginia not a private business.
Though the Worcester County Planning Commission found the proposal consistent with the sewerage plan, Bob Mitchell, the county’s director of environmental programs, acknowledged they’d had some of the same concerns the commissioners did. He said Pocomoke’s wastewater treatment plant was already receiving the Royal Farms septage, but that it was being trucked in not delivered by sewer line.
“I would note that our three towns receive a considerable amount of septage, it’s a money maker,” Mitchell said. “It’s an income generator for the towns. We allow them to do this… Pocomoke serves almost half of the Eastern Shore. You don’t have public sewer until Onley…”
Bunting said several members of the planning commission—including the county’s former environmental programs director—had concerns about the proposal. He added that when the welcome center connection had been approved, paperwork stated that would be the only connection.
“This piece of paper from Pocomoke that says this will be the only tie in, it’s worthless,” he said, ripping the page in half. “Accomack County needs to step up and take care of this issue.”
He said if Pocomoke connected Royal Farms, they should consider waiving property taxes to other businesses. When Mitchell attempted to continue his input, Bunting interrupted.
“I don’t want to hear what you’ll add Bob,” he said.
Bertino pointed out that if Pocomoke was in need of wastewater plant improvements, it could use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding and wouldn’t need the hookup fees from Royal Farms.
“I want Pocomoke to be successful,” Bertino said. “I hope Royal Farms decides to move across to Worcester County. At that point I’d have no problem welcoming them. I don’t see that we should be held responsible for the lack of planning on the part of Accomack County.”
Nordstrom said that Pocomoke wanted to make the connection with its own wastewater treatment plant.
“They have plenty of capacity,” he said.
His peers maintained that a precedent would be set. Nordstrom’s motion to schedule a public hearing failed, with he and Commissioner Diana Purnell in support and Bunting, Bertino, Church and Commissioner Ted Elder opposed.
When contacted after this week’s commissioners meeting, Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason said this issue had not been presented to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors.
“In fact, this is the first I have heard of it,” he said in an email. “In Virginia, on-site sewage systems are regulated by the Virginia Department of Health so any problems with the system currently located on the Royal Farms property would have been addressed by this state agency not the county.”
He added that other than Pocomoke City’s sewer line, there was no public or private wastewater collection system within 10 miles of Royal Farms.
“It is my understanding that Pocomoke’s sewer line already slightly extends over the state line in close proximity to Royal Farms so if they desire to connect to a centralized treatment system, it is more than likely the only practical solution,” he said. “We have no purview over whether Royal Farms connects to this existing system.”