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2017-10-11 / Featured / Front Page

County’s proposed water tank in city spurs protest

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

Eric Brakman, at Larus Park in Richmond, says the county’s proposal to build a new water tank and pumping station at the park is a bad deal for city residents. ASH DANIEL Eric Brakman, at Larus Park in Richmond, says the county’s proposal to build a new water tank and pumping station at the park is a bad deal for city residents. ASH DANIEL Chesterfield’s controversial park-leasing agreement with the city of Richmond remains in limbo while city officials explore their options and seek a solution that is acceptable to hundreds of concerned citizens.

That won’t be easy, since those Richmond residents vehemently oppose any encroachment by the county’s Utilities Department into city-owned Lewis G. Larus Park for the purpose of building a new water tank and pumping station.

“It’s obvious to us that Chesterfield would benefit immensely from this arrangement, but it doesn’t make sense for the city to proceed,” said Eric Brakman, whose Protect Larus Park Facebook group currently has more than 400 members. “I don’t know why the city feels like it should serve the county.”

Jeannie Reinick is equally mystified. She says she and 11 others delivered a petition containing 1,300 signatures to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s office last month, hoping to convince him to abandon the contract as currently written. Contacted by phone last week, Reinick said that she still hasn’t received any response from the mayor.

“It’s disappointing that he hasn’t held a public meeting for citizens to air their concerns,” she added. “There are alternatives that should be considered and we want to make sure that is happening.”

Stoney needs approval from six of nine city council members to lease the county 1.3 acres of land in Larus Park, a 106-acre park located at the intersection of Huguenot and Stony Point roads, for $1 annually.

The Board of Supervisors signed off in April on the agreement, under which Chesterfield would build a 2 million gallon water tank and pumping station adjacent to the city’s existing water pumping facility in Larus Park.

County officials say the project will provide “redundancy” for Richmond’s water system and improve subpar water pressure for properties located near the park. The county also has committed to purchase an additional 5 million gallons of city water per day for $1.3 million annually – although critics of the contract insist the city’s net profit will be just $85,000.

Richmond has been one of Chesterfield’s three drinking water sources since 1989. The county currently purchases 27 million gallons of water from the city daily. It also gets water from the Swift Creek Reservoir and Lake Chesdin.

As part of the $22 million project, the county would install more than four miles of transmission line along Huguenot Road to carry water from the Larus Park pumping station into Midlothian, where new residential and commercial development has created increased demand.

“We’re ahead of the curve on meeting that demand,” said Board of Supervisors Vice Chairwoman Leslie Haley, who represents the Midlothian District. “We can wait five years and come back to have this conversation again, but we thought it was better to have it now.”

Opponents of the proposed agreement acknowledge that 1.3 acres doesn’t sound like much land, but they’re concerned about establishing a precedent that the county government can encroach on scarce park land for other public projects.

They also cite legal documents transferring ownership of the heavily wooded property to the city nearly 40 years ago, which stipulate that it be “left principally in its natural state” and used as a “passive park.”

They strongly disagree with the city attorney’s opinion that the park leasing agreement with Chesterfield would not violate the terms of the property’s deed.

A letter to Stoney that was attached to the citizens’ petition reads in part: “Reinterpreting the word ‘development’ to skirt this agreement is unethical and sends a direct message to the public that city officials cannot be trusted.”

“We’re going to fight this as long as we can,” Brakman said. “We want to have a city that works together instead of a few officials who think they know what is best for us. Hopefully we’ll keep finding more people to stand up with us.”

City Councilwoman Kristen Larsen, whose district includes Larus Park, acknowledged she hears frequently from constituents wondering when the situation will be resolved.

“Richmond citizens say, ‘We’re losing an acre of park land and what are we getting in return? How does this benefit the city?’” Larsen said. “With anything like this, it’s a balance. We all want to work together as a region, but this can’t just be one locality gets what it wants and the other loses something.”

As one of three City Council members who sit on the city’s land-use committee, Larsen eventually will have to make a recommendation on whether Richmond should finalize the park-leasing agreement with Chesterfield.

The pending contract has been on the committee’s agenda for the past six months, but has been deferred to give the city time to explore alternatives. It’s currently listed on the agenda for the committee’s Oct. 17 meeting.

Once the land-use committee considers the proposal, it will be voted on by City Council.

George Hayes, director of the county’s Utilities Department, noted last week that the county is waiting to see how the process plays out on the city’s end.

“If there are any changes to the contract, we would have to take it back to the Board of Supervisors,” he said. ¦

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