Threatened Sensitive Joint Vetch as found in area of proposed KWR Intake on Mattaponi River, further endangered by King William Reservoir Project
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Some dissent in reservoir loan vote

In a 5-2 decision, City Council voted to borrow $20 million for the land needed for the project.



August 14, 2008


After a grueling public hearing that lasted about two hours, City Council voted shortly after midnight Wednesday to borrow $20 million to buy 89 parcels of land still needed for the reservoir.

Council's action will bring the city's total tab so far for the $300 million reservoir to $85 million. "It may cost us more money if we have to wait and buy the land later," said Councilman Bert Bateman, Jr.

Council members Madeline McMillan and Pat Woodbury were the dissenting votes in the 5-2 decision.

The two-decade old controversy surrounding the King William reservoir mainly centers on different studies about the region's potential need for water.

A 2005 study by the federal government said a long-term water shortage could begin sometime between 2015 and 2030, said City Manager Randy Hildebrandt.

But two new studies released last week by the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi, an opponent of the reservoir, attacked that argument by concluding that water usage actually remained steady and even slightly declined over the last 15 years.

"If we don't need the water, what is the reason for the reservoir?" said Angela Herring, a Newport News resident and Sierra Club member, who was one of 22 people who pleaded with City Council not to borrow the money or to delay a vote. Mayor Joe S. Frank, Vice Mayor Joe Whitaker, and Council members Tina Vick and Sharon Scott also voted for borrowing the money.

In 2012 the city will have to get an extension for a crucial state water permit for the reservoir.

"We are acquiring these properties and the construction permit is still pending," said Scott. "This concerned me."

King William County has already bought 18 parcels for the reservoir — at a price of $632,000 — and been reimbursed by the city.

"It's fiscally irresponsible," Woodbury said. "It's buying land and building a house and not having a permit."

Hildebrandt said the city could not delay the vote because of ongoing work such as an archaeological study.

With Wednesday's endorsement, the city is shifting the financial responsibility of buying the remaining pieces of land from King William County, which had agreed in 1990 to buy the property, to Newport News.

The county would take over the $20 million loan over within five years. The city expects to buy all the land it needs for the reservoir by 2009. But some Council members worry about the city's staggering debt.

"To buy land for another county that won't buy it for themselves's fiscally irresponsible," Woodbury said.

Instead, Woodbury said, the city should invest in water conservation and research other technology, like desalination, which has become less complex and less expensive.

In other business:

• Council members approved rezoning 13.73 acres at

400 Chatham Drive and 12515 Jefferson Avenue

in Denbigh for a future upscale shopping center.

• Council also approved a permit for an indoor skateboard park at 371 Chatham Drive in Denbigh.

• Council decided not to send City Manager Randy Hildebrandt to China this fall as part of a city delegation

to Newport News' sister city, Taizhou.

Copyright © 2008, Newport News, Va., Daily Press

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