Tomato Toss: Blame Hanover Fight on Motorola 

click to enlarge street12_wastewater_100.jpg

The Hanover County Board of Supervisors expects quite a stink to be made at its March 21 meeting.

At issue is a proposal in the county's long-range comprehensive plan, which would add more than 30,000 acres to the development rolls, setting off an old-fashioned debate between pro-growth and slow-growth in tomato country.

Blame it on a bad bet, critics say.

The 30,000 acres in question just so happen to be a rural area easily accessible to county utilities — namely, a massive wastewater-treatment plant county officials planned nearly a decade ago, eager to attract large-volume industrial customers.

Why? In the mid-1990s, Motorola Inc. announced it had chosen to locate a massive semiconductor plant in Goochland County, which already had such utility hookups in its West Creek business park. The prevailing wisdom was that the other competing sites, including possible locations in Hanover and Chesterfield, didn't have giant tracts of land with utility hookups ready to go.

So Hanover built the wastewater-treatment plant. But the big companies, including Motorola, didn't come. And now the county is struggling with how to pay for the facility, according to county critics who oppose the comprehensive plan.

"Back when they built it, the buzz was, Oh, chip plant, chip plant — but that didn't come about," says Martha Wingfield, leader of one opposition group, the Coalition for Hanover's Future. Her group says the comprehensive plan's massive increase in land available for both commercial and residential development aims to make up for lack of a customer base for the treatment plant.

"What we have been told by county officials is that we need those additional hookups to pay for the water-treatment plant," Wingfield says. She cites a 2004 meeting at which the county's director of public utilities, Frank Harksen Jr., told county leaders that the county might lose its AAA bond rating if it didn't expand its utilities customer base. The plant was built using funds from a bond issuance.

Harksen later recanted that statement, according to Wingfield. "My guess is because there was a lot of opposition to the plant, they are loathe to admit they made a mistake," she says.

But county officials say there are plenty of flushes to pay for the treatment plant's operation.

"The sewer treatment plant is paid for," Deputy County Administrator John Hodges says. "There are bonds out there, but the users that we have and our rates are paying — we have adequate revenues to pay for what we've built."

Hodges says the 30,000-acre plan seeks to ensure that county planners can take advantage of business growth along the Interstate 95 corridor.

"Residences don't pay all the costs that local government has to pay. Business development does," Hodges says. "What we do have with the treatment plant is the potential [for more business growth]." S

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