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Banister Shores Residents Will Have A Choice

Running a waterline across the Banister River, up Route 501, to Banister Shores is a permanent solution to the problem of polluted and potentially polluted wells in the area, but the residents are free to reject the fix, according to officials with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Halifax County Service Authority (HCSA).

An informational meeting was held Thursday in Halifax between the HCSA, DEQ Remediation Geologist David Kirby, DEQ Petroleum Programs Remediation Manager John Giese and residents seeking information.

According to Giese, the project is only feasible because of federal funding that came to the state as part of the stimulus bill. 

Giese categorized Halifax’s project as a “large-ish” project and added there is a long list of potential projects on DEQ’s list. If residents reject this project, DEQ officials said it will simply allocate the funds for another project.

Currently, contaminated wells are filtered with a carbon filtration system that must be monitored and is not cheap to maintain, Giese explained, noting that of the $1 million available from the Virginia Petroleum Storage Tank Fund, more than $800,000 of the money already has been spent on remediation around the site and on the filters.

The carbon filters always were intended to be a temporary fix with extending a waterline as the permanent fix, Giese told the residents.

The grant awarded to the service authority would pay to extend the waterline from Halifax to Banister Shores and pay to have all the homes hooked up to the line on Occoneechee Trail and Lakeshore Drive, even though many of those wells are not yet showing signs of contamination.

Residents would not be forced to give up their wells and hook up to the new waterline by either DEQ or the service authority, officials said.  Residents could potentially hook up to the line at a later date, but then they would have to pay the authority’s $1,250 connection fee and pay for the pipe from the waterline to the residence, HCSA Executive Director Willie Jones said.

And if residents do hook up to the waterline, they must then consent to have their well closed, Kirby said.

If the majority of homeowners decline to hook up to the new waterline, it creates a potential water quality issue due to inadequate usage, Giese said, noting they don’t know yet the “magic number” of users to make the line feasible from a water quality standpoint.

Several property owners took exception with the thought of having to pay a water bill after they feel like they were wronged by the petroleum leakage.

Giese said that is a valid point, but the waterline is the only real permanent solution to the existing problem going forward.

Giese said the “responsible party” for the leak is Foster Fuels, and they have a consultant who has been executing a remediation plan to clean up the site. However, the contaminated wells persist.

Property owner Jimmy Jennings said Foster Fuels should be held responsible, and the residents should not have to pay anything. Giese again said he understood that position.

Asked what would happen with the contamination in coming years, Giese said it is unknown, and that is what makes the waterline the only permanent solution.  Wells that are currently unaffected now may show signs of contamination years down the road.

Realtors Jim and Honey Davis who live and own a rental property in the community said the contamination issue would be a problem when affected property owners seek to sell their homes. 

Another issue that arose during the question session concerned the possibility of the neighborhood being annexed by the Town of Halifax after the waterline project is complete when the town could then force residents to hook up to the line as it did on Canterbury Drive.

Board members said they could not speak to the annexation issue, but the town would no longer have standing to force residents to hook up because the service authority now owns the lines.

The next step officials said is for a certified letter to be sent to each residence asking if the property owner intends to hook up to the waterline, and once they know how many intend to use the line then a determination can be made if the project is feasible.

Near the end of the meeting, several property owners with contaminated wells urged their neighbors not to let this opportunity pass.

Resident Greg Kashmer said he’s been hoping for something like this for a long time, and he called the project a “wise investment.”

“I’d hate to see this pass us by,” he added.