Greene County supervisors acknowledged the value of the scenic vistas of Sheandoah National Park when they required a telecommunications monopole to be painted "Sky Blue." The intent was to have the tower blend into the background for nearby residents, looking up at it.
For those living further away and for most visitors, the color stood out in clear contrast to the forested mountains in the background. One county supervisor called it "Sky White," and the elected officials debated whether to spend $25,000 to have the monopole repainted.1
Orange, Madison and Greene counties organized the Rapidan Service Authority in 1969 to provide regional water, sewer, and solid waste services. Each county appointed two people to the board of the authority.
three counties formed the Rapidan Service Authority in 1969
Source: Rapidan Service Authority, Webshare Portal
In Greene County, the Rapidan Service Authority funded construction of a water system to serve the Ruckersville and Stanardsville areas. The authority was also responsible for sewer service in the Town of Stanardsville and the surrounding area, plus the commercial area of Route 29 in Ruckersville. The Rapidan Service Authority's water treatment plant on the Rapidan River provided drinking water for the Route 29 corridor near Ruckersville, plus the Route 33 corridor between Ruckersville and Stanardsville.
Greene County began planning construction of a new reservoir in 2000 with Project 2000 Comprehensive Water Supply Plan, anticipating groundwater could not supply the future population as the county became a bedroom community north of Charlottesville. After a major drought in 2002, the General Assembly mandated in 2005 that jurisdictions prepare 50-year water supply plans. Based on the regional water supply study, Greene County adopted the White Run impoundment project and construction of a new 3.5 MGD (million gallons per day) water treatment plant as the preferred alternative. Total cost was estimated at $35 million.
The 75' high dam on White Run would block a small tributary, and that small watershed would not produce enough water fill the 900 million gallon reservoir and to supply 3.5 MGD reliably. The plan involved pumping 10%-15% of the daily flow from the Rapidan River up to White Run, through a pipe with its intake adjacent to the current Rapidan Service Authority water treatment plant.
Pumping would be seasonal, because during the summer the supply in the Rapidan River is limited. The existing Rapidan Service Authority water treatment plant had priority. Based on a safe yield analysis completed in 1985, it was already authorized to withdraw up to 1.15MGD:2
Greene County and Standardsville planned to pump water from the Rapidan River to the new reservoir on White Run
Source: Greene County and the Town of Stanardsville, 2001 Joint Permit Application for a Pumped Water Reservoir (Figure 1-1)
The Rapidan Service Authority agreed to collect a special "facility fee" from Greene County residents to fund the project. By 2020, $11 million had been collected, and Greene County planned to increase it in order to finance construction of the reservoir. In a surprise vote with no advance notice, the four members from Madison and Orange counties decided to stop collecting the facility fee rather than to increase it.
The four members proposed that all of the Greene County taxpayers should fund more of the cost, rather than just the current and future ratepayers buying water and sewer services from the regional authority. The General Manager of the Rapidan Service Authority floated an alternative to the $35 million White Run impoundment project. He claimed Greene County had overstated its projected demand, and that installing a membrane filtration system in the current water treatment plant could add 3-4 MGD capacity and meet his projection of demand for around $10 million. However, the proposal with no new reservoir assumed there would always be adequate flow in the Rapidan River throughout the summer months to withdraw extra water from the river.
The vote to cancel collection of the facility fee undermined the ability of Greene County to proceed. County officials pushed back against claims that progress was too slow to justify continuing to collect the fee, noting that the reservoir site had been purchased and engineering plans for the dam, pipeline, and other facilities had been prepared. When a Green County official emphasized that the sudden proposal of the Rapidan Service Authority had not been vetted and the White Run project was part of a long-range plan, a Madison County member of the authority's board responded "...you've done nothing."
The Rapidan Service Authority had built a water system for portions of Greene County, and the authority had plans for $12 million in improvements for the town, but the plans were just on paper. Over 50 years after creation of the regional water system, the Town of Stanardsville still lacked a reliable supply of water. In 2021, the Grene County Administrator stated:3
when Greene County withdrew from the Rapidan Service Authority in 2022, 11 major projects were planned in the county
Source: Rapidan Service Authority, Proposed Projects
Greene County's supervisors quickly determined it was in their interest to create a county-managed water and sewer authority, and voted to withdraw from the Rapidan Service Authority. That move was delayed when the Board of Supervisors in both Orange and Madison county refused to allow Greene County to withdraw, so Greene County filed a lawsuit claiming breach of contract.
Rapidan Service Authority meetings became toxic. In a 4-2 vote, the representatives from Orange and Madison County decided that the two Greene County representatives would no longer be allowed to speak or vote, so budget and policy decisions would be made without their participation. In response, Greene County filed another lawsuit to force dissolution of the regional authority. It claimed state law required the board to have at least five members, and exclusion of the two Greene County representatives left the board with just four members.4
The issue was complicated in part because the authority had used the Virginia Resource Authority to issue bonds. Breaking up the authority required clarifying first who would be responsible for what portion of that debt.
In 2021, the supervisors in Orange and Madison county reversed their position and agreed to allow Greene County to withdraw. The Rapidan Service Authority would continue, with more than 5,000 customers in Orange County had more than 5,000 customers and less than 200 in Madison County. Despite those decisions by the electd supervisors, the appointed members on the board of the Rapidan Service Authority still refused to authorize withdrawal. Greene County won the procedural votes in court as its lawsuits continued, and the elected officials in all three counties viewed the board of the Rapidan Service Authority as obstructing a resolution.5
In 2022, recognizing Greene County was winning the lawsuits, all three counties and the Rapidan Service Authority negotiated a withdrawal and transition agreement that was formally adopted. Greene County Water & Sewer could finally be created.
The Virginia Resource Authority concurred in January, and the State Corporation Commission agreed to the breakup in June 2023. The Rapidan Service Authority continued, with Orange County having three board members and Madison County appointing two.6