Quantico, the only town in the country located within a military base, is about to have its water shut off by the U.S. Marine Corps, says Mayor Kevin Brown.
A long-running dispute between the town and the surrounding Marine Corps Base Quantico over water and sewer service has reached crisis level, Brown said, with the base threatening to shut off water if the two sides don’t reach an agreement on a new contract by Feb. 1.
Brown said town officials have been trying for eight years, since he was elected, to negotiate a “more equitable” water and sewer agreement with the Marine Corps.
Due to the current arrangement, in which the base charges the town regular customer rates, Quantico officials can’t address the $2 million to $4 million in repairs needed for its antiquated water distribution system, Brown said.
He said the last water service contract he could find between the town and base dates back 90 years, when the base first began providing water. Back then, the water rate was set at $0.10 per kilo gallon. Recently, the base has been charging the town $4.35 per kilo gallon, Brown said.
But for the past two years, the town has been readjusting the water bills and paying the base the 1930 rate.
“After escalating this matter to the highest levels of U.S. Marine Corps leadership, local and state officials and its representatives in the United States Congress, the Town of Quantico was forced to hold the U.S. Marine Corps to the existing original water agreement signed in July 1930,” Brown said in a news release late last week.
Base officials told InsideNoVa that the 1930 agreement was a revokable license with the Town of Quantico to sell them surplus water. In 1971, the base and town expanded the relationship and entered into a contract for sewage services.
In the following decades, the license and the sewage contract were modified by the actions and agreements of the parties to reflect the cost of base's production for the services, the base said in a statement.
The town of Quantico is about 40 acres and is surrounded on three sides by the 60,000-acre military base and on the fourth by the Potomac River. The town has about 500 residents and a few dozen businesses, all mainly geared toward serving Marines.
The town’s history dates to 1654, when the first land patents were given to English settlers. In the early 1900s, the Quantico Company was formed to bring new life to the village. The company promoted Quantico as a tourist excursion, with picnic areas, beaches on the Potomac, a refreshment stand and a dance pavilion, according to a history published by the Marine Corps.
But in 1917, after the United States entered World War I, the commandant of the Marine Corps established a board to look for land suitable for training Marines on the East Coast.
“Quantico was found to be suitable and the land was leased from Quantico Company in 1917, and a year later was purchased from the company, which was reportedly financially unstable and owned more land than it could dispose of,” the history reads.
With Quantico landlocked by the Marine Corps base, it became the only town within a military installation, a distinction it still holds today.
Since 1930, the base has provided the town with water and fire service, along with some law-enforcement support for the town’s small police department.
Brown said that when he was elected mayor, he discovered the town's water works was in a critical state with $2 million to $4 million of needed repairs and improvements.
“I approached the base about establishing a wholesale water agreement between us and them so the town could start to address the repairs and improvements,” Brown said in an email to InsideNoVa.
The base refused, he said, claiming that it has to charge the town the same rate charged to all customers.
“They not only refused but did not even enter into any substantive discussions into the matter,” Brown said.
On Dec. 18, the town received a letter from the Marine Corps revoking the current water and sewer agreements between the parties, Brown said.
“The letter signed by Marine Corps Base Quantico Commander Col. W.C. Bentley III goes on to demand the Town of Quantico enter into a new service agreement by February 1 or face having water service to the town cut off,” Brown said in an email.
Brown has called on U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman and Sen. Tim Kaine to help Quantico resolve the dispute.
“The town’s efforts have included multiple attempts to have meaningful and respectful discussions regarding concerns with how Marine Corps Base Quantico has been providing water and sewer services to the town,” Brown wrote. “The town’s attempts to resolve its concerns have fallen on deaf ears, with the U.S. Marine Corps refusing to discuss any alternatives other than its own position.”
Base officials say they have tried since 2018 to resolve the matter with the town.
"In August 2018, the Town of Quantico unilaterally reverted payment to the original 1930-rate of 10 cents/kgal," their statement said. "For over two years, MCBQ has made repeated attempts to resolve the issue, including efforts to move the Town of Quantico to Prince William County Service Agency water and sewer service, but has been unable to reach agreement."
The base says to resolve the problem, the Marine Corps requires the town to sign an updated utility service agreement "that complies with federal and Virginia environmental laws, covers MCBQ’s costs of production, and makes efforts to transition the town’s utility services to Prince William County Service Agency water and sewer services."
The base says it values its long history "of cooperation and community with the Town of Quantico, and seeks to maintain open lines of communication with the mayor and town counsel to fairly resolve this matter."