Quantico, the only town in the country located within a military base, has a reprieve in its water dispute with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Mayor Kevin Brown told the Town Council during its Feb. 11 meeting that Quantico and the Marines signed a 90-day extension for the existing water and sewer agreement effective through the end of April.
The council unanimously voted to authorize Brown to work with AquaLaw, a Richmond firm specializing in water service law, to pursue a new agreement with the base.
The town of Quantico is about 40 acres surrounded on three sides by the 60,000-acre Marine Corps Base Quantico and on the fourth by the Potomac River. It has about 500 residents.
The town’s history dates to 1654, when the first land patents were given to English settlers. The base was established around the town after the U.S. entered World War I.
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.
The town and Marines entered an agreement in 1930 for the base to sell the town surplus water. The agreement was expanded in 1971 to include sewer services.
Under the current agreement, the base has been charging the town regular customer rates. Town officials have said the costs have made it impossible for the town to address the $2 million to $4 million in repairs needed for its antiquated water distribution system.
Brown has 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, he said the base has been charging the town $4.35 per kilo gallon.
For the past two years, the town has been readjusting the water bills and paying the base at the 1930 rate.
In January, Brown said the long-running dispute led to a threat from the base to cut off service if a new contract wasn’t approved by Feb. 1.
Brown has said he is trying to establish an agreement with the base to purchase water at wholesale rates so the town can start improving its systems, but officials have balked at the idea. He said for the town to get the wholesale rate, it must draft a waiver letter for approval by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III.
Base officials have said they’ve tried since 2018 to resolve the dispute. 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.”
Brown said the town attorney doesn’t have the expertise to address water agreements and, after InsideNoVa published a story on the dispute, several firms have reached out.
“It’s been very encouraging that all these people are reaching in and I think we’re on the right track,” Brown said.
Brown said the cost for the firm ranges from $195 to $530 an hour and the town could need 20 to 30 hours of work.
“It sounds expensive,” he said. “It is expensive, but in the context of 2-, 4-, 6-million kind of stuff, I’d say it’s worth it.”
At the Feb. 11 meeting, Brown said base officials want to meet with the town later this month to continue discussing the agreement.
Attempts to reach Brown and base officials for this story were unsuccessful.
In other business, the council signed off on various expenses including $4,800 to replace the air-conditioning system at Town Hall.
The council also discussed various uses for money it received through the federal coronavirus stimulus package. The exact numbers were unclear because the town did not post an agenda packet on its Facebook page.
The domain for the town’s website, townofquantico.org, appears to no longer be maintained and information was not available virtually ahead or after the meeting. The site has been down since at least Jan. 25.
One item of disagreement over the stimulus money appeared to be updated software for town staff. Some councilors wanted to approve the expense, while others were worried about the cost. The exact purpose of the software was unclear.
Brown thought the expense was too high.
“Again, the town is functioning as is. Is it annoying? Is it cumbersome? Is it extra work? Yes,” he said of the software during the meeting. “But it’s functioning and [the town has] been functioning for 100 years. Doing the software is important, but no one’s dying on the operating table.”