Chincoteague officials continue to grapple with how best to provide wastewater service in the future in parts of the densely populated island town — in particular the commercial corridor.

Lee Beetschen of Duffield Engineering Services in a recent update to the town's wastewater advisory committee gave an overview of the firm's work for the town and said the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality assured it would issue a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, according to meeting minutes.

Town council members at the Dec. 4 council meeting debated the merits of spending money on preliminary work required in advance of a permit application.

The engineering firm's services are divided into two tasks — the work required to complete the permit application and modeling of the hydrographic release.

Duffield will hire Dwyer Geosciences to do the modeling, according to the update.

The parameters of the modeling needed have changed, Harvey Spurlock, Chincoteague public works director, told the town council.

The original proposal included hydrograph modeling of nutrients and coliform, but after Beetschen met with the agencies involved, it was agreed modeling of nutrients and coliform is not required, according to the minutes.

"He went back to all the state agencies involved in issuing the permit, and ultimately they agreed to drastically reduce what would have to be modeled to get the permit," he said in a report on the engineers' update to the wastewater committee.

The estimated cost for the modeling was reduced from "well over $100,000" to around $55,000, Spurlock said.

The modeling will be done in steps, from 100,000 gallons up to 1.5 million gallons a day of discharge, Beetschen told the wastewater committee.

Councilman Ben Ellis asked Spurlock about the total cost.

"In addition to the $58,000 for modeling, which would be additional funds required, it's going to take another $56,000 for this permit completion and for the group that he's working with, Dwyer, that would be $25,000?" he asked Spurlock.

"It's $139,000 to get the actual permit in our hands," including the costs for the modeling and permit completion.

The town is waiting to receive the revised cost proposal from Duffield, he said.

Ellis asked about what would be the next steps in the process.

Among other items, a preliminary design for a treatment plant would be developed as part of the application process, Spurlock said.

A National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit from the Department of Environmental Quality would be for discharges based on the hydrographic model, but "that does not dictate where the water is coming from, where the plant is, where the distribution is, so ... after you get the permit, then you would have to do a design and, either before or after, obviously, determine where the funding is coming from," Spurlock said, adding, "To me, the next step would be to get the funding."

"Who is going to pay for this and what's the ultimate cost going to be?" Councilman Jim Frese asked, saying it likely would amount to multiple millions.

Spurlock said the cost is not yet known. He said that what the wastewater committee recommended in its report to the town was to serve the commercial corridor with municipal sewer service.

"This permit does not lock you into doing the commercial corridor," Spurlock said, adding it is an opportunity for the town to get a discharge permit for future use.

"It would have to be renewed every five years, at a minimal cost," he said.

The town's commercial corridor, along Maddox Boulevard, would use an estimated 100,000 gallons per day of treatment, Spurlock said.

Frese said the town already has spent $50,000 "and we're going to spend another $139,000 ... so that's $189,000, and we still have no idea how much this thing is going to cost us or even if the people want it ... We ought to start telling people what we have in mind."

Others spoke in favor of spending the money to do the modeling and apply for the permit.

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"We need to have that permit in place so it can be a shovel-ready project — that's the only way we're going to get it," said Councilman Gene Wayne Taylor, adding, "Can we afford it? Absolutely not. We're not trying to fool anybody."

Mayor Arthur Leonard agreed, saying, "Before we do anything, we have to get the permit ... If we don't get this permit and then, down the road, they say no more permits are going to be issued, then we're stuck. So, I think we need to get that permit in hand, just to be forward thinking. I know it's a bite, but I think it's a cost that we need to bear ... In the long run, it would benefit the town to have that permit in hand, whether we ever use it or not."

Frese spoke about a past situation at the Captains Cove subdivision near Greenbackville, when the community was trying to construct a wastewater treatment plant.

"It went all the way through until they only needed one more thing — and that didn't come from DEQ. They had the DEQ (permit). That came from VMRC (Virginia Marine Resources Commission) Shellfish Sanitation ... they are the final word, to my knowledge," Frese said, adding, "...DEQ, I understand, can give you a permit, but that's not the final authority, and I think prudence would say, let's go the final authority and talk to them."

The council took no action related to wastewater at the meeting.