(Delmarvanow.com) -- The Chincoteague Town Council voted 4-2 at its Jan. 2 meeting to spend up to $106,850 for work needed before the town can obtain a wastewater discharge permit from the state.
The money will go to pay for modeling necessary to apply for a permit and costs associated with applying for the permit itself.
"DEQ has assured us that they will issue us a permit," said Harvey Spurlock, Chincoteague's director of public works.
Spurlock said the $106,850 was "a ceiling figure," not to be exceeded — the cost could come in under that amount.
In response to a question Councilman Jim Frese asked at a previous council meeting, Spurlock said he had researched the cost of the 100,000 gallon capacity wastewater treatment system needed to serve the commercial area of town along the Maddox Boulevard corridor.
The cost is an estimated $4.5 to $5 million to design and construct a system with that capacity, he said. Operational costs would be around $125,000 a year, he added.
Councilman Ben Ellis noted it will take almost a year for the modeling and other work the vote was on to be completed; therefore, the cost will be spread across the town budget for this and the next year.
"It's a lot of money ... but the requirements for these types of permits are not going to get any less stringent," he said, speaking in favor of proceeding with the work and with applying for the permit.
Ellis also noted the permit, once obtained, can be renewed at minimal cost for another five years.
"We don't have to do the next phase right away," he said.
Council members Jim Frese and Ellen Richarson voted against spending the money.
"We don't even know who is going to use it," Frese said.
Frese said his understanding is "a lot of the businesses in that area (the Maddox Boulevard corridor) were having problems with the sewage" — but he said business owners there "as far as I know have not been contacted to find out if they are willing, in fact, to pay for it."
Ellis said the questions Frese has raised have been answered and the businesses have been contacted in a variety of ways at different times since the town's wastewater advisory committee first started meeting over a decade ago.
"They have surveyed people all over this island to get input," he said.
Spurlock talked about a 2009 memorandum of understanding between the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which says VMRC can request an alternative analysis of outflow but cannot stop issuance of a discharge permit.
"This memo is the whole reason DEQ as gone out and said, 'We will issue a permit,'" he said.
Mayor J. Arthur Leonard said in his lifetime on Chincoteague, "I've seen a lot of businesses close down and I've heard a lot of business owners need septic. It puts them in a financial bind when they have to install these new septic systems. You see restaurants closing because they can't afford to put the septic in."
Leonard said a municipal system is needed for businesses in town.
"This is a step forward. If you're not stepping forward, you're moving backwards. I've said it all along — I want to move forward," he said.
Gene Wayne Taylor made the motion to approve the expenditure, which the council approved 4-2.