Friday, May 22, 2009

Letter from Cluster Presidents -- RELAC Update

May 1, 2009

To: Our Fellow Reston Lake Anne Area Cluster and Condo Assn. Residents

From: Ad Hoc Committee of Lake Anne Area Cluster and Condo Association Representatives*

Re. RELAC this season and beyond; an initial update

This brief letter is intended to bring you up to date, as we know it, as to developments regarding the continued operation of the Reston Lake Anne air conditioning system now owned by Aqua Va.

Earlier this year officials of Aqua Va. invited representatives of each of the eight cluster and condo associations now hooked up to the chilled water air conditioning system affectionately called RELAC to a group meeting to discuss the system’s future, its lack of profitability and myriad issues involved in its future functioning. That session, and follow up discussions with Aqua Va. representatives and Reston Association leaders stimulated us to begin meeting among ourselves to sort out what choices and alternatives might be facing some 600 households who now rely on RELAC for their seasonal air conditioning.

Here’s what we know:

RELAC is over 40 years old, and has experienced escalating operational and capital repairs in recent years; Aqua Va. reported they have lost money owning RELAC in each of the past several years, and if they can’t sell the system, they may seek a sizeable rate hike from the Va. State Corporation Commission; it appears quite doubtful that RELAC as we have known it in the past will continue to exist 3-5 years from today; there are an array of what may be viable cost effective ways to air condition our homes and condos without everyone having to resort to the more commonly seen individual AC units; there may be very meaningful tax credits and operational savings available to our respective households depending on how we respectively plan for our future AC services; there is a “briar patch” of issues and hurdles yet to work through if, as a community, we are to emerge with future air conditioning systems we can afford and will be satisfied owning.

We hope very shortly to convene an informational meeting of neighbors from all of the cluster and condo associations now on the RELAC system. At that meeting we’ll offer additional details, answer your questions as best we can, and share a brief draft referendum petition which, if adopted later this fall, would authorize some limited multi-year pilot or demonstration AC projects among households now in the RELAC system.

The approach under consideration would seek to amend the covenant to allow a limited number of pilot projects over a three-year period by residents who would be released from the system entirely, with revocation of the covenant to occur after the three years. The pilot AC projects process should give all of us now on the RELAC system a better gauge of the choices, costs and benefits of providing air conditioning in the longer term future.

Again, please look for further information on the upcoming RELAC related community meeting shortly.

Ad Hoc Committee Cluster and Condo Assn. Representatives*

Sam Harahan
Coleson Cluster

Thomas Garrity
Governour’s Square Cluster

Fred Swartzendruber
Hickory Cluster

Rick Thompson
Lake Anne Condominium

Carolee Egan
Vantage Hill Condominium

Mark Waddell

Karen Noel
Water View Cluster

Craig Palmer and
Bryan Smith
Washington Plaza Cluster

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Middle School Gangs: A Rising Concern

Is your child at risk of being recruited by gang members? What makes some kids more vulnerable than others? Understand the scope of the current (and changing) face of gang activity in your neighborhood.

There will be presentations by the police department's gang unit, the County's Office of the Commonwealth Attorney, and human service agencies. While middle school conditions will be a focus of the evening, parents of all school-aged children are encouraged to attend this important forum to learn how to prevent children from becoming involved in gang-related activity.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 20, 7-9 p.m.
WHERE: Sully Government Center, 4900 Stonecroft Blvd., Chantilly, VA 20151
CONTACT: 703-703-246-3271

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Prepare now for Hurricane and Flood Season

Virginia’s Hurricane Tax Holiday is May 25-31

RICHMOND, VA – June 1 marks the start of hurricane season, and Virginians should take steps now to prepare their families and businesses. Regardless of where you live in the Commonwealth, the flood risk and property loss associated with hurricanes and tropical storms is high.“It is so important that every Virginian treat hurricane season seriously,” said Michael Cline, state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “Hurricane season is flood season. No part of Virginia is safe from flooding because seasonal heavy rains and slow moving tropical systems can affect any part of the state.” National Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 24-30, an excellent opportunity for all Virginia families to take three simple, low-cost steps to get ready: get a kit, make a plan and stay informed.

This year, the Ready Virginia campaign is focusing on teaching families how to make a plan. For hurricane season, families should learn their designated evacuation routes, decide on an evacuation destination and collect emergency contact information. Go to for downloadable family plan worksheets. Residents living in coastal and inland communities will benefit from Virginia’s Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday, set for May 25-31. During that week, no sales tax will be charged on the purchase of many items that can be used to prepare homes for hurricane and flood season and to fill emergency supply kits. Among the exempt items are bottled water; flashlights; batteries including cell phone batteries; food and beverage storage coolers; battery-powered or hand-crank radios, two-way radios, weather band radios and NOAA Weather Radios; cell phone chargers; carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and fire extinguishers; first aid kits; tarps, plastic sheeting, drop cloths and duct tape; artificial ice; empty gas, propane or diesel fuel tanks or containers; and generators. For a complete list and details go to

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Hurricane Camille, which produced torrential rains in the mountains of Virginia. Although Camille was a tropical depression when it hit Virginia, Nelson County recorded 27 inches of rainfall. Flash flooding killed at least 150 people and injured another 100 in the Commonwealth. “The message for us in Virginia is that even a significantly weakened tropical system can have deadly consequences,” said Bill Sammler, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Fortunately, we now have NOAA Weather Radios, NWS Doppler radar and many other communication technologies that did not exist in 1969. But people still need to prepare their families and their homes and businesses because property damage can be severe during hurricane and flood season.

Courtesy of the VA Department of Emergency Management & Lani

Thursday, May 14, 2009

2009 A/C Season Is On

I wanted you all to know that we have the AC system operational – I assume we will have the usual period where we will need to deal with air in our and the customers’ lines. We began circulating water yesterday and have removed much of the air and are continuing today.
Thank You,

Gregory Odell
Chief Operating Officer
Aqua Virginia, Inc.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

HC President's Notes on 4/30/09 RELAC Mtg

Last night some of the cluster presidents met with [Aqua VA's] Greg Odell for an update on the RELAC situation. The CEO of RA also attended. Some of the main points follow:

  • The system is not yet ready to start due to heavy accumulation of mud in the intake lagoon. There was also a broken pump which has been repaired. They hope to have it ready in the next week or ten days.
  • AQUA plans to file for a rate increase in June. It would not apply to the upcoming cooling season. The amount they will request is not yet decided.
  • They are going to be marketing RELAC soon; in addition to the idea of an outright buyer, Odell floated the idea of a contract operator who would not own but would operate the system for a fee. He didn't indicate whether AQUA would be interested in retaining ownership under such an arrangement.
  • They have had preliminary designs prepared to extend the water inlet out into the lake (as I had long ago suggested), in order to get around the problem of shallow water, mud, etc. clogging the intake at the "lagoon" where the plant is located. The cost estimate is $136,000 and they will factor this into the rate increase proposal. Until the pipe extension is done, they will continue to need the diesel pumpset which we saw during the last two seasons, to ensure sufficient flow of water for cooling the chillers.
  • AQUA is keeping open the option of pressing the golf course over their use of lake water for watering the greens. The court ruling, according to them, is not necessarily the last word, and Odell hinted that they have been talking with Virginia DEQ about unregulated water extraction from a public waterway without the required permits. (In my opinion this is a valid point- FS.)
  • AQUA would consider upgrading the staffing at the plant in Reston to include customer service and management, based on strong negative feedback about the existing call center service; this would also be factored into a rate increase request.- There was discussion about revising the definition of when the season begins. The tariff reportedly calls for May 24 but most years it is much earlier depending on temperatures. Two problems they face are cleaning out the mud accumulated during winter and spring (which might be reduced when the intake pipe is built), and the heating switch-over at Heron House. Last night it was agreed it would be ready to start no later than May 15, but could begin in April if there are two days at 85 degrees.
  • They will consider making available more service inside the homes, to give advice on maintenance, pipe and coil upgrades if feasible, replacement of valves, etc.
  • As a regulated utility they can't take responsibility for actually doing work inside the house, but might consider recommending shops which are familiar with the technology and possible retrofit kits (additional coil and duct installed on upper floors, for ex.).
  • There will be another meeting May 27 at 7:00 in the RA conference room. By then the cooling system will have started and people may have experiences to share.
  • They are aware of the possibility of a covenant referendum, and hope it will not happen. AQUA says they would not "walk away" from a utility since they are a large corporation working in some 14 states with a reputation to protect. However, at the very end of the meeting Odell hinted this could happen if customers started leaving the system.