Editorial: Water for progress
These days, all the talk is about broadband internet. Without high-speed connections, it is said, there can be no business growth.
A big push is underway in these counties to get in on federal grant funding that will help to build a reliable and comprehensive broadband infrastructure. And that is all to the good.
But in the meantime, it seems that Mathews County has leapfrogged beyond another critical component for progress: a reliable, clean source of water for businesses.
Fourteen years ago, in January 1996, the Mathews Main Street Committee said public water was the greatest need for business growth in the village. (That, of course, was before terms such as "broadband" and "internet" had fully imprinted themselves on the zeitgeist).
Its recommendation followed a case in which a deli had opened for business, but then was forced to close, because it could not get water from a private well that met state health standards. The county board ordered a water study but, in the face of public opposition, killed the plan in July 1997.
Since those days, a number of restaurants have found ways to open and two new shopping centers have refreshed the village. Much has been accomplished.
However, the water issue has bubbled to the surface only a few times since then. Many people would like to see greater business development in the village, but limitations remain.
One of the most needed and most-desired facilities, according to almost anyone who thinks and talks about these needs, is an assisted living home that would enable elderly people to remain in Mathews. But it seems unlikely that such a place will ever choose the county without a reliable and clean water supply.
Another factor is the danger of fire. Three times in the first half of the 20th century, fires caused tremendous destruction of village businesses. A bucket brigade was about the only means to fight those conflagrations. The volunteer fire department, organized after World War II, has been able to limit damage from subsequent fires in the village. Central water would give the firefighters a powerful tool.
The board of supervisors in December 2008 started talking about water again. Engineers who had worked on the 1997 study said original estimates of $600,000 to $700,000 had likely doubled. They also noted that without public water, businesses and residences pay an insurance surcharge for fire protection.
And there the water issue has rested. No more discussion; just a mention in the draft comprehensive plan that the county should "update the water supply study for Mathews Courthouse. Coordinate with the regional water supply study. Implement recommended water improvements to the extent feasible. Solicit multiple partners and financing sources."
What is the county waiting for? Another round of stimulus funding? Some prodding by merchants or citizens? Or, God forbid, a terrible fire? At the very least, supervisors should order an update of the water study. And then, assuming the leadership role to which it was elected, it should get the ball rolling toward a central system that will attract more businesses and keep shoppers and valued residents in the county.