Jobs, public debate follow new Augusta spring water plant
A $15.5 million Flow Alkaline Spring Water production plant opening this summer in Augusta County’s Verona area will bring additional jobs to the area.
Nonetheless, Flow Alkaline is facing resistance from a local group worried about the impact of the company’s operations on a local water source, Seawright Springs.
“We are not anti-business or anti-development,” says Verona resident Robin Hawks, a member of the Friends of Seawright Springs group. “We just think citizens should participate so we have the right project in the right place. This is the wrong project in the wrong place.”
Ontario-based Flow Alkaline is expected to create 51 jobs at its Augusta plant, most of them in the skilled trades. Of the 23 people already hired, 22 live within a 25-mile radius of Verona. The Canadian water distributor is leasing and renovating an existing 52,000-square-foot building in Verona’s Mill Place Commerce Park, which will serve as a packaging facility.
Flow Alkaline spokeswoman Autumn Furr says the company chose Verona because the spring “had almost identical properties in terms of taste and minerals to our original source in Bruce County, Canada. Moreover, the production location is strategically positioned along the I-81 corridor, within a day’s drive of major markets and distribution centers.”
“This is a great international company,” says Augusta County Director of Economic Development and Tourism Amanda Glover. “It complements our food and beverage cluster.”
Nevertheless, the Friends of Seawright Springs group has a raft of concerns about the plant, ranging from zoning to water usage to transportation and public safety.
“We feel the area is not zoned properly” and a special-use permit should be required, says Hawks, adding the group also worries about potential traffic hazards from tankers transporting water along a narrow highway that passes by county schools.
The county and state didn’t give citizens the opportunity “to voice concerns,” Hawks says. “It was a done deal. What that says to taxpayers is: We don’t care what you say or need.”
But the county contends that “no special-use permit is required,” says Glover, adding that Board of Supervisors members have met with concerned citizens, and county staff have also offered to talk to the Seawright Springs group.
As for Flow Alkaline, Furr says the company takes its “environmental and safety responsibilities very seriously and will work to ensure there are no adverse impacts, either on other water users or those we share the roads with.”
Friends of Seawright Springs has filed an appeal with the Board of Zoning Appeals. “If they accept our appeal,” Hawks says, “we make our case and let the Board of Zoning Appeals determine if this is an appropriate project.”