Provision to remove Va. from Potomac River commission axed

RICHMOND — A provision that would withdraw Virginia from a long-standing, multistate compact devoted to cleaning and maintaining the Potomac River has been stripped from a bill working its way through the House of Delegates.

The $151,500 in the state’s annual dues to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, established in 1940, was removed during the 2011 General Assembly’s budget amendment process, and Gov. Bob McDonnell did not include the money for either of the next two years in his proposed biennial budget.

Delegate R. Steven Landes, Augusta Republican, had introduced legislation to notify the commission, as well as two other interstate pacts, that Virginia was withdrawing its membership, effective July 1, 2013. When the measure was marked up in the House Rules Committee this week, however, the provision on the commission was stripped out.

A spokesman for Mr. McDonnell said the state is still in discussions and the governor has not made any decisions, but Delegate Barbara J. Comstock said it was her understanding that Virginia would remain a member.

Rob Hartwell, appointed to the commission by Mr. McDonnell, has long argued that the return Virginia gets on its membership far exceeds the $151,500 investment.

Mr. Hartwell said he recently had a “very cordial meeting” to discuss the issue with Ms. Comstock, Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech, and David K. Paylor, director of the Department of Environmental Quality. Mr. Hartwell also discussed the issue with House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, and Mr. McDonnell himself, he said.

“I appreciate [the governor] being able to work with us and listening to the facts on our side of the conversation,” he said.

Delegate Scott A. Surovell, Fairfax Democrat, said it was a bipartisan moment.

“I think there’s broad consensus that clean water and an adequate water supply is an important goal,” he said. “Most people have no idea that the Potomac River is a shared, managed resource.”

Both Mr. Hartwell and Mr. Surovell said Ms. Comstock, Fairfax Republican, was instrumental in leading the effort.

“I’d give it a team effort,” she said, adding that Delegate Timothy D. Hugo, Fairfax Republican, and House Majority Whip Jackson H. Miller, Manassas Republican and a state alternate to the commission, were also crucial. “It was a ‘Peace in the Valley’ situation.”

Those involved say the important accomplishment is keeping the state a member of the commission, which also includes Maryland, the District, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the federal government. But exactly how much of Virginia’s $151,500 in annual dues the state plans to pay remains an issue.

A host of Northern Virginia legislators have introduced budget amendments that add money for the state’s share, including Mr. Surovell, Ms. Comstock, Delegate Kaye Kory, Fairfax Democrat, Delegate Kenneth R. Plum, Fairfax Democrat, Sen. Barbara Favola, Arlington Democrat, Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax Democrat, and Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller, Fairfax Democrat.

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