The Prince William County Service Authority (PWCSA) is responsible for the existing and future public water and sanitary sewer systems and facilities in most of Prince William County. This involves the general maintenance, upgrades, and new construction as the need arises in our community. To accomplish new construction on private property, it becomes necessary to acquire right of way easements to allow installation of utilities and to guarantee access for future maintenance by a public agency. PWCSA’s goal is to ensure that an easement right is obtained in the most fair and economical means without adversely impacting the property. This brochure will provide you with information about PWCSA 's process of acquiring right of way easements for our utility projects as well as answers to commonly asked questions regarding this process. PWCSA is prepared to assist you by all means available so that you develop a clear understanding of the project as well as its impact and benefits to you, your property and the citizens of Prince William County.
What is an easement?
An easement is a legal document that conveys limited property rights from the grantor (landowner) to the grantee (PWCSA). An easement only grants restricted use of the property as detailed in the deed of easement and plat, and is not a transfer in real estate ownership. For this reason, easements are usually obtained though donations or negotiations. There are two types of easements commonly employed in the construction of public water and sewer utility projects. The first is a permanent easement that grants perpetual rights to access, install, operate, repair, replace, and maintain specified utility pipelines or facilities. The second is a temporary easement that conveys temporary access and construction rights that terminate upon the completion of the construction of the project.
How will I be informed of the utility project?
A PWCSA representative will initially contact you by phone, if possible, and discuss the proposed project, its scope and impact on your land. Following this conversation, a package will be assembled and either hand delivered or forwarded to the property via the U S Mail.This informational package usually includes the proposed deed of easement, a plan or sketch illustrating the location of the utility, and any other supporting data that will assist you in understanding the scope of the project. You will be given a reasonable period of time to review the contents of the package and to respond, to ask questions, to request a meeting, or to grant the easement.
How is an easement acquired?
Utility easements are acquired during one of the following three phases: preliminary, negotiation or condemnation. After review of the informational package during the preliminary stage, if the landowner desires to donate the requested easement without compensation, this can be accomplished by signing and notarizing the proposed easement document. If the landowner desires to receive compensation for the value of the requested easement rights, the negotiation phase begins. Based on assessments, a fair value is established for the easement, and if a negotiated sum is agreed upon, the revised document is signed and notarized by the landowner and delivered to PWCSA in exchange for the agreed payment. Most often, easements are granted during this period. However, if no agreement can be reached and no reasonable alternative locations for the utility installation can be established, the PWCSA’s Board of Directors may elect to obtain the required easement right by condemnation. Used rarely and only as a last resort, condemnation of easement property rights under the Powers of Eminent Domain has been granted by the Commonwealth of Virginia to protect the rights of the property owner as well as the community.
What does the appraisal process involve?
An appraisal establishes monetary value for the property rights being transferred with a given easement. Initially, the compensation offered is based on tax assessments and PWCSA’s prior experience with easement acquisitions and valuations. Compensation in excess of the appraised value of the rights being acquired may be offered as an incentive for the landowner to voluntarily grant the easement. An on-site meeting to review the project and compensation offer is beneficial at this stage.
If both parties cannot agree upon a value, PWCSA will employ an outside certified appraiser. Based on current accepted practices, your property will be evaluated and a fair monetary value established. Since an easement involves a partial use of the property and is not a transfer of ownership of all property rights, value will be less than if the property was bought outright (fee simple) by PWCSA.You may want to accompany the appraiser to point out any unusual features or to provide information that you think will be useful as part of the appraisal. Once the appraisal has been completed, the monetary value established will be offered as fair market value for the easement. The appraised value may be more or less than the earlier offer.
How are negotiations carried out?
Negotiations may be completed by telephone or through the U S Mail system provided the project is not unusual, or does not involve site visits, or community meetings. A PWCSA representative will be available at all times to talk by telephone or meet in person as the need arises. If you have questions about the project, the monetary consideration offered, or how the project will affect your property, do not hesitate to ask the representative.You will have a stated period of time to consider the offer, and the representative will contact you again to discuss the offer and answer questions.
What if I decide to grant the easement?
If you decide to grant the easement, sign the document, and have it notarized and return it to PWCSA. It is essential that all persons or entities having any ownership interest in a given property are identified, listed as a grantor in the deed of easement agreement and sign the deed in the presence of a Notary Public.
How will I be paid for the easement?
Upon delivering the signed and notarized easement document to PWCSA, a check for the amount agreed to during negotiations will be exchanged for the easement document.
What if I an unwilling to grant the easement?
If good faith negotiations fail to result in an easement grant, PWCSA will look at other possibilities for installing the utilities. However, if alternative routes for installation are not economically feasible, then the PWCSA will consider utilizing its powers of eminent domain to condemn the required easement rights. Prior to doing so, the property owner will be notified by certified mail of the final request for the easement grant with the highest monetary offer PWCSA is willing to provide. Compensation in excess of the appraised value of the easements being acquired is to be viewed only as an incentive for the property owner to voluntarily grant the easement. If condemnation proceedings become necessary, PWCSA is legally obligated to offer only the appraised value. Eminent domain proceedings will be initiated only after a report has been submitted to the General Manager and authorization to proceed has been approved by the PWCSA’s Board of Directors. A Certificate of Take along with the deed of easement and plat, will be recorded in the Circuit Court Records, and funds equal to the appraised valuation will be deposited with the Clerk of the Circuit Court. At this point, you can accept the funds at the Clerk’s office or proceed with your legal counsel to resolve the matter in court. Once a Certificate of Taking is filed, PWCSA must file a condemnation suit within a reasonable time frame after the utility project is completedBy using the right of eminent domain, PWCSA can immediately proceed with the construction projects while protecting your rights as a property owner to receive fair value.
What if I lose vegetation during construction?
It is a normal occurrence during the process of construction to lose trees and vegetation. Throughout the design of the project, PWCSA will do it's best to minimize impact on current site conditions. PWCSA will require the contractor to restore your property as near as possible to its condition prior to start of construction.
What if I am unhappy with the construction?
If you are dissatisfied with site conditions during the course of construction or following construction, contact your PWCSA representative. PWCSA will investigate your concerns and take the appropriate action. This action may involve a determination that the project development and the site restoration is or is not in compliance with the project specifications
Where can I get additional information?
After your PWCSA representative has contacted you in person, your best source of assistance is through this representative. If for any reason you are dissatisfied with the information or service the representative provides, please call the Director of Engineering & Planning.
Samer Beidas, P.E., CCM, Director
Division of Engineering & Planning
4 County Complex Court
Woodbridge, VA 22193
Samer Beidas, P.E., CCM, Director
Division of Engineering & Planning
P.O. Box 2266
Woodbridge, VA 22192-0266