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Having a new well drilled?
How do I disinfect a well?
What to do in case of drought?
What to do in case of emergencies
General Safety of wells
How to test a well
Points to Consider when Buying Land
Basics for new rural residents
How to take care of a septic system
International Cooperation



Having a new well drilled?

Here’s some helpful advice:

1. There are no longer any bored-well drillers this side of Richmond. So that kind of well (with the large cement curbs) is now as expensive as an artesian well.

2. Of course, call several well drillers for estimates of the cost. But also find out how deep they intend to drill. Check whether the drilling and the pump installation are both included.

3. Ask your neighbors how deep their well is. Or ask the Health Department to look it up for you. U.S. Geological Survey maps of our aquifers are available on line in Professional Paper 1731, Plate 3 Sections BD to BD’ and CD to CD’.

4. Understanding our aquifers—there are five aquifers (underground volumes of water located in rock, sand and gravel) which can provide drinking water. The aquifers are from 2 feet to 900 feet deep. Each Aquifer gets deeper as it nears the Chesapeake Bay.

5. Beware of drillers offering to give you a shorter well at a cheaper price. Most well-drilling contracts say that they only promise to get you water. They do not guarantee the quality of the water.

6. Be present for the entire drilling and plumbing process. If you would like to verify the depth of your well you can count the sections of casing (usually white PVC pipe) as they are put in the ground. Multiply your total by 20 feet. Development of the well after the casings are in place is an important part of the process.

7. The driller should chlorinate it for you. You are responsible for taking a lab test for bacteria and sending it to the Health Department. Some dealers will do it for you. The water sample should not be taken for two weeks---after you no longer smell the chlorine.

8. The well driller is required by law to send a completion report to the Health Department. You will want to keep a copy in your household records. It shows such things as the well depth and the types of sediment they drilled through.

9. Ask how deep the pump was set. The pressure level in artesian wells has been dropping about 1.5 feet a year for many years. You will want to make sure your pump has a long life. If the water level dips below the pump, it can burn up the pump.

10. Repairs – State law requires that any repairs to an artesian well be done by a licensed, certified well driller. A plumber may make repairs to the plumbing, but not anything inside the well.

If you are dealing with an established well, the name and telephone number of the driller should be on the cap.


How do I disinfect a well?

Recommended at least once every 3 - 5 years

Use granules or crystals of chlorine available from swimming pool suppliers and hardware stores.
Be sure it is labeled "calcium hypochloride" Do not use tablets.

You will need 6 oz for every 150 feet of well.

1. Take the lid off the pipe and pour the crystals.
Be careful in handling the crystals because they are very toxic.
Do not breathe fumes. Use gloves.

2. If possible, use a garden hose---connect to outdoor faucet and run water into the top of your well for about 20 minutes to circulate the crystals.

Very Important
3. Turn on each faucet in the house and let it run for a couple of minutes until you smell chlorine (to disinfect your plumbing lines.)

4. Let the water stand 12 hours without being disturbed.

5. Run some water off outside until you no longer smell chlorine.
(It may take several days of using the commode, etc. before the chlorine smell disappears.)

To Test Your Water
The Health Department can supply a lab kit so you can take a sample of your water and mail it into a lab for testing at a small fee. A basic screening test for total coliform bacteria to determine whether your water is potable (safe to drink).

If you want to know other things like how much sodium is in the water or whether there is lead from your plumbing, a different test kit is required.
The laboratory will send you a test kit and instructions. 1 800-WATER 10 (Mid-Atlantic Laboratories) or check with the Health Department for a list of state certified labs.

Questions? Call the SAIF Water Wells, Inc. at 804 580-2079
or contact your county Health Department

To download the brochure "11 Ways to Make Your Drinking Water Safer," click HERE (PDF, 196KB)

Disinfecting water-table wells

For problem wells, SAIF Water suggests you consider the CDC directions for "Disinfecting wells following an Emergency," which you can download here or review at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/wellsdisinfect.asp

The well should be sampled for coliform bacteria approximately 3 times over a period of two months to get a good judgment of how the well is performing. One of the samples should be taken after a heavy rain. If the laboratory results continue to show the presence of bacteria, the owner should consider use of water treatment equipment. Many forms of treatment are designed only for taste. Be sure the equipment you select is designed for bacteria.

Photo Summary - Remediation of Shallow Wells (375KB)

What to do in case of drought?

Advice on Dry wells

SAIF Water Wells, Inc., is receiving several calls a week from homeowners whose wells have run out of water.

The severe drought conditions have apparently put the last strain on wells that have normally been low in water and affected many that have never before had a water shortage. It primarily affects shallow (IIIC) wells that are less than 100 feet deep. Artesian wells are too deep in the ground to be affected by the drought. Industry and development in surrounding areas may be drawing down this water supply.

Here are some suggestions for coping with a water emergency:

If your water suddenly stops running, be sure to turn off the circuit breakers that control your pump and hot water tank.

Check for Plumbing Problems

Be sure it's not a plumbing problem. Have a plumber check to see if you have leaks in your toilet or pipes that are draining your well. Second have them check to see whether your foot valve and pipe can be lowered in the well. When plumbers install a pump the intake valve is set below the water level, but not on the very bottom to avoid pulling in dirt. It may be possible to lower the intake valve and again get water flowing.

Take the lid off your well and look to see how much water is left in it. You can measure it by putting a heavy weight on a string. If you have lots of water, then look for a plumbing problem.

Need a New Well?

If your shallow well has stopped flowing, you don't necessarily need an artesian well. In many cases we have been able to dig a new shallow well very near one that is not producing and get ample water by going deeper. This can be a savings of several thousand dollars. Artesian water in this area is very high in sodium. It is not a good source of drinking water for persons with health conditions that limit salt intake.

For older wells, especially when they were dug by hand, the men had to stop digging as soon as they reached water. With modern well drilling equipment they normally dig another 15 to 20 feet below where they found water to give you a good reservoir in the bottom of the well. If you are having a new well dug, be sure to ask your contractor not only how deep it is, but how much water it has in it. In recent years well drillers have been required to file that information with the county Health Department.

Cleaning a well by hand may have very little effect on low water problems unless the cleaning crew is able to dig several feet out of the bottom or open up streams that flow into the well.

Conserving Water

If you are experiencing water shortages, here are some tips for coping: The toilet uses a great deal of water. Have low flush toilets installed where possible. Put a brick in the tank so that it doesn't take as much water to flush it. If you are out of water you can take a bucket of water and throw it quickly in the commode and it will flush by hand.

Stores that sell camping supplies often carry solar showers. These are insulated bags which you fill with water and place in the sun for awhile to heat the water. Then you can hang it up and turn on the faucet for a shower.

Protecting Your Water Supply

The SAIF Water web site, www.saifwater.org, gives instructions on inspecting and protecting your well to be sure it can keep the water safe. Check the following:

  1. It should have a cement safety cap with an overhang lid (like a shoebox) to keep dirt and animals out.
  2. It needs to be grouted to keep surface water and contaminants from running down the sides of your well into the water. This is a cement barrier around the curbs which goes 6-20 feet into the ground. It is required on new wells and can be added by hand to old wells.
  3. Look inside to see whether there are holes around the pipes and in and between the curbs where dirt can leak into your water. These should be sealed with cement.

For over 12 years the SAIF Water committee has been helping low income families in our area who do not have indoor plumbing. The committee also helps troubleshoot water quality problems, restores contaminated wells, and conducts educational efforts on safety measures for private wells. The committee may be contacted at 580-2079, Rev. Gayl Fowler, chairperson.

Rev. Gayl Fowler P.O. Box 839, Burgess, VA 22432 580-2079


What to do in case of emergencies


Waiting for the plumber –

First turn off the circuit breaker for the water pump.

Shallow Well. Keep a bucket and rope for your shallow well when the power is out.

Catch rain water. But keep containers screened or covered to prevent mosquitoes.

Sanitize water in a temporary emergency with the following recipe from the Health Department, or boil the water for 2 minutes:
8 drops of plain liquid chlorine bleach PER GALLON of water, if the water is clear; or 16 drops if it is cloudy.
Mix thoroughly and let stand for 30 minutes before drinking.

Flush the toilet by dumping a bucket of water down it in a hurry. Or use a wide mouth jug. (Can stop up your plumbing if done for a long time.)

Or line the toilet with plastic bags instead of flushing with water.

When normal sanitation is not possible, only you can protect your health.


General Safety of wells

To download the brochure "11 Ways to Make Your Drinking Water Safer," click HERE (PDF, 196KB)

11 Ways to Make Your Drinking Water Safer!

Inspect your well !

1. Is the top of your well fully closed?

2. Are you using a pump? Use a bucket and rope only for emergencies.

3. Are there open holes in the sides?

4. Use cement to seal around the pipes that come through the well curb.

5. Pour an apron of cement around the well to help surface water drain away from it.

6. Make sure your oil tank isn't leaking near the well.

7. Tree roots can do a lot of damage inside a well.

8. Don't park cars or change motor oil near the well.

9. Keep trash away from the well.

10. Bleach. Chlorinate your well and your plumbing any time you service it. You can get directions at the Health Department or from SAIF Water. The chlorine is flushed out of the well afterwards so the well water will not taste like chlorine.

11. A lab test for bacteria can help you tell whether your well needs isinfecting. You can get a kit at the Health Department and mail a sample of your water to a laboratory.


Is Your Water Safe to Drink? Take Care of Your Shallow Well

Use a cement lid that fits tightly.

Use a pump instead of a bucket and rope.

Patch holes with cement.

Seal around pipes that come through the curb. Use cement.

Grout. Do you have a cement wall around your well that goes 6-20 feet into the ground?

Grout well

Also: Bleach your well once a year.

The county health department can show you how to test your water.


Well Safety Suggestions

Here are some pointers from SAIF Water Wells, Inc.l on how to keep your shallow well safe and the water in it safe to drink.

  • Put on a cement lid so that children cannot easily move it and fall in or throw things in the water.

  • Make sure the lid has an overhang like a shoe box so that bugs cannot come in under the lid.

  • Odell in well
    • Wooden lids rot and drop rotten splinters into your water.  Metal lids tend to rust and leach into your water.
    • Install a pump and faucet so that you don't have to open up the well to get water out.  When you lower a bucket into the water you may also be sending germs down.
    • Patch up cracks and holes in the curbs with cement.  Where possible, also seal the seams between well curbs.
    • Check where plumbing enters the well curbs to be sure that it has been cemented around the pipes so that no holes are left for mud and bugs to get into your water.
    • Look for holes in the ground beside your well or sloping ground that will draw rain water into your well.
    • Check to see if your well is grouted.  A cement wall about four inches thick should be in the ground around your well curbs.   If not, dig down about 6 feet with a post hole digger all the way around your well and fill this hole with cement.  When you pour the cement, slope the top of it so that water runs away from the well.
    • After working on your well and at least once a year, pour bleach in it and let it stand over night to disinfect your well.  (It takes 2 gallons of bleach for a well 36 inches in diameter that has 15 feet of water in it.)  Run some of the water through all of your faucets until you smell bleach coming through (to disinfect your waterlines.)  After a day or two, run the water off until you no longer smell bleach.
    • The Health Department will supply lab bottles and directions so that you can test your water to see if it is safe to drink.
    • If you want to abandon a well, call the Health Department for directions so that what you put down your well will not go into the underground stream which feeds your neighbor's well.


    Testing a well

    Basic Tests
    Your local Health Department will give you a kit to sample your water with an express mailing envelope which you will need to take to the post office. This will provide a screening test for bacteria.

    Bacteria Tests
    The Health Department only requires total coliform bacteria and fecal coliform tests to determine whether water is potable---or safe to drink. If fecal coliform bacteria is present it may indicate that the source of contamination is human or animal feces.

    Lead Tests
    Lead testing may be desirable if the home has old plumbing that may contain lead soldering. Lead content can be lowered by running the water off the first time a faucet is used for the day. Let it run until it is as cold as it can get.

    Sodium Tests
    Sodium testing may be desirable if you live an area where artesian wells are high in sodium and there are family members whose health requires limiting salt.

    If you live in an area where there is heavy use of pesticides or farm chemicals, you may want to test for nitrates. This is particularly important if there are infants in the household and adults who are elderly or have low stomach acid levels as their bodies do not have sufficient nitrate-reducing bacteria. Nitrates interfere with the oxygen supply in the body and can cause blue baby syndrome and death.

    Purification Methods

    You can purchase a countertop version for under $400 and purify your drinking and cooking water. This addresses bacteria problems but it does not remove many organic chemicals.

    While it may be the most economical method of disinfecting a public water supply, chlorine also has proven health risks which include heart disease and cancer. You would do well to install chlorine-reducing equipment in your home. Be sure to include treatment of shower and bath facilities, as hot baths greatly increase the absorption of chlorine and chlorine by-products into your body.

    Bottled Water
    Bottled water may be a necessary alternative. But Environmental Protection Administration surveys have shown numerous sanitation problems in the industry. When water is bottled using reverse-osmosis, distillation or deionization methods it becomes easy breeding grounds for bacteria which multiply rapidly, especially if stored for a lenghty time or placed in sunlight. Be sure to select glass containers or clear plastic as water will cause chemicals to leach from the opaque plastic containers.

    Ozone is an excellent treatment method widely used in Europe as an alternative to chlorine.

    Home Water Treatment Systems
    Look carefully at what they actually claim to do. Many expensive systems are available that soften water and change taste and odor, but do not treat bacteria or chemicals.

    The Health Department will be glad to help you.

    A very worthwhile and readable book which will help you know what questions to ask is Don’t Drink the Water (Without Reading This Book), by Lono Kahuna Kupua A’o, from Hawaii.

    The Don’t Drink the Water book recommends buying a system in the range of $300-$400 using a combination of KDF redox media and granular-activated carbon in one cartridge and a .5 micron absolute carbon block media in another, to provide high-quality drinking water. If you live in an area with very hard water, then you may want to use a water-softening system that should cost less than $2,500.

    Technical Assistance
    For technical assistance with water quality problems and treatment options we suggest your local health department and cooperative extension service and the following links:

    www.agwt.org American Groundwater Trust--an independent organization recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    www.vwrrc.vt.edu The Virginia Water Resources Center at Virginia Tech. Click on Homeowner advisor.

    www.estd.wvu.edu/ndwc/NDWC The National Drinking Water Clearinghouse.

    www.ext.vt.edu The Cooperative Extension Service has a series of pamphlets on line. Click on Information resources/housing or health or Natural Resources/water quality.

    EPA Drinking Water Hotline 800 426-4791.

    If you have trouble drinking your 6-8 glasses of water a day, www.watercure.com by a London physician will at stimulate your thinking on the importance of water to your health.


    Points to Consider when Buying Land

    1. Ask whether the land percs: That means the soil is good enough for a septic system. If the land doesn't perc, the Health Department will not allow you to have indoor plumbing, and the County will not allow a mobile home on it.

      How much does it really cost?
    2. Ask for the Health Department septic and well permits before you buy the property.
    3. Ask what kind of well the Health Department requires. If the permit says IIIC, it is a shallow well that costs about $5,000. If the permit says IIIA, you will have to put in an artesian well that can cost $8,000 to $9,000.
    4. Ask what kind of septic system the property must have.
    5. Ask a septic company how much the septic system will cost. A simple gravity-flow septic system can cost about $3,500. A pump system can cost about $6,000. An imported Irish Puraflo can cost $14,000 to $20,000.

      Can you afford to move on to the property you selected?
    6. Ask for a mortgage and Deed of Trust. These give you ownership of the property while you are paying for it. Some agents will give you only a sales agreement that says you will get the deed after you finish paying it all. Most government programs that would help you financially require an ownership document.
    7. Ask the courthouse how much the land is really worth, and how much the taxes will be.


    Basics for new rural residents

    New to our rural area? Here are some basics for urbanites who have recently moved to Northern Neck Country.

    Only about 1/3 of our homes have access to public water and sewer. If your home is on a private well and septic system, here are some ABC's:

    Wells (either artesian or water-table)

    Artesian Wells. How to spot them: Artesian well are usually visible as pipes about 4 inches in diameter sticking out of the ground. They may have a tag from the well company. They run 400-900 feet deep.

    Don't use them to water your azaleas! Artesian wells here tend to have 150-200 mg/l of sodium. EPA guidelines are 20 mg/l for persons with blood pressure problems. If you need a treatment device to lower the sodium, get advice from the county office of Virginia Cooperative Extension Service or the Health Department. Also see our Water Tests page.

    Water-table Wells. How to spot them: They have a big round cement curb from 24 to 48 inches in diameter sticking above ground and a cover. Important: See our Well Safety page. This water can be excellent if the well is properly protected. Water-table wells are often called "shallow" wells locally. They are by nature easily contaminated. We suggest installing a treatment system designed for bacteria at least for drinking water.

    This kind of well may have passed a test by the realtor but can become contaminated after rain events. Do a follow-up bacteria test about 3 months after purchasing the home.

    Water Tests for artesian and water-table wells. Public water systems are required to test regularly for many contaminants. With a private well, it is up to the owner. You should receive a well report from the real estate agent when you purchase a home. This report covers only bacteria. You may want to consider lead and sodium tests, too.

    You should plan to test your well again about 2 to 3 months after purchase and at least once a year, and anytime you notice a change in the taste or appearance of your water. The county Health Department can advise you and give you a lab kit to sample your water. They will also explain any tests a salesman offers you.

    If your neighborhood is on a community well, the Health Department will have a record of tests taken on it.


    When purchasing land, you should check first for a Health Department Septic permit, which insures that the land is suitable for a wastewater system.

    Second, you will want to take the permit to a septic company for an estimate. Prices can vary between $3,500 and $20,000, depending on what the Health Department requires.

    If your property already has a private septic system, you need to know what you can and cannot put in it. The Health Department and Virginia Cooperative Extension Services will be glad to supply you with information on how to take care of your septic system. Also, check our Septic Systems page.

    What is a Septic system? All the wastewater from the sinks, tubs and commodes should drain into a septic tank. The septic tank is usually rectangular, about 4 x 6 feet and buried in the ground. Wastewater flows from this tank into the distribution box which channels it into several drainlines.

    Where is your septic system? If your system is not too old, the Health Department will have a diagram locating your system.

    Welcome to the Northern Neck!


    How to take care of a septic system

    1. Solids will fill up your septic tank. DO NOT put any of the following down the sink or toilet:

      coffee grounds
      dental floss
      disposable diapers
      cat-box litter
      cigarette butts
      sanitary napkins, tampons
      facial tissues
      paper towels
      bulky wastes
      grease, oils, liquid fats

      DO NOT install a garbage disposal without checking whether your septic tank is big enough for it.
    2. Chemicals can interfere with the functioning of your septic tank. DO NOT pour toxic or hazardous chemicals like these down your drains:

      waste oils
      photographic solutions

      And use the following moderately:

      household cleansers
    3. DO NOT drive heavy equipment over the drain field or distribution box of your septic system.
    4. Pump out your septic tank every 3 to 5 years. Otherwise, you may need very expensive repairs to the drain field.
    5. DANGER: Don't look into the septic tank or use flames near the opening. Call an expert. Toxic gases can kill in minutes.
    6. DO NOT use too much water. You can flood the drain field by using too much water. Distribute clothes washing through the week. Keep showers short, etc.
    7. DO NOT plant trees near the drain field or put a patio, garage, building, driveway, parking lot or paved area over the tank or drain field.


    International Cooperation


    Once upon a time there was a little girl named Eunice who lived way up in the mountains of Kenya near the border with Tanzania.


    Everyday she would walk three miles in her bare feet down to the muddy river and carry a bowl of water home for her family. Like all the other girls she had to shave her head because they did not have enough water to keep their hair clean.

    When she grew up she married a schoolteacher. But very soon God called both of them to be in ministry to take the Good News to their people and help those who were sick and hungry.

    She remembered how many children did not get to go to school because it was so far to the village that had a school and the road was very rough and dangerous.

    So they started a school in their own village of Musango. Now 580 children are going to school in their blue and white uniforms and bare feet.

    One of Eunice's sons grew up and became a doctor. But there was no doctor for their own village. So he comes twice a month. Eunice and her husband and their church started a clinic and have two nurses all the time. They have a very special job because many times children come who are sick because they do not have enough to eat.

    Eunice became a lady with great courage. She went into Uganda and started two churches. Then she began to pastor a church near her home. Many people thought women could not and should not do that, but she went on because God was leading her. Her husband, William Okumu Masini, became a bishop because they started over 200 churches.

    But the school and clinic do not have electricity and they were still carrying dirty water from the river. Then friends in the United States helped them raise the money to dig a well in front of the clinic and start on one for the school. They dug the hole by hand and hired a well company to put in the curbs and a hand pump.

    And now the children have a most exciting Christmas present - their first well and clean water.

    Because this is a true story, the SAIF Water Committee has been blessed and inspired to see our world and our Christmas in a new light. We share it with you along with our wishes for God's grace and peace to be with you always.

    Kosovar Visitor

    By Mariah Pollard, March 10, 2002

    Recently, on a bitterly cold morning, Bardha Korca watched a group of men dig out a silted-in well near Irvington. One worker, forty feet down in the dry well, attempted to free the stream flow by scooping out the accreted dirt while others hovered above hauling up buckets of dirt. For these workers, contracted by SAIF water on a regular basis, this was just another opportunity to help someone get clean running water. For Korca, a Kosovar Albanian, this was a learning experience.

    Bardha witnesses the grouting process which protects wells from surface contaminants--a wall of cement about 4 inches thick which goes about 6 feet into the ground surrounding the well.

    As a participant in the Hope Fellowship program, "designed to enhance the competence and confidence of women leaders at this critical time in Kosovo," Korca and a group of professional Kosovar women were in Washington, D.C., for two months, learning how to identify and implement development project possibilities for their native country. Korca, a chemistry professor at the University of Pristina and an avowed environmentalist, chose water quality as her project.

    To learn more about water projects and a hands-on, can-do approach, Korca, traveled to the Northern Neck to meet with Rev. Gayl Fowler and members of the SAIF Water Committee to see many of the successful projects implemented by SAIF Water.

    "When I came here [to the US] I didn't know anything about projects. Or what the issue is. The goals, the objectives, the results, how you can measure, " said Korca, who's interested in the issues of both potable water and wastewater management. "Now I have some picture of [my] project, some vision, but it's still not very clear. I'm sure in the next weeks it will become clearer."

    Water impurity is a concern in Kosovo since the war. And yet, even though wells may be contaminated by dead bodies and so on, there are even bigger concerns, such as the need for food and shelter, that have eclipsed the water problems. "From the war some wells are contaminated. Some villages are already poor; there are other problems," Korca said. "There are bigger problems they don't pay attention to the water quality. They don't have knowledge of the contaminants."

    While accompanying Rev. Fowler throughout Northumberland and Lancaster counties, Korca learned about a variety of projects SAIF water is involved in: grouting wells; disinfecting wells for snakes among other contaminants; installing filtration systems; taking sample water tests; reading and assessing lab results and more.

    Korca was able to see many of these processes first hand as Rev. John Bibbens, water well technician for SAIF Water, led the group on an investigation of a problem site near Burgess and demonstrated some of the techniques used by the Committee to protect wells from contamination. Frank Fletcher, a groundwater consultant who volunters with SAIF Water, discussed the hydrology of Kosova and will continue to assist Dr. Korca in her project. Rosalee Coultripp, Environmental Health Specialist for the Northumberland Health Department, gave pointers for evaluating a site for environmental risk factors and joined a discussion with geologist Lynton Land of the task Korca will face in Kosovo.

    Rosalee Coultripp (left) of the Northumberland Health Department explains environmental risk factors.

    R. Wesley Edwards and members of the committee joined Bardha for lunches and explained Interfaith Service Council's structure as a model of community organization to tackle problems of persons in need. Korca and Rev. Fowler toured some of the committee's work in alternative wastewater treatment and then spent some long hours in accessing information on the web and drafting a project proposal which will be submitted to the United States Agency for International Development, which sponsors the Hope Fellowship Program in cooperation with the National Albanian American Council.

    Reverend Fowler sees Korca's work as not only helping the health of the Kosovars but also the economy. She envisions a small business for someone who can own a hydradrill that she could throw in the back of a pick up truck and drill pipe wells 100 feet or deeper.

    In the next few weeks Korca will have to decide on her project and make a presentation about her plan to take back to Kosova and implement. Whatever the plan, she will stay in contact with Rev. Fowler and the SAIF Water group. She has seen that their well is full of knowledge.

    Bardha Korca (left) and Rev. Gayl Fowler

    SAIF has been helping low income families obtain indoor plumbing and deal with water and wastewater problems since 1989.

    For more information about SAIF Water Wells, Inc. and/or Bardha Korca's water quality project in Kosova, call 580-2079 or email saif (at) crosslink (dot) net The mailing address is P.O. Box 839, Burgess, VA 22432.


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