Water grab? Frustrated free marketeer proposes reservoir seizure

news-water-raggedmountain-williamson-iWilliamson wants to seize land immortalized in a short story by Edgar Allen Poe.

Just when it seemed the acrimony had peaked, the leader of an ostensibly free market organization has submitted a proposal to accomplish what he hasn't been able to accomplish through normal channels: seizing hundreds of acres of City-owned land.

Ever since the Supreme Court smiled on land grabs in 2005 in Kelo v. City of New London, conservatives have rallied against the power of eminent domain. Not here. Not in the war over water.

"The Free Enterprise Forum believes since the Ragged Mountain Reservoir is in Albemarle County there may yet be a trump card yet to be played in this game, eminent domain."

So writes Neil Williamson, the Forum's president, who for years has been doggedly urging politicians to build a new reservoir, despite environmental destruction and unanswered cost questions. Most recently, the Albemarle County Supervisors provoked City outrage by putting their names on a document alleging that the project–- widely believed to cost around $200 million–- could be constructed without raising water bills.

Williamson acknowledges that free-marketeers rarely endorse the use of the power of eminent domain, but citing Virginia Code, he asserts that the water utility "may be one such area." He contends that the landowner, the City, is "preventing a community from access to a community water resource."

The proposal landed with instant controversy. Richard Lloyd, an engineer who has been pushing a dredging alternative at public meetings (and in two-page advertisements he and local businessman Keith Rosenfeld have run in the Hook), thinks that the Forum seems to have strayed from its limited-government mission. "Ready to compromise all their core values to get their way?" Lloyd asks in an online comment.

However, Williamson says the discussion has been positive and characterizes his essay as more of a set of questions than an outright proposal. "The debate's been good," says Williamson.

In another matter, the Albemarle County Service Authority, the waterworks for county homes and businesses, voted on Thursday, October 21 to pay Schnabel Engineering $869,000 for final design of an earthen dam in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. One board members, Jim Colbaugh, noting the seemingly unprecedented nature of funding something outside the usual channel, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, noted that the City has in recent months spent approximately half a million dollars for independent engineering studies for such matters as dredging and repairing the existing Ragged Mountain dam. The vote was unanimous.

The ACSA later took another vote that wasn't unanimous. Board members Rick Carter and Liz Palmer were expressing an interest in limiting an upcoming RWSA effort to issue Request For Proposals on dredging. Palmer declared that anything beyond "phase one" dredging would drive up costs.

"You want to make a decision before you see the results," an irritated Colbaugh told Palmer.

"You've got your three votes," Palmer dejectedly told Colbaugh.

Indeed, Palmer and Carter were outvoted by the other three board members.

–-last updated 11:37am, Thursday, October 21; last section further clarified at 2:02pm


The rich will just pop wells and the rest of you can @#$% off.

I think it's disingenuous of Neil Williamson to say that he was merely musing about a what-if scenario. He brought up the prospect because he wants the idea explored. To claim that he's not actively trying to plant the seed is just silly.

It's quickly reaching the point where the county's degree of umbrage over the Council's water plan is becoming very amusing.

Oh, thank you Nancy Drew. You have added a year to my life span.

St Halsey,

My understanding is that Neil Williamson is an advocate of the County's water plan, and is suggesting that eminent domain should be used by the County to seize the City's waterworks. Nor are they alone, as evidenced by a number of comments on The Hook in past articles.

No, the County municipality has not stated it intends to do this.

When did this go from Neil Williamson saying what if to the BOS taking land from Charlottesville? If the BOS has said or written about taking the city's property I haven't seen it.


What you are really saying is that one municipality wants to sieze tha assets of another municipality. Typical hypocritical stuff coming from the County. They didn't want to the City to annex some of their land, but they don't mind trying to do the same thing to the City.

The Kelo case is citied above to show the wrath that conservatives have for the use of eminent domain, whether it's a public or private taking. Here is just one example of their anger.

Souter Gets Taste Of His Own Eminent Domain Medicine

This Sunday activists staged rally in Weare to 'turn the eminent domain tables' on Souter. ... U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter is getting a "taste of his own ... Also at the rally, supporting the city, State Rep. Neal Kurk of Weare, ... Most people see this as an act of revenge and an improper attack on the ...

The Free Enterprise Forum appears to be a small group of developers hiding behind the broader term of "free enterprise" to obscure their true purposes and goals and not the ones stated on its web site. One would think they are a group of small business owners such as jewelers, appliance salesmen and restauranteurs. This group have obviously chosen to intimidate the rather business-inexperienced City Council. So far they have failed and I'm sure Council is more peeved with their suggestion than they are with the enclosure sent out by the BoS to each citizen in Albemarle whether he's a water or sewer or not. Another threat coming to Council from segments of the county is the county's denying the city the permits necessary for what the city wants to do. Does anybody believe that the county will deny the permit to dredge? The county knows that it is the dity that supplies UVA with its water and the county doesn't want to interfere with that. UVA is its life blood. In this way the county shows it is actually more naive than it thinks the city is. These responses to differences of opinion between the two localities indicate to me that RWSA and RSWA should never have been formed in the first place.

The article describes it as a Kelo like land grab and that conservatives are supporting it, but that's not what the free enterprise group is saying.

First the Free Enterprise Foundation is suggesting this is a course of action the county might take. Its not endorsing it.

Second, just being pro-business does not equate with conservative.

Finally, its not Kelo-like since the land is already owned by the public. It would transfer rights from one public entity to another public entity. Even the primary purpose would remain the same. The Kelo case was taking property from individuals and then the government giving the property to a business - a different use of eminent domain.

It would help if other media outlets would follow the lead of the Hook and WINA and actually do some investigative reporting and fact checking, rather than just printing press releases, or statements, by the county, RWSA, or the Free Enterprise Inst; as happened tonight at the Newsplex story about today's ACSA meeting. Full of errors.

I suggest that all citizens,journalists,and elected officials, who want to know the facts and history of this issue, read the entire Hook Water Story Archive, written over the last 3 years, and for which the Hook won the top state journalism award. Many FOIA'ed documents are contained there-in. This is real journalism, and is the only way to shine light on the inner workings of government and keep elected officials honest.

We all owe the Hook a great deal of gratitude for the work they have done on this issue. Truly a service for our community.


the idea of misfeasance by elected and appointed officials
happens all the time.it happens less when the light
is shining on those same officials.
I would say the temperature is rising a bit for some,
and the light is making more than a few uncomfortable .
a good thing , I think.

Thanks for the expansion of the list. It's interesting to see wh's on the list. The names are famliar because most of them are in some stage of getting development approved. I hope the BoS remembers that they will also be expecting the rate payers to help pick up their cost for waste water treatment. There's money to be made here and the developers expect to make it at the existing consumers' expense. Now think of all of the hundreds maybe thousands in the development business whose names are NOT here. The question that county residents should ask of the BoS is who are they representing. Do they serve the people of Albemarle or are they puppets of a handful.

But what a waste of money to keep designing a new earthen dam when the concrete dam we have at Ragged Mt. only needs a spillway repair and then is good to go for any future need that we could possibly anticipate in the 50 year time frame.

We already have good information to show that the lower Ragged Mt. will cost far less to repair and raise than a whole new earthen dam at Ragged Mt.

So far they have spent over 2 million trying to design the new earthen dam, after firing Gannett Fleming, who was paid millions to design a new concrete dam ( that estimate sky rocketed after 1/3 of the design was complete) and the idea of a new concrete dam was dropped.

In 2003 we paid for an engineering study and were told the lower Ragged Mt. dam only needed a spillway repair and would be good for 100 years- why did they ever think we needed a NEW DAM ?

@confused, boo boo is trying to imply that we need the water now when all of the demand studies indicate otherwise and therefore will not stand up in court. All eminent domain decisions must be approved by a court which looks intensely at the rationale, as it does any annexation.
ACSA seems to have a lot of money stockpiled. I'm glad they will pay for it since they are paying for growth as they promised. From the final design we can at least have a better idea of what the dam will cost.

booboo you still don't get it - the City plan provides more water than the county plan. Just in a more affordable and environmentally responsible manner.

Re the board of the Free Enterprise Institute, here's the low down on the folks who would propose seizing the city's reservoir via eminent domain. These are the people who think that enough water is not nearly enough!

There's not a "regular" everyday citizen represented here-- only the interests of wealthy Albermarle County businessmen. The story this list tells is not a pretty one, but it explains a great deal. No wonder they're so furious that the "little people" in the city are daring to tell them no.

Frank Ballif: Southern Development

Frank Cava: real estate investor, Cava Capital

Sam Craig: Craig Builders

Sue Goldman: CEO, Cville Area Assoc of Realtors

Michael Guthrie: CEO, Roy Wheeler. President, Cville Area Assoc of Realtors

Robert Hodous: Attorney. Board Chairman for the Chamber of Commerce

Timothy Hulbert: President, Chamber of Commerce

John Kerber: Owner, Dominion Development Co. Board, Blue Ridge Homebuilders Assoc.

Valerie Long: Attorney with Williams Mullin (specializing in land use, rezonings, and developer interests). Board, Blue Ridge Homebuilders Assoc.

Bill May: Owner, ERA Bill May Realty

Percy Montague: CEO, Montague Miller. Principal in three development companies.

Charles Rotgin, Jr: Founder/President, Great Eastern Mgmt Company. Developer

Richard Spurzem: Developer (North Pointe, among many others)

Frank Stoner: Developer

Jay Willer: Exec VP, Blue Ridge Homebuilders Assoc.

"the county could make a very compelling case that city’s plan puts the county’s water supply in peril."

How would that be done exactly?

Seems like the quickest route to more water is to dredge. Let's get on with it! We have several locals ready to start the work.

I should have said "just a landowner and not a government in this case"

Kelo has nothing to do with this proposal since it involves a public utility and the Virginia does allow eminent domain for exactly this use. The law is however unclear on how Charlottesville would be treated in this case since the reservoir isn't in Charlottesville. It's Albemarle governed land and the county could make a very compelling case that city's plan puts the county's water supply in peril. If the court just recognizes Charlottesville as landowner that would be the ball game.

Albemarle would have a good case but would be in some "uncharted waters".

I updated the story about an hour ago when I was sitting in the Albemarle Service Authority Meeting.--hawes spencer

Cville Eye...of course ole' Chuckie Rotgin is in the good ole boy network....any other way to make the millions he has?? The man does have a way with turning dirt into gold. Wish I had his talent! But yeah, you are probably right...should watch closer for all those "conflict of interest" type things....not that he'll really care what we think anyway....


He has contributed a lot to this community however the city and county should be careful when appointing people with special interest to committees concerned with that interest. Dave Norris said Monday night to Jack Marshall of the anti-growth group ASAP to some committee dealing with growth. Does he really think this man is coming to the the table with an open mind? She should remain an advocate for his position and continue to speak on the other side of the microphone. Government by advocacy is usually bad government. That's why we are fighting over this 50-year water supply idea now - too many advocacy groups, including the Free Enterprise Forum, had decision making power to bring it forward. That's why Neil Williamson, when a group of citizens started asking questions about it, started attacking people for questioning. He kept saying that he had attended almost of the meetings (he's paid to do so)and that the plan was well-vetted by the community and obviously the questioners were anti-growth (anti his employers). At least John Martin has stepped down from the Board of ACSA so that he can campaign from the other side of the mike.

Charles Rotgin http://www.cvillepedia.org/mediawiki/index.php/Charles_Rotgin,_Jr. and http://www.northpointecharlottesville.com/rotgin.htm It seems he IS the good old boy network. Maybe he shouldn't be a member of the Citizens Committee of City County Cooperation (5Cs).

If I were one of the above mentioned board members, I wouldn't want to show my face in this community--embarrassed would be putting it mildly. I bet these guys are woefully uninformed, and don't even understand that the City resolution provides for more water in the future than the plan that their PR guy is pushing.

Hey guys, read Jack Brown's article. If you don't dredge now then you have missed your chance --so it's now or never, and then, if you need more than a 13ft rise at Ragged Mt plus dredging and if you manage to get water and sewer connections not only in the urban ring but in the rural area ( Stoner development that just got approved) then you'll have not only a dredged reservoir, but the ability to build the dam as high as needed.

Annals of (Not) Dredging: How to Squander a Resource by Jack Brown


Unless you've got a check for $200 million to build the dam and pipeline now, dredging will give you more water than just the full height dam.

"According to engineering firm Gannett Fleming, dredging the existing Rivanna Reservoirââ?¬â? an officially dismissed but increasingly popular alternativeââ?¬â? would supply five million gallons per day. A pipeline-less reservoir, by contrast, bolsters today’s water capacity of 12.8 million gallons per day by just 1.1 million to just 13.9 million gallons per day, according to a memo by Amanda Hess of the same firm.

ââ?¬Å?I know that, at first glance, that might not seem correct,” writes Hess. ââ?¬Å?Without the pipeline to fill the reservoir and with the treatment capacity issues prior to the pipeline,” she writes, ââ?¬Å?the volume is simply not as ââ?¬Ë?efficient’ as it will be in 2055.”

In other words, the dam can’t work. It’s trapped in a natural bowl without a river to replenish it.


Frank Stoner, isn't he the guy the city small some property to real cheap about ten years ago for development (and not a stone has turned) and to whom the city has deeded over the old Jefferson School where he plans to build a parking deck so that his future old Albemarle Hotel clients can par and he won't have to spend his money to provide them parking. Maybe the city ought to stop the largesse.
Timothy hurlbert, isn't he the president of the local chamber of commerce, an advocacy grou? Obviously he isn't advocating for the city so maybe the city ought to drop its membership and stop helping to pay his salary.
Frank Ballif, isn't he the guy that runs Southern Development and the city has granted every variance that he has asked for in Brookwood, gave $148k to put a road into Burnet Commons and sold property to on the corner of Ridge and Cherry on optio? Maybe the city should start treating him the same as it treats other developers.
I believe some of these guys were of the group of developers to talked the BoS into charging far less than cost for sewer hook up. Sounds like the BoS has a good old boy network still active. Now I remember how some members of the BoS cried foul when the State purchased Biscuilt Run and saved the county from having to school the children from the 3,100 home subdivision. Keep voting for the large-tract developers BoS so that you and not the county tax payer can benefit.

Neil needs to keep reading. The Code does not allow one public entity to condemn property of another public entity.

What Williamson fails to mention is that the City isn't withholding a darned thing from the county! The Council's plan provides more than enough water for all, so this begs the question: What or who, exactly, is behind this?

Here are the board members of the Free Enterprise Institute. No surprises here, it's crammed full o' the usual suspects: real estate investors and agents, developers, attorneys for developers, builders, etc.

Frank Ballif

Frank Cava

Sam Craig

Sue Goldman

Michael Guthrie

Robert Hodous

Timothy Hulbert

John Kerber

Valerie Long

Bill May

Percy Montague

Charles Rotgin, Jr.

Richard Spurzem

Frank Stoner

Jay Willer

Holly Edwards, Charlottesville City Councilor, famously said, at the first public hearing held on the water plan in 2008, " this is like a bad movie. "

the feeling from this film goer is that this may be a first
draft of a screenplay, looking to be optioned
at the coming film festival....A possible title could be " water world"
but certain people in Hollywood might take exception.
I think the idea plays like William Holden floating in the pool
at the beginning of Sunset Boulevard ...dead on arrival.

Neil Willaimson( i.e.) big developers/big money to the City --we're going to take your property and do what we want and don't you try to stop us. We don't care about your 1,000 acre Natural Area at Ragged Mt. --kill those trees. We don't care about your largest most productive reservoir at South Fork --let it fill with silt.
We don't care about the cost --let the city and county ratepayers pay, because them we, the wealthy developers can profit and build subdivisions galore and no longer in the urban ring, now with the co-operation of the Sups we can take rural land too --try to stop us

this is what this blog means to me --yes, bullies one and all

The county wants to overturn the revenue sharing agreement, not build roads if they impact county neighborhood, not provide affordable housing for their citizens ( let them move to the city), not provide trash or recycling services to the county's urban ring, take away school funding from the city, and now make the city residents pay for their water and sewer upgrades to accomodate their growth --yes call in the Bullying Institute before it's too late.

Do what I say, not what I do...

Eminent domain as sometimes used these days to acquire property for resale to developers is rightly criticized as an abuse, but for genuine public use is an indispensable tool for coherent growth of public infrastructure. With that said, though, this proposal smells of grandstanding and is unlikely to gain traction. I just don't see that the dam/pipeline proposal makes much sense unless you just relegate the current Rivanna Reservoir to long term service as a sedimentation basin from which sediment-free water could be pumped to the "new and improved" Ragged Mountain storage pond. You could probably do the same thing by dredging the crud out of the Rivanna and then building a supplemental upstream dam custom made as a sedimentation basin, sort of like the debris basins currently in use on rivers in the LA Basin.

What is brilliant is that the County so long raged about the City seizing their assets such as along the Seminole Trail, but never minds doing it to suit their own agenda.

I am so thoroughly disgusted by this who thing.

Of course right wingers get angry when they can;t get what they want. Then the Constitution doesn't matter at all.

Most hilarious is the fact that the water is ALREADY public property of another municipality.

WOW The Free Enterprise Forum - "The Nuclear Option"

"The Free Enterprise Forum is dedicated to providing clear positive balance to the discussions of important issues of the day. This balance is geared to counter what is often a vocal negative minority in the community."

Ready to compromise all their core values to get their way. How serious in this outfit? What do they really stand for?

Revolution ! Isn't that the conservative way.

Perhaps it's time to bring in the " Bullying Institute of America " to mediate.

This is not a nuclear option, it is a water-bomb that won't elevate. It's crazy. What I don't understand is the ridiculous lengths to which the dam proponents are going to avoid a relatively simple revision of the current water supply plan to include dredging of the SFRR as a source.

But Neil is really stretching it: The Supreme Court said in Kelo that a public entity could take private property for an approved public plan, with definable public benefits, even if the property that was taken by eminent domain, and the owner paid full market value, was ultimately passed onto private owners to implement the approved plan.

But for one government to try and use eminent domain against another government, for a publicly owned facility, fulfilling a public purpose, in order to carry forth the other government's view of a public purpose? Whoa. This is fantasy.


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No the rich won't just sink wells and leave the rest to gt thirsty. They have to get permits based on the water tables, just like everybody else.

But I thought you were supposed to live off of wells in the county. Isn't that what county living is all about? Massive sewer infrastructure is city living. What do all those people who live in the county need city infrastructure for?

I lived off of wells when I used to live in the County. Was great for me.

@Caesonia, Now you know that are those in the County that want to have and urban area that they can control and they know they will have absolutely none if they lived in the city. Plus they can't make as much money isf they could only develop in the city and it would be way too expensive. Therefore, they can buy large tracts of cheaper land from aging landowners and make a substantially better living. They've got to find a way around those that a favoring open spen and conservation easements. And when Albemarle begins to look too much like Fairfax and Arlington, they'll just move to an adjoing county and enjoy the rural life everyday.

i like your blog very good.

Well Caesonia, I guess they need the city infrastructure because they have to get permits based on the water table. DUH


"I guess they need the city infrastructure because they have to get permits based on the water table."

And why won't the water table support a new well?

Because the county is beginning to look an awful like a City.


The county runs like a grease machine, it won't matter what the water table can support, influence and money will buy wells, it happens all over the country. DUH