Water grab? Frustrated free marketeer proposes reservoir seizure
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