Water shed: County's anti-dredge insert decried in Council
Albemarle County's latest salvo in its war on dredging–- an info sheet purporting to dispassionately explain the community water supply plan–- has outraged members of City Council, including mayor Dave Norris who blasted the sheet as loaded with "misinformation" during Council's October 18 meeting.
"Have you no shame?" intoned citizen Richard Statman, recalling the famous query that brought down U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s "red scare." Statman and other speakers pointed to questionable assertions in the document, which County spokesperson Lee Catlin revealed last week would arrive with personal property tax bills at Albemarle households.
Among the insert's contentions is that building a massive new reservoir system–- despite felling over 50,000 trees in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area–- would be more environmentally friendly and cost-effective than dredging the existing Rivanna Reservoir. Moreover, the insert alleges that the plan–- which requires a pipeline of unknown cost and path–– can be accomplished with no increase in water bills.
Engineer/builder Bob Fenwick, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council last fall on his interest in dredging, expressed shock that anyone could assert that a plan widely believed to cost over $200 million would not spike water bills, which have already more than doubled over the past decade with no increase in water storage capacity.
"Who then will bear this enormous cost?" asked Fenwick. "The concept that you could build a public works project of this magnitude and not raise water bills is absurd and disrespectful to the community."
The leaders of the anti-dredging faction also had their say. City resident Jim Nix, a Democratic Party leader, suggested that dredging can be a necessary component of a long-term water plan as long as it doesn't get in the way of the currently favorable construction bidding climate. And in a pre-meeting interview with the Hook, County Supervisor Duane Snow endorsed the County's position, saying that he had once supported dredging but became convinced that it wouldn't supply sufficient water. And he supports the insert.
"I think it's time we start countering all the misinformation that's being circulated," says Snow. "It's kind of like whack-a-mole."
Snow contends that City officials are pursuing a "disingenuous" agenda to control growth and defends the dam/pipeline plan as the way to ensure that county growth remains in the urban ring instead of getting pushed out into the rural areas.
"We made a conscious decision to protect our rural areas and focus development around the city," says Snow. "And that's going to take water."
However, the County's missive seems to have enraged even those who have been pushing for compromise. City Councilor Kristin Szakos, for instance, has fired off an email to her County counterparts, obtained by NBC29, calling the insert an "end run" around the process. "Please don't risk losing the entire plan," she warned the Supervisors.
–-updated 9am Tuesday with quotes from Fenwick and Snow