$249,000 skiddoo? Pipe study eludes elections

news-rwsa-frederickmuellerRWSA director Tom Frederick has enjoyed the support of his board, including Charlottesville Public Works director Judy Mueller.

Despite a request from a prominent critic of the controversial plan to replace three existing reservoirs with one that would adjoin Interstate 64, the study of the pipeline needed to make the scheme possible appears to be slipping past the local elections, according to a document submitted last month by the head of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority.

"The review of the conceptual plan for a future South Fork to Ragged Mountain pipeline was estimated to be completed by the end of 2009," Authority director Tom Frederick writes in a late September response to a reporter's question. "RWSA entered into a contract in late August with the firm Wiley/Wilson to perform the review."

Questions about how the $25,000 review is going could not be immediately answered, as Wiley/Wilson's project manager, Tim Slaydon, is hiking the Appalachian Trail and not expected back until November 2, according to a member of his office, who, on call back, repeated a rule that has become the norm among Authority contractors: that all info, except credentials, must come from the Authority.

Meanwhile, Frederick–- who has drawn criticism for spending $515 per hour on the Authority lawyer–- declines to provide further documents to the Hook, noting our lateness on a $38.90 invoice from late August.

"As permitted by law," writes Frederick, citing a right under Virginia statute, "we are setting your current request aside until we receive payment for this invoice." He asserts that no legal expenses were incurred in making the determination.

One of the chief questions is how much it will cost to acquire a 40-foot strip of land as the path of the pipe. The prior pipeline investigation has drawn scorn for budgeting just $249,000 for the entire 9.5-mile length.

"That's ridiculous," says former City Councilor Kevin Lynch. "That's probably off by a factor of 100. It cost VDOT close to $30 million to acquire a shorter route."

Indeed, the Authority had hoped to piggy-back much of the pipeline along the land VDOT acquired for a now-moribund road called the Western Bypass. Last year, after skepticism was raised, Frederick conceded that the Authority no longer recommends a specific pipeline path.

Lynch, brandishing an April 2006 Frederick email that notes "the timing is bad for a deep discussion of this just before an election," contends that pushing controversy out of election cycles is nothing new for Frederick's Authority.

"Even though they're supposed to be non-political," says Lynch, "they have a history of avoiding things the public may be interested in."

Indeed, Frederick's board declined to revisit the pipeline numbers until the City forced them to. Lynch would be particularly interested in seeing an overhaul of the previous pipeline budget, which was outlined in 2005 by Gannett Fleming.

Infamously, the Pennsylvania-based firm underestimated the cost of the dam– something it later won a $3.1 million contract to design– by nearly two-thirds. The firm also overestimated the cost of a dredging alternative– something that might have quashed the dam plan– by nearly tenfold.

Besides the failure to budget much more than a quarter million dollars for gaining permanent access to an estimated 63 parcels of land, other problems with Gannett Fleming's pipeline work include failing to budget anything for chemicals and maintenance, and assuming electrical costs over 50 years at just eight cents per kilowatt-hour, a rate that's less than what some customers currently pay.

"To ensure accountability, they should start the process of acquiring land for the pipeline as soon as practical," contends electronics magnate Bill Crutchfield. "They should not pass a political 'hot potato' to future councilors and supervisors."

Crutchfield, who has long called the mega-reservoir plan Charlottesville's own "bridge to nowhere," made the comments earlier this year in a letter to the Daily Progress.

water stories button.inddDespite the omissions and potential underestimates, backers of the single-reservoir plan, which was conceived by the Nature Conservancy as a national model, include all of the candidates for Albemarle County Supervisor seats. Even Republican Rodney Thomas, whose refusal to sign a pre-election pledge vexed an effort by plan backers to remove the water plan as an issue for voters, has expressed support for the single reservoir–- while its own designers concede that without the pipeline, it provides less water than merely dredging the existing Rivanna Reservoir.

Until the updated cost arrives, the Authority pegs the pipeline cost at $56 million as part of a planned $142.8 million water plan. However, fractured bedrock and other site problems, including protecting I-64 embankments, appear to have driven the scheme over $200 million.

Meanwhile, a downward trend in water consumption appears on its way to putting 2009 in the record books for the lowest water use in recent history–- a staggering 22 percent drop accomplished, ironically, despite a 19 percent climb in customer connections.

In the City of Charlottesville, however, two candidates have put the water issue front and center. Incumbent Democrat and Mayor Dave Norris has been pushing for better dredging information. And after getting fed up with pro-dam information from City Manager Gary O'Connell, who sits on the Authority board, Norris led an effort earlier this year to seat two elected officials on that board.

Another City Council candidate, a challenger, has made water supply a central campaign theme. Independent Bob Fenwick, a veteran of the Army Corps of Engineers, has portrayed dredging as both simple and potentially profitable. At his third press conference on the topic, he satirized the studies that have become the hallmark of the Authority.

"Because most of these presentations would not be complete without an expensive expert study with a lot of zeroes, I'm going to present my invoice for what I just did," said Fenwick, holding up a bill for $000,000.00. "I'll let the relevant agencies," he deadpanned on camera, "figure out how to split that."

By contrast, the Authority appears on track to have spent, from the 2002 drought to the start of the controversial dam, about $12 million on water supply consultants. That's before turning a shovel of dirt– or providing a single additional drop of water.


Anyone want to bet he's in Argentina?

I am a long-time Democrat who will be voting for Bob Fenwick for C'ville City Council on Nov. 3. I cannot support Kristin Szakos, who says on her web site, "I don’t think we should revisit the decision about abandoning the pipeline from the Sugar Hollow reservoir, and I believe the Ragged Mountain reservoir is an appropriate place to look for increased capacity and storage."

No doubt, he is exercising his pipeline ... the county BOS members haven't given him enough resistance to build it.

You're right C'ville Voter, re: Sazkos, it must be hard for Dave to have to make public appearances with her. That's like trying to fly with an anchor tied to your feet.

I've got to admit, compared to the opposition, Fenwick's looking pretty good to me too. He's going to need all the support he can get to beat the local machine. But I don't think the Democrats would be slinging all the negativity about him around if they weren't somewhat afraid of him defeating Szakos.

I like Dave, he's surely the best we've got right now, but I'm still single shoting for Fenwick, who like Dave has both the passion and the brains to do some good on Council. I just don't see that drive or frankly that level of knowledge in Szakos.

Ms. Szakos has made it very clear that she wants to support the Nature Conservancy water plan and not alienate the County.

It is in the county's interest to try to hide the costs of the pipeline until the dam is built. That way they get the city to hand over all their debt-free assets that they own, and become obligated to jointly owned infrastructure that the county will control.

While the county grows and spreads out the debt load the city will not and city residents will not only lose hundreds of million of dollars in assets, but have to buy into the county's growth plan.

I have never understood why any City elected official would agree to this, but now we at least have a candidate who understands how detrimental this is, and that neglecting our main reservoir and allowing it's destruction is not a plan for the future. I'm praying that he will be elected. I have been very impressed by his presentation at all the forums.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail and not expected back until November 2-- and his staff told you this ?

Best explanation of why we need to single shot for Fenwick if we want him to win by Antoinette W. Roades:

"the crucial matter at hand, that is, the election and the fact that even among those who want to see Bob Fenwick as an independent counterweight on Council, there are too many otherwise brilliant individuals who do not understand why they have to single-shot. So if you know any, try this on them:

Let’s say that 100 people go to the polls. Two seats are vacant, so each person can vote twice, although none need do so. Let’s also say that 51 of those 100 people cast one of their votes for Fenwick while 49 cast one of their votes for Norris and the other of their votes for Szakos. If everyone stops there, Fenwick wins a seat. But if even three of Fenwick’s 51 also cast votes for Norris and a mere three more cast votes for Szakos, both Norris and Szakos end up with 52 votes and Fenwick is completely shut out."

Let's start a single shot wave for Bob, anyone on Twitter ?

Her again we see the irresponcible actions with public moneys. How these people keep their jobs and not get railroaded out of town is beyond me. they have nothing but contempt for the communities they serve. Shame on our elected leaders.

I've been following this story since the beginning, and think Hawes Spencer has done a tremendous job piecing together all the facts and players. It still baffles me that the officials can continue to push this ridiculously expensive plan when they have a reservoir that can and should be dredged and multiple other water sources to draw from. I'm from the North, but looks to me like some people in this story deserve to do some jail time for this:

"on track to have spent, from the 2002 drought to the start of the controversial dam, about $12 million on water supply consultants. That’s before turning a shovel of dirtââ?¬â?? or providing a single additional drop of water."

Liz, you are correct. We need to explain this over and over again.

Also let's not forget the Rob Schilling Show. He has given the Proposed Comunity Water Supply Plan attention over and over. He even allowed Sally Thomas (BOS) and here appointee Liz Palmer (ACSA) time to rewrite the history of the Ragged Mountain Dam. Only problem is that Liz and Sally edited history anld omited modern reports and quotations whild favoring an unsigned letter from an unknown writer dated in 1903. And they omited that the RMR Dam was rebuilt in the 1930s.

County Supervisors and candidates will do or say anything to get control of city owned water infrastructure-why not they're not dumb. I wouldn't believe a word any of them say about this unless they admit it's all about them ! Of course they want to build the dam/pipeline, their rich constituents don't pay water bills and they can smile and say to them " We wouldn't think of raising YOUR TAXES "
just sock it to the city residents who all pay water and sewer bills and all the poor folks we'll pack into the urban ring. But please, they say, don't ask us to spend money on a road.

Hawes, did you pay your $38.90 bill yet ? Sure want you to keep those FOIA's rolling .......