Free studies: Firm, Fenwick urge market dredgings

news-water-marketdredgersCouncil candidate Bob Fenwick and Blue Ridge Sand principal Mitch King urge market solutions.

A politician's press conference touting the benefits of mud and a five-year-old business proposal touting the benefits of sand have recently emerged to reinvigorate the debate over the local water supply and spark hope that the Rivanna Reservoir can be dredged for little or no money.

"There is gold in that reservoir," says Bob Fenwick, an independent candidate for Charlottesville City Council. "It's green gold."

Fenwick is an engineer-builder who spent seven years in the Army Corps of Engineers. One month ago at another lake, he showed how hydraulic dredging might expand lakes; on October 2, he showed how dredging might expand wallets.

Standing on a dock about a mile north of the Earlysville Road Bridge, Fenwick told a trio of reporters about a bag of topsoil he bought four days earlier at Lowe's home center for $8.82. Fenwick says a simple dredge–- like an Ellicott Mudcat profiled a year ago in these pages–- can easily produce 1.17 million of such bagfuls with a retail value of $9.4 million by removing just the top three feet of organic material along a one-mile strip of the seven-mile-long water body.

"This material," said Fenwick, "as any farmer can tell you, is the best material to till into land– or, for homeowners, into their garden."

Fenwick contends that as long as the fuel, labor, and equipment cost less than the revenue, dredging should be a profitable business.

But Fenwick's views aren't resonating with one of dredging's key supporters in local government, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris. An incumbent, Norris, along with fellow Democrat Kristin Szakos, opposes Fenwick in the November election.

"I think he's trying to score some political points," says Norris, "but it's a much more complicated issue than he makes it out to be."

One dredge-willing team outside the political fray, however, is Blue Ridge Sand, a company formed after the 2002 drought for the sole purpose of putting together a market-based dredging proposal. This firm focuses primarily on the sediments that have shrunk the upper reaches of the reservoir and has built a unique contraption that sorts rocky sediments in a fraction of the space usually needed for "de-watering."

Mark Fendig, one half of the Blue Ridge Sand team and a professional dredger, went out with a Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority official in 2003 or 2004 to take six core samples. What he and business partner Mitch King found pleased them: lots of tiny rocks.

"These sediments have market value," says King in a September 29 interview, noting that he shared his findings with area concrete and asphalt companies. "They said they'd take as much of it as we could produce."

In the spring of 2004, Blue Ridge Sand offered its proposal to remove 695,000 cubic yards of material from the reservoir. Because the amount is just one-seventh of the volume a full restorative dredging might entail, their proposal has been blasted by dredge foes as mere "opportunistic dredging."

The men of Blue Ridge Sand don't wince from the moniker– especially when the lead alternative is a controversial dam-reservoir plan that rips apart a prized natural area and which many of its backers concede might cost $200 million.

"I just don't think you you should spend 200 million this year if you're not gonna need it for 30 years," says King. "If dredging can buy us 20 or 30 years, that seems like a good investment."

Norris maintains that gaining a few decades worth of water capacity isn't as important as the course on which he has embarked: a full restoration of the 43-year-old Reservoir, an effort that previous studies show could raise local capacity to 14.3 million gallons per day, about 50 percent more than the community currently uses.

Norris says he finds a year-ago concept from a firm called DDR intriguing for its willingness to dump the dredged material into an old quarry, and he stands by the idea of spending a six-figure sum on a dredging study.

While local officials try to whittle down the $700,000 level, Fenwick and Blue Ridge Sand say they've already studied the situation. For free. And one thing the officials can't deny is that by the time the mega-dam is readied for construction, the Rivanna Authority will have spent $12 million on studies before adding a single drop of capacity.

The last dredging study, conducted by a now-ousted firm called Gannett Fleming, declared that fully dredging the snake-like Reservoir might cost as much as $223 million, a sum that exceeds a recent contract to dredge the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.

"Do not complete the study," says Fenwick. "Just dredge the reservoir."


Despite all that, City Council moved forward on Monday, October 5 by appropriating $300,000 toward a pared-down dredging study.

–last updated 5:51pm Tuesday, October 6

Read more on: bob fenwickdredgingrwsa


I'm suprised to learn that the reservoir is only 43 years old.

You know, the whole dredging water plan issue is really simple for City residents. WE own all the water supplies and resevoir. WE pay on the debt of the current water supply, not the county. WE the city residents have plenty of water for the next 50+ years, because we are not only not growing, we are using less water today.

The county has the water supply problem, and they are the ones who want to keep growing. They pay a sum total of 1 dollar to lease our services, and then split the water bill. In 2012 that little deal ends, and if we had a council with any spine, they would hold the county to the fire.

There is NO REASON why anyone in the city should pay a single nickel towards increasing the water supply for the county so they can bring in another 100k residents in their bloody McMansions for some developer at Biscuit run. If the county wants to try and cut back on their pathetic little sharing funds, we can simply hit them in 2012 forcing them to pay a % of the current debt.

The biggest slap in the face is that should we have anoher drought, we'll be eating off papaer plates while then Mormann area gets a nice flowing river becuase we have to keep enough water in the South Fork of the Rivanna. So, we pay for them to play.

The only people who need a water plan are the county. We have our water, and its time we started making the county pay up for housing all their poor and their water supply.

It's just that simple.

Brian should take time to enjoy the pie festival. He works hard and deserves a break. Of course I realize there is much political contact at the festival.

Isn't it great that so many miserable players are about ready to give up and get out of the way, in this day and age? What makes service authorities so powerful? Legal bills, obviously.

So, who's ready to go to court? Is Peter van der Linde on his own, or not?

Betty, what a brilliant woman you are. Fenwick will push for accountability for RWSA and other boards. His idea to dredge now is exactly what should happen. Our current leaders,city and county are not pushing hard enough. They are also flip flopping wildly. Betty, as you compliment,elevate Fenwick, the Dems must realize they have much work to do. Fenwick is pulling in many democrats. Cool to see his sign resting alongside the Deed's sign on the bypass. That in itself is a big story.

Brian Wheeler, who apparently is now the water reporter for the Daily Progress, failed to cover either the Friday Fenwick event, or a repeat show and tell by Fenwick at the Free Speech Monument today. Guess he was too busy covering the pie festival in Crozet.

Give Bob Fenwick a chance at dredging. If his proposal works, the city would stand to gain millions rather than spend millions. Of course the current city council seems to only know how to spend the taxpayer's money. Saving is a foreign language to them.

Norris says Fenwick is "trying to score some political points." It goes beyond this. Fenwick IS racking up points because people are seeing that he truly cares and will make a difference.

Fenwick seems willing to apply common sense to the dredging issue while others on council just want to talk in circles. If Norris takes issue with this he loses political point in my book.

Mitch King is a serious, informed guy. If he says dredge, we should dredge.

So I hereby pledge my vote to Fenwick, and to whichever of the other candidates persuades me they really are going to dredge. So far Mayor Norris who I like as a person but can't fully trust as a politician, seems to be hemming and hawing.

We need City Councillors who are decisive, who will stand up to the pro-dam City Manager (who has a history of instead of changing his mind when presented with better info, repeatedly digs in his heels on a bad decision) to order dredging. No more studies, no more delays, no more kicking the can down the road. A direct order delivered by resolution or by ordinance to both City reps. on the Rivanna Board to solicit a contract for dredging. Now. Today.

To the candidates who promise that, I promise my vote.

Hey all,

Not only do I support Fenwick, just to get a voice that doesn't go kowtowing to the current trend of Council - a council that does not act like Democrats at all - but I think we should all give Paul the push for Sherrif. I like James and I know he is a sweet guy, but he is too much lock and step with Council. Paul is about making the Sheriff's Office a lot more active in law enforcement, and community outreach. He is about solving problems through actions, not just playing party politics. I got the opportuntity to speak with him at great length over a number of thigns, and I feel like he is coming to the table with REAL PLANS, and solutions that he can break down for you, not just a bunch of generic prattle like " I support the community youth."

Paul tells you HOW he is going to do it. Like Fenwick. He is about doing things.

Real Solutions.

So, give Paul a vote too.

Sadly, I am becoming less and less surprised by the condescension and arrogance of our elected leaders. A local citizen spends his time to propose a better solution, and the mayor dismisses it with the arrogant ââ?¬Å?I think he’s trying to score some political points," and very condescending "it’s a much more complicated issue than he makes it out to be.”

I think it's time to replace the mayor with the citizen.

I agree that we should have been consistently dredging and maintaining the reservoir since its inception 40 years ago. We would then have far more water supply now. We should also have been maintaining the Sugar Hollow Pipeline, and repairing the Spillway at the Ragged Mt. Dam, as well as all our other water and sewer infrastructure. Instead, the RWSA has been stockpiling money since 2002 when they doubled our rates. This is a failure of our elected officials, not overseeing their employees on the Water Authority Board. This situation has still not been corrected.

Now we are required by the state to submit a 30-50 year water plan by 2011. This plan requires decade by decade calculations of the amount of water we need, and a far better conservation plan. The entire RWSA proposal for this is based on the former consultants calculations, that are now wrong, and must be corrected for the state plan. In the last 10 years we are 24% below what they calculated.

It makes sense to me at this point to follow through on Council's plan to find out the cost and feasibility of restorative dredging, which requires an expert firm's evaluation, to bring the Reservoir back to its original capacity. Also, to obtain accurate information for the state plan, on the amount of water needed for 30 years. Restorative dredging should be the first expense of that plan. We will then have adequate time to evaluate the community's true water needs based on future emerging technology that is allowing us to use far less treated drinking water for yard maintenance and household uses that don't require it. This could significantly drop the amount of water we need in 50 years, and alleviate huge infrastructure costs that must be paid for by our water ratepayers.

So I applaud Mr. Fenwick for showing the community that, not only is dredging possible, but likely will make money. Once we have restored the Reservoir to it's original capacity, maintenance dredging could be a money making enterprise for the city and keep the reservoir dredged forever.

We must change the philosophy and direction of the RWSA out of the dinosaur age, with outmoded ideas for sustainability for our water and sewer systems, to a forward thinking entity, always considering first the costs to the ratepayers and sustainable practices for the environment. The era of empire building for their our enlargement must come to an end. This is the responsibility of our elected officials, and I believe Mr. Fenwick if elected will make this happen.

Having one elected official on the RWSA board is not enough and we have already witnessed why. The entire Council must be engaged in setting policy for this plan.

Only in politics would a sensible/cheap/free/profitable potential solution have competition from a $200MM+ proposal that also destroys beautiful natural habitat.

The crime of incompetency and cronyism is punishable at election time. People, please purge these "public servants" from office as soon as we can.