Snow softens: Only Fenwick is jonesin' for dredging
Where do the candidates stand on dredging? In the county, Duane Snow appears to be the most dredge-malleable among the five seeking the two available seats on Albemarle's governing board. In the city, it's independent Bob Fenwick who has taken the boldest stand on the issue of damming vs. dredging.
"Why has the damming issue been the default position when dredging has hardly been considered?" Fenwick asked last Saturday at a downtown press conference. "This [dam] is potentially hundreds of millions in taxpayer money, which may not do what it intends to do."
Fenwick said that he'd push for ending what he sees as an endless cycle of studies, such as the one recently launched that could cost a year in time and $275,000 in cash to measure the dwindling Rivanna Reservoir. Fenwick also said at his August 8 event that he would instead launch a pilot dredging program.
"I am not a big fan of consultant studies," says Fenwick. "A consultant is an excuse for a politician or a department head not to reach a decision."
Fenwick, a builder with seven years experience working in the Army Corps of Engineers, claims his credentials meet or exceed those of anyone in the discussion, and he's calling on local officials to stop planning a new dam for the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, a process that has already cost local citizens $1.7 million toward a planned $3.1 million dam design contract– with the cost of actually building the dam currently unknown.
Fenwick disputes several key recent claims, particularly the excuse that the now-ousted dam-design firm, Gannett Fleming, which was paid $12,000 last spring to downplay dredging, was surprised to find "fractured rock" at the site.
"Fractured rock is everywhere," says Fenwick, noting that the County's crust was laid down about 300 million years before the breakup of Pangea, the world's first land mass. "So it should come as no surprise to anyone that there is fractured rock at that location."
Fenwick suggests "not a penny" for dam design before obtaining a new measurement of demand. As recently as this month, Rivanna officials defended their projections of skyrocketing demand even though the populace, while growing, is buying 22 percent less water than 10 years ago.
"When you hear suspicious statements coming from public officials of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority," says Fenwick, "it raises questions."
Fenwick claims there's been a "lack of leadership" by Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, even though Norris has been the only major elected official to seriously push for dredging. One of two Democrats Fenwick is challenging for the two open seats on Council, Mayor Norris has been unable–- or unwilling–- to simply stop the expenditures on dam design.
"It's puzzling when Dave has such a prominent local profile that he doesn't become more assertive," says Fenwick. "There are plenty of people who will listen to him."
Norris declined to comment on the criticism.
Fenwick says the City could buy one or more of the 40-60 parcels bordering the Rivanna Reservoir for dewatering, and even if dredging fails as water supply salvation, the exercise will provide useful data for saving other dwindling lakes, such as the one in the Four Seasons neighborhood, which Fenwick sees as a potentially dangerous bog.
"We would recoup that investment because there are many more places where we need that technology in the coming years–- it will not be wasted money," says Fenwick, who notes that the land could later be sold in a stronger real estate market.
The other independent City Council candidate, Paul Long, says he has no position on dredging; and the other Democrat, Kristin Szakos–- running with Norris under a “YourCharlottesville” slogan–- says she looks forward to the results of the impending dredging study as an avenue for shrinking the proposed dam.
In Albemarle County, only Duane Snow actually enthused about dredging during his acceptance speech. It happened May 26 at the Republican nominating process under a picnic pavilion at McIntire Park, where Snow won an immediate endorsement from a watching Democrat, Betty Mooney, who sees dredging as a fiscally conservative way to supply water.
Asked a moment later by the Hook if he were the dredging candidate, Snow replied, "On the surface, yes. I want to hear how much water is in there. I want to hear how much sediment is in there."
Snow told his fellow Republicans he got so intrigued about dredging upon his return from a year and a half of Philippine missionary work that he began devouring newspaper articles to get up to speed on the hot topic. The debate exploded while he was gone after revelations that while angling for the dam contract, Gannett Fleming portrayed dredging as smelly, noisy, and costing up to $223 million.
"When we get the facts and figures," said Snow, "I think you're going to find out it's a lot cheaper than the dam builders said."
In a more recent interview, however, Snow says that conversations with dam supporter Elizabeth Palmer reminded him that the existing Ragged Mountain dam system needs repair, so he remains open to the idea of rebuilding it. Even though repairing it might cost a fraction of the price?
"Suppose we get another drought," says Snow. "I don't want to be standing on the board when everyone says you were responsible for solving this problem."
Snow faces dam-friendly independent John Lowry and dam-friendly Democrat Madison Cummings in the Samuel Miller district which includes the Ednam Forest neighborhood, a place where some are unhappy that all three candidates seem willing to allow rock blasting and tree cutting just a few hundred yards from their homes.
"I'm very concerned," says past neighborhood president Sam Freilich. "I'd very much like to see dredging take the place of tearing up the Ragged Mountain Natural Area."
Over in the Rio district, which has more Rivanna Reservoir shoreline than any other district, neither Republican challenger Rodney Thomas nor incumbent Democrat David Slutzky have offered dredging any strong support, and Slutzky, in November, characterized dam opponents as "frustrated people" who "continue to beat the drums of dissent in hopes of delaying the outcome.”
As for would-be Snow-backer Mooney–- who finds herself battling for dredging alongside such diverse parties as the Sierra Club and technology magnate Bill Crutchfield (the latter of whom fears pipeline costs could skyrocket)–- she says she's not convinced that Snow has flip-flopped.
"I'm going to believe," says Mooney, "what Duane told me that night–- until he calls me and tells me himself–- that he really believes in dredging."
Snow tells a reporter that water-saving technologies–- which Mooney sees as rendering the dam unnecessary, have been over-played. Proving his conservative bona fides are firmly in place, he mentions NASA technology for recycling urine into drinking water.
"That may be great for members of the Sierra Club," says Snow, "but I'm not excited about it."
Nine hours after this story was posted online, dam/pipeline supporter Palmer released a statement that Snow and three other candidates for Supervisor seats signed which, among other things, lauds the dam/pipeline plan as the most "economical."
–last updated 1:29pm, August 17