Dollar short: Dredging study advances... on City tab
Nearly a year after it first tried to obtain the services of consultants to find out how helpful dredging might be, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority unanimously voted Monday, May 18, to seek proposals from qualified dredging consultants. Although water-users in both Albemarle and Charlottesville could benefit from what dredge fans see as low-cost water supply, in a compromise demanded by the County, the City will bear most of the cost.
Later on Monday, in a 4-1 vote, City Council agreed to fund the cost of five of the eight tasks in the anticipated study, whose total price is expected to be approximately $275,000. The compromise was submitted by City Manager Gary O'Connell based on a recent City Council discussion.
"We come with Council's blessing and approvals," said O'Connell, joined Monday at the first Rivanna board to include an Albemarle Supervisor and one of his own bosses, City Councilor Holly Edwards, who marveled at the breadth of the draft Request for Proposals, which demands a lake-bottom survey, analysis of dumping sites, advice on preventing resiltation, and even expertise on regulatory affairs.
"It's almost like we're handing Kryptonite to Superman," she remarked, "because this is a lot of work."
For several citizens, including the half dozen who coalesced under the moniker Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan and spoke to the now seven-member Rivanna board, Monday was a day for cautious rejoicing.
"This could end up saving our community $100 million," said Betty Mooney, a former Charlottesville Planning Commissioner whose impassioned pleas to reexamine dredging have been at the heart of an at times bitter year-and-half debate.
Even John Martin, a board member of the County water-distribution entity, who has been claiming that dredging the existing reservoir could unravel a carefully constructed plan to guarantee minimum water flows in the Moormans River, heralded the compromise. He asserted after the board meeting that the dredging study ends the divisiveness–- and won't change the so-called 50-year water plan.
Many hope he's wrong about that.
Blasted by such critics as electronics magnate Bill Crutchfield, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, and an array of petition-gathering neighborhoods who fear its potential to cost over $200 million, the official plan has provoked numerous controversies. Besides its cost, questionable aspects include felling 180 acres of mature forest, putting a reservoir under Interstate 64, depending on a new pipeline, and presuming skyrocketing demand in the face of falling water use.
All the while, the community had been told by one engineering firm (which stood to benefit from a $3.1 million contract to design a dam) that dredging was too expensive. Private companies later began clamoring to dredge for a fraction of the firm's estimates.
O'Connell came under fire from three former City Councilors for letting all this happen. The current City Council never publicly upbraided him, but it did launch the drive to seat one of its own alongside him.
Asked after the meeting how he felt about the board's expansion, O'Connell–- who formerly urged "full steam ahead" on the reservoir/pipeline plan–- said he welcomes City Council's effort to make a "better connection."