Gaffney retained: City parts waters for RWSA helmsman

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris and his four fellow City Councilors agreed to give RWSA chair Mike Gaffney another two years in office.

Despite the controversy and cost overruns that erupted on his watch, incumbent Michael Gaffney appears to have won a clear path to a fourth term as chair of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority thanks to a vote by City Council Monday, December 15. However, in making the appointment, the City announced its intention to add two new members to Gaffney's embattled board.

"I really don't see how that's going to solve the problem," said a disappointed Kevin Lynch, a former City Councilor unswayed by the effort to pad the board with an additional representative from the City and from the County.

"It's clear to the public that the board needs new leadership, but it's not clear to the elected officials," said Lynch.

Gaffney's administration has come under fire this year for tossing out an earlier water plan in favor of one designed by a Pennsyvania-based firm called Gannett Fleming which won infamy for portraying dredging the community's key existing reservoir as onerous–- and then winning a $3.1 million contract to design a dam that can't fill without an uphill pipeline. In September, Gaffney revealed that the dam cost had doubled, but a Hook analysis revealed that it might actually have tripled.

City Council has issued two rebukes to Gaffney's water work, a June demand for dredging, and a stop-work order of sorts in November.

Also-ran Mike Van Yahres tells City Council during a December 9 interview that the amount of water currently wasted is "unconscionable."

Perhaps worried about adding another rebuke and aware that the County holds veto power over its decision, the Council was unanimous Monday in its endorsement of Gaffney, an award-winning home builder.

"I think he's an honest individual, and I think he will act in the best interests of the city and the county," said City Councilor Julian Taliaferro.

"We were mightily impressed with Mr. Gaffney's work to bring us all together on the solid waste agreement," said Mayor and City Councilor Dave Norris.

"I predicted that," said North Downtown neighborhood association president Colette Hall, who, attending the week-earlier interviews, expressed concern that Gaffney was portraying himself as overly heroic for getting the Ivy Landfill converted into a mere trash transfer center.

In addition to winning a fourth two-year term of the Water Authority, Gaffney also gains a fourth term heading the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority.

Other applicants included Gaffney's predecessor, Rich Collins, a UVA environmental negotiator who said last week that he was stunned to learn that Gaffney took office talking about fighting a "hidden agenda," a dig Collins believes was directed at him, and an allegation which Collins denies.

Another candidate was a 32-year old civil engineer named Alex Foraste. A former Peace Corps volunteer specializing in water and sanitation practices in the African nation of Cameroon, Foraste now works for the firm of McKee Carson.

Another candidacy belonged to Michel "Mike" Van Yahres, son of the late City Councilor and state Delegate Mitchell Van Yahres. Stressing his "strong technical background" in ecology and natural resources, Van Yahres, a tree surgeon, told City Council during his interview that he might press for new conservation measures–- including regulations.

With a County government and Chamber of Commerce aligned behind building additional water bodies, particularly after the drought of 2002, a candidate like retired construction executive Donald E. Sours Sr., who complained during his interview that the water supply decision has "dragged on and on," might have made a lot of sense.

Another candidate was tax accountant Mary Huey, who remarked that leaders, particularly in times of economic crisis, should "not be afraid to re«valuate." A final candidate interviewed December 9, Bruce Sherman, focused on the merits of composting toilets and suggested that he wouldn't be the right person "unless you want actual demolition of the Authority."

Mayor Norris said the Council hoped to pass a resolution in January authorizing the additional members of the Authority board.

In a related action, the Council flexed a little muscle toward its County counterparts Monday by passing an amended memorandum of understanding reflecting a question City Councilor Satyendra Huja posed after the City Attorney elucidated an array of facts in the City's legal favor, including ownership of all the reservoirs and the land around them.

"So what you're saying," asked Huja, "is that no one can build a dam without our permission?"


–last updated 9:20am, December 16


Thank you Colette Hall for your comment. Ivy is a mere transfer station and a terrible one at that. It is overstaffed yet unacceptably slow. So slow, that most garbage trucks elect to go to Zion Crossroads and conveniently blow litter across Fluvanna roads. I have seen employees leaning on a golf cart even during peak times.

For his own disposal needs of construction waste, Gaffney uses "Efficient" roll-off out of Culpeper. There are great local services such as Albemarle Container, Cavalier Container, and van der Linde Container rentals that support the R.S.W.A. and also promote recycling.

Efficient hauls trash out of the area thereby avoiding the $16 per ton "waste management fee" tacked on to help clean up Ivy Landfill as well as pay other administrative costs. Having been a builder in the 90's Gaffney likely send many tons to Ivy Landfill.


That's incredibly disappointing news about Gaffney. Mary Huey's even-handed comment reflects the way many feel at this time: leaders, particularly in times of economic crisis, should ââ?¬Å?not be afraid to reevaluate.” And there must have been other candidates who felt similarly. Then why re-elect Gaffney when he's been so central to the problem?

Perhaps something good will come out of the two additional board members and the amended MOU, but I fear Council will inevitably cave every time the county whistles. I honestly don't understand why this has to be one step forward, then three steps back.

The city "caves" when the county calls. We have a real problem folks. It looks to me, we have been "bought out"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is my understanding that the city is proposing to add a councilor and a supervisor to the board. In this matter, it seems that for every step forward, there are two step back. Do councilors really have time for additional responsibilities?

What we really need is a board elected for this specific job by the public. I agree the present elected officials already have too much to do and the problem is lack of oversight of the decision making process.

Under Mr.Gaffney's leadership if the dredging surveys and accurate costs of the dam and pipeline project are not completed before any construction on the Ragged Mt. dam we will have Council to thank.

If the councilor added to the RWSA Board is Taliaferro, Huja, or Brown, then we've got a HUGE problem. Those guys will fold faster than a cheap card table.

And the Supervisor? How about Ken Boyd or Sally Thomas? Bwahaha, that's rich. Boy, this really IS a step in the right direction, isn't it?! *eyeroll*

And, it seems the "powers that be" have paved the road for Gaffney to remain at the helm. God help us. The Caving Council is an embarrassment. a Kevin Lynch campaign in the works? The City needs somebody in there with a lick of common sense who isn't afraid to tell the emperor he's naked.

Betty Mooney is correct. The people themselves need to elect the board. Unlike city council, the people of Charlottesville aren't afraid, and they would have the guts to stand up to these irresponsible officials.

Gaffney = developer = guy who wants and needs an extra huge water supply so he and his buddies can make a TON of money off the Charlottesville citizen's backs in the future. Naturally, water conservation is his enemy. Can't sell multi-million dollar homes talking about the need for conservation, can you? Follow the money. So now Council is enabling him...have they listened at all? Anyone with half a brain knows whats going on, why don't they?

For all you whiners out there, please show us one instance in which Mike Gaffney acted to thwart the will of Charlottesville City Council in his time on RWSA Board. Name just one.

I'm waiting.


You people forget that it is City Council and the BOS who make policy, not RWSA Board. Get a grip, and please try to learn how things work before you go off the deep end with your silly histrionics.

Oh yeah, an elected RWSA Board, there's a good idea. Why not elect every member of every authority and every board and every commission in the city and county. We'll just spend all our lives in permanent election mode. Next.

Any quasi-public body conducting public business to the tune of $200 - $300M should be elected. Citizen X, take an old-fashioned course in American civics.

Cville Eye I would encourage you to learn about how government works a little more before you say inane things. The Defense Department spends hundreds of billions each year. Should the Defense Secretary or Joint Chiefs of Staff be elected? No. We have elections. Elections have consequences. I'm still waiting for someone to show me a single case when the Chair or other appointed members of RWSA thwarted the will of the elected officials they represent. Just one and I'll shut up.

Perhaps the appointed members should focus more on serving the will of the people and not the elected officials.

I think the point of many of the responses you continue to see from these last couple of articles is "The People" don't feel their voice is being heard by the RWSA.

Rob Schilling, as I think many in Charlottesville would agree, who were initially skeptical, that going from an appointed School Board to an elected one has been a positive step for the City.

Citizen X, unless I missed something, I believe you're the only person who's suggested that Mike "thwarted" anything. It does seem, however, that people feel he's making some seriously bad and costly decisions and is biased. So he should be replaced by someone who will listen to all views and weigh them more carefully. That goes double for council who should know better but are continuing with this folly for God knows what reason.

There have been a lot of hands in the Gannett-Fleming/RWSA pie, but some have been more involved than others. Some have gone along for the ride out of laziness, perhaps some were scared they'd lose their pensions if they spoke out. Some might have had potential financial interests in a particular outcome.

The RWSA Chair and Board presented Council and BOS with an incredibly flawed dam proposal. Maybe they knew it was flawed, maybe they didn't. But their own correspondence proves that they did conspire to push it through, and they have put continual pressure on the BOS and Council, even as new data was emerging refuting the efficacy of the plan.

Nobody has suggested that Tucker and O'Connell don't need to go also. But they're not up for replacement. Yet...

Betty please tell us one thing that the elected school board has done that the appointed school board wouldn't likely have done. Or ask that rightwing diva friend of yours Schilling, he seems to know all the answers. Reality Check please do some independent research on the history of the water plan and you will find that the critics are only telling part of the story. The part that supports their interest in a smaller water supply and opposes restoration of county waterways.

Citizen X, why don't YOU tell us what their interest in a smaller water supply is? Or tell us what your interest in a larger water supply is? Or who's paying for the pipeline, and how much it will cost?

I was a supporter of the original water plan, involved from the very beginning. No Johnny-come-lately here! So I've read as much material on it as has been made available by everyone involved. Your assumption otherwise is ludicrous. One of the things I've found most galling about the "stay the course" proponents is their desperate need to marginalize the pro-dredgers as kooks who have jumped on a bandwagon for the sake of being contrary.

Doing a proper study to compare and contrast the costs does no harm to anyone. What's your objection to a level playing field?

@Left-wind Citizen of Russia XXX: discusses the memo the Overrun O'Connell wrote to Mr. Frederick to disregard the verbal recommendations that council made in December 2007 concerning "full speed ahead" on the water plan. Goodbye.
Oh, and the DOD spends money that the elected Congressmen appropriates. The RWSA spends millions and then send the bill to the city and county rate payers. I hope you can see the difference in their respective models, but I don't it. Talking to you is a pure waste of time. I just wanted readers to remmber O'Connell's attempt at thwarting the will of his bosses, city council.

Congratulations to City Council for recognizing the hard work of Mr. Gaffney.

Let's hope he can move the water supply plan forward.

Yes, thank you Mr. Gaffney for scraping our 2002 plan, doubling our water rates, spending over $5 million on consultants to get a permit for a plan that will cost over $200 million and probably will never be built. Six years as Chair of the RWSA and not a drop more water for our community. Good work!

Actually, the plan he has help move forward makes the most sense, given that it's the cheapest alternative, provides enough water, and restores stream flow to a dead river.

If you can see past the swirl of false accusations, false statements, and character assassination, the existing plan makes a lot of sense. I say this from years of closely watching this plan take shape.

"I say this from years of closely watching this plan take shape." Out of curiosity, what other plan have you seen take shape? The only other proposal that I know of that had a dollar amount was the bladder and dredge of the former director which was ten times cheaper than the current proposal. Repeating misinformation in a public forum doesn't make it true. Besides, there aren't ten people in the city and county that will say that they know approximately how much this Nature Conservancy's proposal will cost. I suspect the key to your argument is the so-called restoration of the Moorman's River at the cost of the rate payers at any amount.
I have not seen any postings about the character of Gaffney, just an evaluation of his performance.

Just a simple question.....Reality Check said "The people themselves need to elect the board. Unlike city council, the people of Charlottesville aren’t afraid, and they would have the guts to stand up to these irresponsible officials."

Didn't the people of Charlottesville elect the current city council? So what do you propose - democracy put the current council in place. It also removed Kevin Lynch. Exactly how were the citizens of Charlottesville not fairly represented? Just a question.

Confused is a little wrong. Mr. Lynch wasn't removed by the voters. He didn't run again.

Unfortunately he is right about the citizens of Charlottesville being the one to blame for this mess. If someone as useless to this city as David Brown can be elected twice, it doesn't seem to me like giving voters more say is an answer to anything.

Sad, you are entirely correct. The people of Charlottesville are in many ways responsible for allowing "this mess" and also the Meadowcreek Parkway problems for the city. I hope Lynch will run again. The people of Charlottesville are partners in allowing all of this to continue. Let us hope the people finally wake up!

Confused, in many ways you are correct. However, I believe the people have finally reached critical mass on some of these issues. I think there are some out there who would represent us better, and who would be more willing to stand up to the BOS.

There are some on council who are more interested in maintaining the status quo for the sake of political expediency, even if it's the wrong thing to do.

A lot of the blame goes to citizen apathy. There are some who have been criticizing Mooney and Lynch simply because they didn't want to have to think about alternatives to the water plan. Even as the costs rose and the questions increased, some people refused to believe that "their" water plan might have serious flaws that would need to be addressed before this thing went a step further. It was easier for them to attempt to quash further debate rather than force themselves to admit there might be problems. Sad state of affairs, and some on council played an active role in this.

People are elected to council primarily for social issues. This is more of an engineering/problem solving issue. I would hope that the majority of people running for the unglamorous RWSA board would do so because they have some technical expertise and enjoy problem solving. I wouldn't think that there would be a need for anyone to run according to party loyalties. The city's budget is $141M and we elect five people to spend it. The school board's budget is $80M- and we elect seven people to spend it. RWSA is embarking upon $200 - $300M water AND sewer projects. Why shouldn't they be elected? O'Connell, Mueller and Gaffney do not answer to the county (nor the city for that matter) and Fern, Tucker and Gaffney do not answer to the city (nor the county for that matter). Yet the have the power to spend $200M at the drop of a hat and require their data to be FOIA'd in order for the public to know what are the bases of their conclusions. I'm sure the election would be just as unobtrusive to the lives of the voters and that for the Rivanna River Basin Commission. I hope I've gotten that name right, there's so many little groups centered around the river it's hard to keep track.

It's time to start throwing shoes here in C'ville.

"and require their data to be FOIA’d in order for the public to know what are the bases of their conclusions."

That's a major part of the problem right there. When extensive use of FOIA by average citizens is required in order for people to know what the REAL story is, then we need to reevaluate.

I'm actually not so confused. Cville Eye hit the nail on the head....the water supply question requires technical expertise. A huge amount of expertise can be found in the staff of the City, County, ACSA and RWSA. And many of the people who are in the news speaking negatively about the plan, do not understand what they are reviewing. Yet, they speak as though they do. Just keep that in mind in forming your opinions on this question.

Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan do not claim to have the answers, but have asked for fact based decision making. Anyone looking at the Gannett Fleming assumptions would understand they are not detailed enough to determine the costs or feasibility of the RWSA proposal of a new dam at Ragged Mt. and connecting pipeline from South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Even Mr. O'Connell admits he should have gotten a second opinion about the dredging estimate

O'Connell does say there's one thing he'd do differently: he'd get a second opinion from a firm other than Gannett Fleming.

"Sitting here today," says O'Connell, "looking back, clearly their cost estimates were way off."

This is a quote from the cover article by Linsay Barnes

O'Connell does say there’s one thing he’d do differently: he’d get a second opinion from a firm other than Gannett Fleming.

ââ?¬Å?Sitting here today,” says O’Connell, ââ?¬Å?looking back, clearly their cost estimates were way off.”

"A huge amount of expertise can be found in the staff of the City, County, ACSA and RWSA." And if it hadn't been made an issue by Betty Mooney's group, thse "experts" who have continued along their merry way without a second thought. The whole rationale of building a dam now and building a pipeline 10 years from now strikes me as making as much common sense as building an Olympics-sized pool now and hoping to be connected to a water supply other than a domestic water well within the next ten years. It really doesn't make any sense to say "Today will need 12 MGD and 35 years from now with will neeed 15 MGD and 50 years from now will need 19 MGD, so let's build it now using the money of the people who will have moved or will be dead to pay for it."
I have yet to see any proof of the expertise of the designer of this proposal, The Nature Conservancy other than it has a title, yet the "expects" are allowing themselves to be dictated by its wishes.

The Nature Conservancy is a conservation organization not in the business of designing water supply systems. I have no argument with their agenda of river restoration, but to claim, as they have, that building a new dam at Ragged Mt, and a connecting pipe from the South Fork is the most practical(reasonably priced), least environmentally damaging alternative, now that we know how inaccurate the dredging estimate was, does not seem to be a factual claim on their part. The costs and feasibility of their agenda were apparently never a concern and now must be determined.

As is usually the case, there's some truth on all sides and everybody's biased to some degree. Many of the comments here are anonymous so those who have real names receive all the heat. What I keep wondering is why some people waited so long to criticize the current plan? Lynch and Schilling voted for the plan then waited 2 years to criticize the process they actually oversaw as elected officials. Hamilton supported the plan but was absent the night of the vote and now opposes the plan. Why did Hawes only start covering this issue at the beginning of 2008? You wouldn't need FOIA requests if you had been covering the issue all along. Why hold Gaffney to a standard previous chairmen and directors have not been held to, or was the standard raised because of previous stewards? I requested info in 2002 and was ignored. I didn't file a FOIA but I documented the history. Does that then mean Collins and Tropea were responsive and transparent because high-powered politicos were silent? Much of the suspicion of this administration seems misdirected, much as one distrusts a car salesman today because a different salesman was dishonest yesterday. Even more bizarre is when yesterday's salesman accuses today's salesman of being dishonest.

In my opinion we don't need a new reservoir or dredging for another 20-30 years or more. The last few droughts (1977, 2002, 2007) were over-hyped to scare the public into deferring to the officials. Each time officials relied on an uninformed public and a lazy press. The 50-year deadline is arbitrary but possibly necessary, otherwise we'll never get anything done. I gave a speech in Council chambers Aug. 20, 2001 strongly supporting dredging. But after a lengthy and unusually open process, the community adopted the current plan. There's nothing inherently wrong or unconstitutional about either plan. No plan is perfect. But I continue to support the current plan because I trust the current chairman and director more than I trust the current critics. Gaffney and Frederick have built trust over the past few years despite mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes.

One final thing: Why the antagonism of the city toward the county? (I have my theories.) If the county knew in 1972 (when RWSA was negotiated) what they know now, they would have remained independent, and built a reservoir upstream from South Rivanna and dumped their sewage downstream into the city's drinking water. In that case, the ill will toward the county might be justified. That ought to give you anonymous critics something to foam about.

Great inspiring and uplifting story. Wish there were more stories like these

Kathy - How wonderful to be recognized for your great work and your great heart.. Congratulations!

I am desingernwho would leike to work with
Kathy Dahlstrom.

How do I reach her,


Estella my ekail is