Gaffney undrained: Confident water boss seeks fourth term
In the six years that Mike Gaffney has chaired the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, it has discarded an old water plan, devised a new one, and claimed that dredging could cost a quarter billion dollars–- issues which have divided a community. And now he would like a fourth two-year term.
This time, however, it's Charlottesville's turn to appoint the person who simultaneously chairs the top area water board and serves as the swing vote between competing city and county interests. The five challengers include two engineers, an accountant, a tree surgeon, and Rich Collins, the man ousted to make way for Gaffney in 2003.
An environmental negotiator with the University of Virginia as well as an elected member of the Soil & Water Conservation District, Collins has recently, as an activist, tried to undo Gaffney's work. But while Collins and colleagues in a group called Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan have convinced hundreds–- perhaps thousands–- of citizens that, as their motto goes, the community should "dredge first, dam later," they haven't convinced a lot of politicians.
They've gotten Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris to fight hard to bring in dredging experts, and Norris has publicly insisted on the importance of conservation, even criticizing some of the past information (such as that Panama Canal-sized quarter-billion dredging estimate). Norris has led the City to push both a demand for dredging and a stop work order–- even facing down a room full of water-hungry county officials on November 25 to insist on getting fresh pipeline information after Gaffney declined to do so.
Despite such prodding, Norris may be reluctant to fire Gaffney or appoint anyone so openly hostile to the 50-year plan as Collins. After all, Norris notes, the County holds veto power over any nominee, and for all his efforts to amend it, the mayor still likes certain aspects of the official plan–- including increasing the flow of the Moorman's River and obtaining a reservoir that's largely impervious to siltation.
And Gaffney may feel fairly confident, as he hasn't bothered to send in a new application. Except for an updated mailing address, the one he filed in the City Clerk's office appears identical to what he submitted December 23, 2002. Therein lie some ironies.
"I agree with Mr. Tropea," Gaffney's application states, in reference to the Authority executive director who resigned five years ago. "There is a solid plan that's being implemented to address the next twenty years." (That plan focused on dredging, something that the Authority has been fighting since 2004.)
Gaffney, who did not immediately respond to telephoned and emailed requests for comment, reveals In his application that his interest in the position emerged through drought-time conversations with the Chamber of Commerce, including this question: "What is the hidden agenda behind the water shortage?"
"I hadn't known," says Collins, the man toppled after just one term to make way for Gaffney, "that that message had been communicated to the people with responsibility for making the appointment."
"That's interesting to me and disappointing," says Collins. "They obviously thought I had tried to stop growth."
Collins, an opponent of the planned Meadowcreek Parkway and a member of ASAP, or Advocates for a Sustainable Population, appears to have become a lightning rod for more controversy than someone affiliated with a growth-friendly Chamber of Commerce.
Other candidates for the the volunteer post include civil engineer and former Peace Corps voluteer Alex Foraste, tree surgeon and former neighborhood association president Michel Van Yahres, tax accountant and wildlife sanctuary board member Mary C. Huey, and engineer and retired construction executive Donald E. Sours Sr.
The person named to chair the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors will take office in the new year and also serves as the appointed member of the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority. City Council will hold interviews beginning at 4:30pm Tuesday December 9, when the public can watch but not comment. The City Council vote comes December 15, and the County Board of Supervisors' approval or veto will follow.