Soil & Water board joins City seeking dam halt
A second public body has moved to seek a halt to further work on a financially and environmentally questionable water project that would flood a sensitive nature area and place a reservoir around Interstate 64.
The Thomas Jefferson Soil & Water Conservation District sent a letter Friday November 14, that aligns itself with the City of Charlottesville, which voted November 3, in pressing the halt until dredging and other studies determine how best to meet the community's long-term water needs.
"We want to see these studies go forward and get some better numbers before we commit to that dam," says District chair Nick Evans, a hydro-geologist.
One of the larger issues looming in recent days is the fact that the dam would be practically worthless as a water source without a 9.5-mile, electricity-dependent pipeline that even its backers admit is just a concept.
Some folks, such as Jeff Werner, who spoke during a public hearing two days earlier, declared that the dam-reservoir project has been unfairly maligned, particularly by this newspaper, and that debate should cease.
"I'm really tired of the Swift-Boating of this issue," said Werner, in reference to an infamous presidential campaign tactic, as he repeatedly kicked the carpet of the County Office Building, "As a City resident, I just cannot let this continue."
Werner's pro-project view was shared by only one of the other eight speakers (a member of the Albemarle County Service Authority named John Martin who said he once found a live spiny mussel at the site of an earlier planned reservoir).
The Supervisors also heard from former Charlottesville mayor Francis Fife, who noted that prior dredging studies–- which were conducted by Gannett Fleming, the firm that eventually won the $3.1 million contract to design the dam–- were "vastly exaggerated." One such study, conducted before multiple private firms clamored to do the job for under $30 million, put the price as high as $223 million.
Yet, Werner's wisdom appeared to resonate with at least three Albemarle Supervisors.
"I don't understand the backlash," said Supervisor David Slutzky. "We went through a public process, an extensive process, and we voted."
Because the public comment session had closed by that point, it was impossible for anyone to point out that Wednesday's meeting was actually the first ever held by the County Supervisors on the 50-year water plan. So Slutzky went on.
"We just have a lot of frustrated people unhappy with the outcome," Slutzky said. "They continue to beat the drums of dissent in hopes of delaying the outcome."
Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier seemed to fear further impediments to the project when he said, "We've been told by Mr. Frederick,"–- that's Tom Frederick, the head of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority–- "that any delay could be expensive."
Area businessman William Crutchfield, however, has issued two missives blasting the project itself as expensive. And while at least six neighborhoods, a petition with 481 signatures, and two conservation groups (both previously counted as steadfast project backers) have moved to embrace a new look at dredging, Supervisor Sally Thomas insists that the public definitely wants the pipeline/reservoir. After all, she said, she received 237 supportive emails.
But her colleague Dennis Rooker argued against a vote. "I just don't see the rush," he said.
The whole point of the Wednesday, November 12 public hearing was a long-planned change to the County's Comprehensive Plan that would have removed from future water supply consideration both the long-ago proposed Buck Mountain Reservoir and the existing Chris Greene Lake–- and Chris Greene is a component of the alternate plan put forward by project critics.
Rooker urged delay, which passed 6-0. The County will meet with the City and the RWSA on Tuesday, November 25.
–last updated 11:28am, November 18