Hide and leak? Dam costs at least $20 million more

Tom Frederick, left, tells the four water dealers–- Mayor Dave Norris, waterworks board chair Mike Gaffney, Albemarle Supervisors chair Ken Boyd, and County Service Authority chair Don Wagner–- that the dam "could exceed $70 million."

The four leaders wore grave faces at the hastily called press conference. What they wished were a $37 million dam might, the press release said, cost around $70 million. But the financial news is worse– at least $20 million worse.

As revealed by the Hook September 22, the day of the press conference, millions in costs to shore up Interstate 64 from reservoir waters were missing from the new tally–- with water boss Tom Frederick's explanation that he didn't agree with the numbers. Now the Hook has uncovered further costs totaling over $8 million unaccounted for by the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority.

"This doesn't surprise me," says local businessperson Keith Rosenfeld. "It's the same pattern we've seen throughout this process–- conveniently hiding costs that don't support their preconceived notions."

Authority board chair Mike Gaffney referred all questions on the matter to Frederick, who declined to discuss the September 22 press release. Bearing the seals of the Authority, City, County, and the County Service Authority, the release claimed that the new price was "approximately $70 million," a figure that should be "compared to $37 million." Most news organizations took the cue.

In an email, Frederick sticks to his own memo, a document that makes no such comparisons, but which does admit that the cost could rise "beyond" $70 million.

Beyond indeed. According to attachments to his memorandum, the price for constructing the project in 2009 or 2010 is $82.3 million to $98.8 million. And yet even Frederick's report does not include the following items that he has long claimed as necessities:

* $ 160,000 Dam preliminary design
* $ 2,400,000 Dam final design
* $ 2,630,000 Dam bidding & construction engineering
* $ 420,000 Environmental consulting and mitigation engineering
* $ 2,940,000 Environmental mitigation implementation.

These five items were accounted for in a January 2008 cost-breakdown the Hook obtained from Frederick earlier this year. Combined, they add another $8.55 million that could raise the total to $90.1 million and to as much as $107.4 million, a near tripling of the oft-repeated estimate of $37 million.

But, again, Frederick doesn't agree.

"It was never the purpose of the report to provide a new total estimate of all potential project costs," he says in an email. "In fact, the report itself clearly states that 'RWSA staff is not ready to endorse any recent estimates as representative of a probable project cost.'"

One of the biggest possible cost savings Frederick appears to embrace–- and the key to keeping costs from hitting triple digits–- would come from building I-64 embankments able to withstand only a "100-year" flood. That's ironic because one of the alleged emergencies forcing this project is the state's demand for an upgrade of the existing Ragged Mountain Dam to handle a millennial flood like the nearly 30 inches that poured down on Nelson County one August night in 1969.

Frederick downplays the embankment figures as "preliminary," and because he hasn't yet convened an expert panel to sift through cost-cutting measures, he calls it "unfair" to treat embanking I-64 to withstand a millennial flood as a necessary cost.

If it turns out that the Virginia Department of Transportation (and a VDOT spokesperson is inquiring) would seriously consider surrounding such a vital roadway with a new lake banked by mere 100-year embankments, then indeed the project could save $10 million. But that's not the end of the questionable assumptions.

Schnabel Engineering, which Frederick hired in August on an emergency $30,000 contract, believes it can save money by quarrying gravel on-site at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, a space now considered so pristine that pets are banned and where signs warn walkers to "hike quietly."

Schnabel also plans to deal with fractured rock by using grout to seal potential leaks. In all, Schnabel believes it can save at least $13.5 million. And at least three media outlets have dutifully subtracted that amount from the oft-repeated $70 million figure to claim the project is down to $56.5 million.

If only.

Underpinning the project is a pipeline so preliminary that City Council rose up in outrage November 3 to demand a halt to the dam until the pipeline is properly budgeted. (The resolution came just six weeks after Frederick claimed that all local governments "remain solidly behind the 50-year water plan.")

As for Rosenfeld, who co-owns the Barracks Road eatery HotCakes, he now feels misled enough to be drawn to Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply, a group that has been sounding warnings about questionable statements and assumptions by the Rivanna Authority.

"If they muddle through and build their dream," says Rosenfeld, "it's the ratepayers who'll be stuck with a huge tab. The doubling of rates over the past five years is just the beginning."


thanks for keeping their feet to the coles Hawes!

I give the Hook an A+. You guys have made a difference for the good of all. We have noticed too! Thank you

True dat - The Hook has stuck to this story like crazy, and it is making a difference. Kudos!

If you are a county resident and care about the COSTS associated with the dam and new pipeline then your chance to weigh in is Wednesday Nov 12th at 6pm at the County Office Building Lane Auditorium. This will be the FIRST public hearing about the proposed water supply alternative for the County. No public hearing was held by the Supervisors before their vote to support what is not a plan for our future water supply, but a water release permit that they may chose when to implement.

The City has done the responsible thing and asked for more information about the costs and a comparison to dredging for the water supply. Isn't it only reasonable for the county to do the same and keep all options available including Buck Mt. and Chris Greene which they plan to take off the table at tomorrow's meeting

In 2005 leading environmentalists, in our community wrote the letter quoted below to then City Mayor David Brown and Chair of the Supervisors Dennis Rooker. This is still the best advice I've seen to date and hopefully will be followed by our elected officials.

Clearly there is not enough information at this time to proceed and the officials need to step in spend the money necessary to get that information in order to save possibly over $100 million dollars. The RWSA has at present $300,000 in a watershed management fund that could immediately be used for the dredging surveys which one firm said would cost $275,000. If we are truly worried about drought and water shortages the fastest, and cheapest way to immediately increase our water supply would be to dredge. That would give us time to get the other needed information to proceed with the 50 year plan

Please show up on Wed the 12th at 6pm and let your voice be heard or e-mail your supervisor at bos@albemarle.org

March 1, 2005

The Honorable Dennis Rooker, Chair
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

The Honorable David Brown, Mayor
City of Charlottesville City Council

RE: Community Water Supply

Dear Chairman Rooker and Mayor Brown,

1. In providing for our future water supply, take a decisive leadership role to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens. This is the only way to address the broad fiscal and policy ramifications of each of the proposed alternatives. RWSA is charged primarily with providing adequate potable water for the community. We cannot expect RWSA to perform comprehensive water resource planning that incorporates all environmental, social, and economic objectives.

2. Clarify the decision-making process. The public has a right to know how decisions will be made and who will make these decisions. The public must then be given the opportunity to address decision-makers in a public hearing before the final decision is made.

3. Don't let an artificial deadline or artificial crisis drive decision-making. The RWSA's July deadline is driven by the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation's (DCR) request for renovation of the Ragged Mountain Dam spillway. It is not in the public's best interest to rush through comprehensive community water supply planning based on this single issue. An extension must be requested. With the community proceeding diligently and in good faith, there is every reason to believe that a request would be granted. Take the necessary time to make a well-informed decision.

In addition, there is no immediate ââ?¬Å?water crisis.” Safe yield projections are based on available water during the worst drought-of-record. During periods of normal rainfall, almost 97% of the water in the South Fork Rivanna River flows over the dam. With the addition of the water from Beaver Creek, the safe yield of the existing system can be significantly increased so that this community would feel no shortfall of water supply even during the most severe drought through the year 2018.

4. Examine the phrase ââ?¬Å?least environmentally damaging.” ââ?¬Å?Least environmentally damaging” should not be defined solely by the impacts of the alternative being reviewed. Take a comprehensive view of environmental impacts and include local interests in the equation. Although negotiations with state and local regulators are extremely important, planning should not be driven by attempts to shorten these negotiations. There are unintended economic and environmental costs associated with the different alternatives

5. Avoid making decisions based on cost figures made available to date. The complexity of our water supply system has led to a long list of alternatives and combinations of alternatives. Cost estimates for several of the alternatives have been incomplete and often misleading. There remains uncertainty as to the required improvements to water treatment systems for each proposed alternative. The City and County should require from the RWSA the following:
o Recommendations and cost estimates for entire systems, not just for selected components.
o Additional information on more long-term costs (e.g., atrophy of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir) that have not been presented.
o An analysis of the financial impacts of the timing - or phasing - of the various alternatives.

6. Recognize the challenges of a 50-year planning horizon. We cannot predict with certainty what our water demand will be in the year 2055, and it is prudent to build and maintain only what we need. Therefore, it makes sense to have a plan that allows for flexibility in the ongoing integrated water supply planning and management. An incremental, local approach to our water supply will maintain acceptable safe yield for the nearer term and allow time in which to implement additional measures, as more reliable forecasts for water demand are completed. Consistent with the accepted principles of sustainability, we should plan the best we can for the benefit of future generations without foreclosing other options that might later be more appropriate.

This community values its rural landscape and natural environment. This stewardship is embedded in both City and County comprehensive plans. While the RWSA must advise elected officials on a course they believe will be most acceptable to the regulatory agencies, elected officials must choose the course that will be most acceptable to this community. Otherwise comprehensive planning would be a meaningless process. We cannot ignore the ecology, health and stewardship of our local reservoirs and streams.

I am also in full agreement with the last sentence of the above letter ( which is not the full text). That we must take care of the health of the Moorman's Mechums, and Rivanna Rivers as well as maintaining our Reservoirs

" We cannot ignore the ecology, health and stewardship of our local reservoirs and streams."

Betty, Thank you. You are awesome! How about running for an elected office? You are a winner for sure.

Ken Boyd was on WINA stressing that the water supply proposal was approved by five councilors. He failed to mention that three of the five said they are not comfortable using the information they given. What we really need is a completely elected RWSA board.

if you build it, they will come

Thanks fan, but getting this far has required the blood, sweat and tears of alot of people

The effort to bring this issue to a level of importance that would capture the hearts and minds of our elected officials began
as Bill T. Jones, the wonderful choreographer in town this week creating a work about Lincoln said, as "a voice in the wilderness".

That voice grew to several voices that have now grown to an entire chorus of voices being heard in every corner of our community.

Information is power. Information is wisdom. Information will guide us to a plan for a water supply that can both meet our human need and our environmental responsibility.


Only if the chorus continues to grow and give voice to the need for more information. Only if we work together to bring this about will our hopes become reality.

Mistakes were made, but instead of blame let us all accept our part and move forward to maintain our beautiful South Fork Rivanna Reservoir as our primary water supply, and to repair the Ragged Mt. spillway. Then we can take the time to reconsider, with better data, the many possibilities that will provide water for those who live in this special place now and those who will join us in the future.

Let us consider carefully how very lucky we are to already own the resources we have, and to consider how much water each of us needs to have a quality life in our Charlottesville and Albemarle.

I believe together, as a community, we can create a safe, reliable, 50 year and beyond water supply, affordable for all our citizens based on accurate information.


Cville Eye, do you recall who the two councilors are that still feel comfortable with this? I'm surprised it wasn't unanimous.

Thanks to Dave Norris and two co-councilors for sticking up for sanity on Nov 3rd! Let's hope their action will be a good example to the BOS.

Lynch, Hamilton, and Schilling. David Brown seem to be the greatest supporter on the current council.

Incredulous, I think CvilleEye was referring to the previous Council who voted in 2006 on a water release permit (not a plan ) to allow the RWSA to apply for a permit to build a new dam at Ragged Mt. and a new pipeline at SFRR. Lynch, Schilling, and Hamilton now say they were misled and would not have voted for it knowing what they know now. You can find several stories about this at the link below


Thanks Betty, you're correct. I mistakenly thought Cville Eye was referencing current Council. Thanks for the heads-up and link.

Agreed, among current Council, Brown seems to be the most vociferous proponent of the dam by far.

My guess, people are catching on to Brown's drift, and he will be voted out ASAP. Brown is certainly a hang-up with the Parkway issue. He is failing, as he nods his head and avoids taking on called for advocacy in his district. Brown has his own agenda, in the eyes of many.

Can anyone explain what is going on with the Board of Sups? The only one that expressed any concern with the cost of the dam plan was Rooker---the rest just said man the torpedo full steam ahead

plop, I wish we could count on our fellow citizens, but good grief, a lot of them must have voted for Brown a second time despite his having demonstrated he had no qualifications for the job in his first term. If his choice of "profession" and his past performance weren't clue enough last time, I'm afraid more sleeping on the job this go-round won't make the outcome any different if he wants the job again.

$725,000 for a middle class home! Are you kidding me?

If you have at least a couple million dollars in your bank account, you can call yourself middle class. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!

So what is the Hook's cut if this scam succeeds?

The Hook's cut will be nothing compared to the real estate parasite that will broker the deal. There is only one life form lower than a real estate agent. That lifeform is a single cell organism that lives in dung.