Gary, oh! O'Connell finally agrees to halt dam

Bucking for answers since May, Mayor Norris (right) has finally convinced City Manager/Rivanna Authority board member Gary O'Connell to halt the dam.
FILE PHOTOS BY JEN FARIELLO

In the ongoing fight over the future water supply, the mayor seems to have finally won a victory over his top executive, City Manager Gary O'Connell, who has been steadfastly attempting to advance what a growing number of critics consider an environmentally and financially questionable 50-year water plan. A sentence adhered November 3 to the bottom of an O'Connell-submitted document [DOC, PDF] finally makes it abundantly clear that construction on the plan's centerpiece, a new dam, must halt until Council gets the information it seeks.

Ironically, given his steady pursuit of the mega-reservoir at Ragged Mountain, even announcing "full steam ahead" after organized opposition emerged, it was O'Connell himself who suggested adding the sentence.

"The new estimated costs on the dam have certainly raised new questions," O'Connell tells the Hook.

"I'm glad to see he's made that jump," says former City Councilor Kevin Lynch, who has been fighting the water plan, which would pump Rivanna River water 9.5 miles uphill to a new reservoir flanking Interstate 64. O'Connell, who been serving on the five-person Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority Board throughout the Board's reliance on Gannett Fleming, which first began dismissing dredging in 2003 [PDF], the year the company was hired by a prior leader to carry out a plan that included dredging.

"For years now," says Lynch, "it's seemed the Rivanna Board just shows up and does whatever Tom Frederick"–- the executive director–- "recommends. What this says to me is that Gary [O'Connell] and Council are finally judging the material on its merits rather than just following the plan because it's the plan."

The money shot. (Full text: [DOC, PDF])
CITY OF CHARLOTTESVILLE/HOOK ENCIRCLING

Lynch remembers feeling shocked by a June 15 email in which O'Connell expresses ignorance [PDF] of the fact that the old Ragged Mountain dam (supposedly in need of total replacement, according to some plan backers), could meet all state standards with a $3.5-million fix.

"If these guys spent a quarter of the energy studying the material that they have [spent] on defending the plan," says Lynch, "then they'd realize that the plan isn't worth defending. And I'd like to think that that's what happened."

Lynch recalls what happened after questions arose over possibly inflated figures submitted by a Pennsylvania engineering firm called Gannett Fleming. Mayor Dave Norris sought a resolution seeking an independent dredging study, but what was handed to Norris and the other Councilors by O'Connell on the night of the May 19 public hearing was a point-by-point endorsement of the controversial plan.

Although a June 2 Council vote eventually forced O'Connell to include language calling for dredging and conservation [DOC, PDF], it was maneuvers like this that brought another former City Councilor into the fray. Three days later, Republican Rob Schilling declared on his WINA radio program that O'Connell was running a "fiefdom."

"There does seem to be some indication that Gary is coming around," says Lynch. "Hopefully, what we're seeing here is the political process at work. I take this as an encouraging sign."

"We made it very clear that the reservoir was created for water supply," Norris said at the November 3 Council meeting. "I hope that our County counterparts will concur."

–last updated 12:25pm, November10

9 comments

Okay, so the dam is dead for now, but O'Connell and Frederick are smart enough to resucitate their science project. Just watch!

No, Overrun O'Connell has not given in on anything. He now has turned it over to the BoS and the ACSA to place pressure on Council to capitulate. I hope that Council is smart enough to hold its meetings with the county and its service authority public and not be talked into some kind of representative conclave. I believe the county, with increased public scrutiny, is trying to avoid conducting the additional studies the city has requested, which any second-year engineering student would want before designing a project, to provide substantive elementary data. The county doesn't want to have to answer to the public as to why it did not seek this data before endorsing this no-plan-but-proposal, instead of letting the process languish to the point of its thinking that the clock is ticking.
The city is now in the position of helping the county to fund its need for additional water and sewer resources needed for its ecnomic growth. And, yes, Ken Boyd, I am not opposed to the city funding these necessary studies, even if it will save your citizens a substantial amount of money for the next twenty years.
I hope more and more of the citizens of the city and county citizens will evaluate the roles the participants have played in this authority's decision process and envision the functioning of the proposed regional transit authority.
I hope that Council will hold fast and work for its constituents. They have absolutely no obligations to the county residents to help them pay for their increased water and sewer usage. I hope that council will also grant Overrun O'Connell and leave-of-absence to that he can go look for another job.

We got rid of Bush finally. O'Connell next!!!

It's rare for me to stand up for the city manager. But O'Connell was doing his job. City Council approved the plan June 5, 2006 in a 4-0-1 vote (Kendra Hamilton abstaining because of absence). The statement only requests and doesn't make clear. Council needs to take another vote instead of backroom negotiations with the city manager. What's up with that? Blaming an employee for not doing what you didn't tell him to do officially and publicly...or conversely...doing what he was instructed to do. Citizens for a sustainable water supply and The Hook are not the boss of the city manager. Why did you guys feel the need to demonize the city manager and RWSA director? This is not their water plan. Council and Board of Supervisors made the decision. And whatever plan or no plan will be their legacy. Remember what Huja said in his campaign: "Staff does not tell Council what to do. Council tells staff what to do."

Council in passing the Resolution on Monday night has clearly directed its representatives on the RWSA board as to what to do. They also expressed these same concerns to the City Manager at their Oct. 6th meeting.

The City Manager is doing his job and getting clear direction from Council. Now it is up to him and Ms Mueller's to defend and implement their directive with the other members of the RWSA board The Council has spoken loud and clear with a unanimous vote that they want detailed costs of the dam, pipeline, dredging and the amount of water we need ( the demand number) which accurately factors in the trend lines for the past 6 years showing that the community is using less water. They have also unamimously said no construction at the dam should proceed without this information. The RWSA currently has no accurate information on any of this. How could anyone call this a plan?

The elected officials in the City have stepped up and taken responsibility for the rate-payers, and Mr. Boyd recently read a statement at the Reservoir Task Force asking for the same cost information.

Any businessperson would demand this information before spending over 200million rate-payer dollars.

A Special Meeting of all 4 boards to discuss this is scheduled for either today at 1pm or next Wednsday at 1pm check the City and County web-sites for the location. Anyone aware of this please post it. Thank you

I second Blair Hawkins' points. The tone this article is incredibly disconcerting. I thought only Fox News was capable of "witch hunt" reporting.

I agree with Betty. Check all costs before moving forward. Common sense?

Blair Hawkins does a great job in detailing the history of the Garrett/Sixth Street urban renewal disaster; however, I'm afraid he's not doing a great job in this conversation.
How can anyone characterize Overrun O'Connell's email to the board of RWSA and Mr. Frederick last December advising them to ignore the discussion that they may have heard at a Council meeting in light of the fact that two councilors who have requested more information on that project will be leaving council at the end of the month, implying that their opinions no longer matter? He also did not carbon copy Council this email to show them what actions he took to carry out their voiced wishes (he stated he was given nothing in writing, which is usually the case because his staff does the writing). That information only came to the public's eye through FOIA. Please explain how that is a fine example of a city manager's carrying out the wishes of Council. Let's not start creating history.
And, the Bos and CC voted on a concept, there is no plan that anybody can submit to the state for a future water supply. RWSA has not come up with most of the information that the government requires to be filed for their approval.
Also, the only one that comes to demonizing Overun O'Connell is Cville Eye and I'm not a member of Betty Mooney's group, never met her.