Crutchfield Ink: Tycoon urges halt on 'bridge to nowhere'
On a day when a new letter [DOC] from electronics magnate Bill Crutchfield began circulating, the controversial 50-year community water supply plan came under increased scrutiny from Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris and other City Councilors.
"I strongly agree that better numbers are needed for all components," Norris said in a Monday, October 6 email.
At that evening's City Council meeting, his colleagues Satyendra Huja and Julian Taliaferro also indicated that recent numbers emerging from the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority are giving Council, which owns the land on which a new dam would be built, some pause.
On September 22, the RWSA, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, unveiled new studies that claimed there are fissures in the underlying bedrock and that its preliminary figures were so far off that the dam might end up costing as much as $99 million instead of the $37 million preliminary figure.
"It kinda bothers me," Taliaferro said after the most recent Council meeting. "I've never seen numbers change like this."
A week after that debacle, the Hook revealed that, whatever the cost, the new dam would be nearly worthless as water supply without an electricity-dependent pipeline that has yet to be studied and which project foes fear could cost another $100 million.
These revelations have not, however, caused any officials to halt the project. Mayor Norris says he'd first like to see some scrutiny of a dredge-based plan put forward in May by the dam/pipeline foes as an alternate to the official plan.
The official plan, originally touted as a $143 million dam/pipeline to provide 50 years of drinking water, has been buffeted by allegations of conflict of interest on the part of its Pennsylvania-based engineers (who have steadfastly declined comment). With Authority permission, the company turned an $800,000 task into one that's committed water users to paying the firm over $5 million to date. And if the system ever gets built, the tab could easily top $200 million.
Crutchfield's first open letter back in late April presaged some of the ensuing controversy by blasting the decision to rely solely on that firm. This time, the man who built what may be Charlottesville's biggest company, suggests that the water project is Charlottesville's "bridge to nowhere" and says it needs more "business-like" processes.
"The RWSA is pursuing a businesslike approach," says Albemarle Board of Supervisors chair Ken Boyd. He says the Authority is "taking a step back, gathering all the facts, and making a decision based on solid data, honest comparisons, and what is best for their customers."
City customer Downing Smith, who appeared before Council on Monday, isn't so sure.
"The estimated cost of the pipeline is $56 million," said Smith, "but it is just a best guess by the same folks who overestimated the cost of dredging by a factor of 10 and underestimated the cost of the dam by 100 percent."
Boyd, who works as a financial planner, isn't jumping from any dams (or bridges) just yet. "It would not be prudent," he says, "to take a knee-jerk approach to such an important issue."