Frederick: RWSA agrees to delay dredge study

A month after promising to quickly seek dredging proposals, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority revealed today that it's letting the dredging process wait for guidance from a task force led by an adamant dredging opponent.

"This is so obviously an exercise in futility," says dredging fan Betty Mooney. "The task force is to keep us from knowing the cost of dredging in time to make it part of our water supply."

Authority director Tom Frederick, who on June 23 was touting an "ambitious" July 8 start date for issuing a request for proposals (RFP), revealed Monday, July 28, at the board's monthly meeting that the process was stalled by order of the four local water bosses. He said today the officials decided June 30 to hold back the RFP until the task force could guide it.

"It's not out on the street," Frederick said of the RFP. "I did poll the individuals on the board, and you all did agree."

Despite decisions to put dredging opponent (and Albemarle Supervisor) Sally Thomas at the helm and bolster membership of the task force from 11 to 13 people, Frederick said the task force would work quickly after convening a first meeting in mid-August.

Colette Hall isn't holding her breath. The North Downtown resident, who spoke out at today's meeting, blasted the task force as a "delay tactic." She claims that authorities are known to "overstep their boundaries" and called on this one to open its board to elected officials and "ordinary citizens."

In a major break from the Authority's recent practice of merely listening as citizens speak, board member Bob Tucker– who's also the chief administrator of Albemarle County– answered Hall by pointing out that the Authority, as a creation of the County and the City of Charlottesville, has no power to alter its own board. "We can't do that ourselves," said Tucker.

Another impassioned voice came from dredging fan Kevin Lynch. In comments delivered by Mooney, his colleague in a group called Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, Lynch pointed out that the Authority– although telling citizens it has been pursuing a state mandate– actually has not yet offered the state a full-blown water plan.

Departing from Lynch's prepared remarks, Mooney noted that during the 2002 drought, because citizens conserved, the Authority sold less water–- and then promptly hiked wholesale water rates 126 percent.

"We're using less and less and less for six years," said Mooney, "but Rivanna is actively planning for us all to be water hogs.

"You are smart people," she continued. "[Engineering firm] Gannett Fleming has spent $5 million, and you have nothing to show for it. When will one of you have the courage to stand up? I want an answer." There was silence as Mooney made her way back to the spectators' section.

"Are there other members of the public who would like to speak at this time?" chair Mike Gaffney asked.

Was he tempted to respond? "Not at this meeting," Gaffney said afterwards. "The purpose of the public comment period is really to get the comments on the public record." Gaffney added that a staff member would likely reply to Mooney about her concerns.

Those concerns, although aimed at saving taxpayers tens of millions by stopping a planned Interstate highway-hugging, habitat-destroying reservoir and accompanying pipeline for the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, have cost the Authority some money. Frederick advised the board that he may need to spend an additional $10,000 for administrative support to handle the Freedom of Information requests that Mooney and others–- including the Hook– have filed in recent months.

"Over the past four months," Frederick said, "there has been a dramatic increase in requests. This organization takes the public's right to know very seriously."

Later in the meeting, chief financial officer Lonnie Wood said that the Authority nearly fell victim to a check fraud scheme from Canada which mailed bogus Authority checks–- some showing a facsimile of his signature–- to various people around the country. "No losses occurred," said Wood. "We think it's over with."

Later, perhaps in deference to Mooney's observations about the Authority's questionable statements regarding its so-called "water plan," Authority executive Robert Wichser pointed to approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Water Quality for the "community water supply... process."

Thomas sees no problem with her leadership and downplays dredging as an official task of the task force.

"This isn't a dredging task force," Thomas says. "It's a reservoir maintenance task force."

Thomas says that while contributing to the water supply through dredging remains a potential outcome, she notes that when the four water bosses got together June 30, they explicitly stated that neither the task force nor the now-postponed RFP should be allowed to delay the dam proposed for Ragged Mountain.

–updated 12:09pm and 1:32pm on Tuesday, July 29

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21 comments

Follow. The. Money. See who stands to gain.

Follow. The. Prematurely. Bad. Decisions. See who is covering their ass.

The elected "leaders" of Charlottesville and Albemarle have totally dropped the ball on the water problem that became evident in 2002. That's six years, and all they've got to show for themselves is a few studies and a bill to the taxpayers of $5 million+.

They complain about the cost of all of the FOI requests - none of which would have been necessary had they not focused on deceiving us.

If any one of these leaders is left standing after their next election campaign, then the citizens have nobody to blame but themselves. Here in America, you get the government you deserve. People need to learn to punish politicians for malfeasance and incompetence - even if the malfeasance and incompetence is on the part of those the elected leaders have appointed to solve specific problems - and ESPECIALLY if the malfeasance and incompetence is on the part of consultants the elected leaders have written checks to.

The really bizarre thing is these people either have no sense of what "conflict of interest" is, or don't care. Appointing an outspoken dredging opponent to head a task force to determine the feasibility of dredging is a HUGE conflict of interest - another way to blow some tax dollars without accomplishing anything of value. Appointing an outspoken dredging advocate would be no better.

We don't need no stinking task force. We need local politicians with integrity, creativity, and above all accountability.

This is like putting Jerry Falwell on the supreme court to decide on abortion. Is our public nit edjucated enuff to see thru tis?

This whole thing sounds like a no brainer and by that I don't mean don't use your brain to decide on dredging. It needs to be done! What is the problem?

It should have been done already for goodness sake but not at the $220 million bogus amount.

Music Lover is 100% right. At least, the politicians have been forced to come of hiding instead of allowing RWSA to serve as the Grand Manipulator. It's time to start looking into the bank accounts of our local elected officials and see who's putting big bucks in there. it's also time to start looking into the finances of their family members. It's clear they're not serving the interests of the public.

Never been clearer. These guys are as dirty as the sludge building up at the bottom of the un-dredged reservoir. Kick them out. Watch them carefully. Let them know you're listening.

The poiticos believe most people are not watching. They may be right for a while, but, eventually, soaring water and sewer bills will prompt a voter back lash. Remember, this project is only a portion of many that are about to be implemented, such as the $45 M Moore's Creek Sewer Treatment plant's upgrades to reduce the amount of nutrients we're putting into the Chesapeake Bay (good idea) and to be able to earn about $75,000 a year selling our polluting-nutrients rights to some other locality to allow them to NOT spend $45 M to reduce THEIR nutrients going into the Bay (bad idea).
We are being asked to put into place in the near future the water storage capacity that will be needed in 2015 when the county's population is expected to double. Does this make sense to anybody? If so, then explain why the county is not building two more high schools now to accommodate that population then and why doesn't the city and county expand the regional jail now to accommodate that population then? Why doesn't the UVA Medical Center expand its beds now for that population then. Because it doesn't make sense. The original capacity of the SFRR was 1.7 billion gallons. It certainly makes more sense to restore that capacity than to allow that capacity to decline to 400 MG. Any reasonable group of people would normally take that course. Thus, there must be some extraordinary reasons not to. Follow. The. Money. There's nothing sleazier than "bought" politicians. I hope this sham of a task force will take this opportunity to save our politicians from themselves and provide a way for them to save face.

I was today informed through the grapevine about the person behind "Cville Eye". I will not violate his anonymity but I was surprised if it was him. This man was known about town, all these years for his conviviality and keen sense of history.But all we read now are angry diatribes, rote regurgitations of Right Wing nonsense from WINA Talk Radio, claim after claim that has no basis in fact. What manner of personal grudge against the City Manager has led him to such blind rage. Blind rage is so detrimental to good sense. We want our old "Cville Eye" back. You keep yelling at all the kids to get off your lawn, but no one is listening to you. They are all mocking you. Get your head together, man.

There is no question that the RWSA has failed to fulfill their responsibilities as stewards of our area water supply. The existing South Fork Reservoir should have been dredged regularly as a maintenance item. Maintenance was part of the original agreement that created them. The viability of the Buck Mountain Reservoir should have been assured and planned instead of being allowed to languish into non-viability.

It is ridiculous to see the current state of affairs and realize the problems were known decades ago while their solutions were not a priority. Now we see this display of political gamesmanship and obfuscation of facts and issues.

The interests of the citizens are most definitely not being served.

Charlottesville Old Timer, you are trying to make me the issue and not my words. Of course, you're not going to say what it is that I have posted on theis blog that is not true which tells me you must agree. Are you saying that because I quoted the statements of Lynch, Hamilton, Collins, Mooney and Schilling on WINA's the Schilling Show, that makes them and me Right Wing? I suppose quoting Jefferson and Lincoln would also. Again, what have said in this blog you feel is not true?

Mr. Crutchfield's letter previously published in the Hook said it all. We have seen no prudent business sense on the part of the RWSA Board or from our elected officials. Cost just doesn't seem to matter. Nor does the environment or sustainablity. Only a public revolt will change course now. They have dug themselves into a 5 million dollar hole and Gannett Fleming can't wait for the next paycheck. Unfortunately you and I the ones who will pay and pay if we don't get the bids for dredging before they start construction on the dam----

April 28, 2008

Hawes Spencer
Editor and Publisher
The Hook
100 Second Street, N.W.
Charlottesville, VA 22902

Dear Hawes:

I want to compliment you for writing and The Hook for publishing the April 3rd and April 24th articles on the controversy surrounding the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority's proposed $143 million water plan. You raised some very important issues which the community needs to understand.

Since the beginning of this debate, I have felt that it is a mistake not to dredge the South Rivanna reservoir. Furthermore, my instincts have been extremely uncomfortable with the concept of enlarging the Ragged Mountain dam and connecting the Ragged Mountain and South Rivanna reservoirs with a 9.5 mile pipeline.

I must preface my remarks by saying that my opinions are based on what I have read in the media and have heard in the community. I have not been privy to any of the technical discussions that officials of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, City of Charlottesville and County of Albemarle have had regarding this subject. Nevertheless, it appears that the decision makers may have failed to ask the types of questions that prudent businesspeople ask when making tough decisions. Here are seven questions that initially come to my mind:

Why did the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority seek a cost feasibility study for dredging from only one consultant? They hired a consultant, Gannett Fleming, to determine the cost of dredging. Their estimate was $145 million. However, other parties believed the cost would be significantly less. A dredging contractor was willing to do it for $21 million¢Ã¢â??¬”85% less. Under these circumstances, prudent businesspeople would have commissioned at least one other cost study.

Was it a conflict of interest for Gannett Fleming to provide an estimate for dredging and be asked to design the dam? The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority asked Gannett Fleming to compete for the design of the Ragged Mountain dam.

Obviously, if dredging was determined to be a good option, there may not have been a need to design a dam. As it turned out, Gannett Fleming was awarded a $3.1 contract for dam design. Prudent businesspeople would have seen this situation as a potential conflict of interest. They would have commissioned a dredging feasibility study from a firm or firms that did not have a vested interest in the Authority's decision not to dredge.

What is the professional qualification of the Nature Conservancy for developing this plan? Apparently, an official with the Nature Conservancy devised it. According to its website, the Nature Conservancy's mission is ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.¢Ã¢â??¬ The Nature Conservancy performs this mission admirably. However, designing municipal water systems is not one of their core competencies. Prudent businesspeople would not have based a decision on a plan developed by an organization that did not have the appropriate expertise and experience.

Did the Nature Conservancy understand the full environmental impact of their plan? It has been reported that their plan calls for clear cutting 54,000 trees over 180 acres. Apparently, the Sierra Club now understands the plan's impact and is withdrawing its endorsement of it. Prudent businesspeople would have understood all aspects of a plan before adopting it.

How much money will local water customers pay and how large is the carbon footprint for the incremental electricity production? Little has been said about the energy needed to pump enormous quantities of water through a 9.5 mile pipeline and then up a small mountain. Prudent businesspeople would factor the financial and environmental costs of a plan that requires the use of so much electrical energy.

Has anyone in the decision-making process looked for creative as opposed to consultant-packaged, generic solutions? The best decisions are often based on creative, non-conventional ideas. For example, there is an abandoned stone quarry within walking distance of the South Rivanna reservoir's dam. It may be possible to buy the quarry and pump sediment into it. The dewatering of the sediment might occur naturally¢Ã¢â??¬”the sediment would sink to the bottom and the water could be pumped off the top. Another non-conventional idea would be to buy the low-lying, river-front land that includes the old UVa polo field. Because it is in the Rivanna River's flood plain, this land probably has no development potential. Sediment could be pumped the short distance to it for drying and future sale. Prudent businesspeople would explore creative solutions like these.

What are the long-term ramifications of not dredging? Eventually, the reservoir would fill with sediment and become a giant swamp. If that were to happen, the public would demand a complex and costly remediation. Prudent businesspeople would consider long-term issues like this one.

Although the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority's water plan may be flawed, I do applaud them for attempting to find a long-term solution for our water needs. As I understand it, if the South Rivanna reservoir is completely dredged, our water system would revert back to the capacity that it had 40 years ago. Obviously, we need to find ways to increase our water capacity. This goal is especially important considering the possibility of a reduction in average rainfall as a result of climate change.

As the Authority moves forward with its future planning, I hope that they learn to ask the right questions.

Sincerely,

William G. Crutchfield, Jr.

Great letter. Most people believe that the decision makers are "prudent business people." If this is so, then what ulterior motive do they have that is evidenced by their using the processes that they have up to this time? To fly in the face of prudent business decision by supposedly reasonably intelligent people with appropriate expertise suggests that they are not reasonably intelligent or corrupt.
The task force was described as being comprised of 13 stakeholders. When did the Nature Conservancy and the Piedmont Environment Council become stakeholders? Speaking of this task force, now that its membership has been determined, exactly how many members reside in the city and how many in the county?

Most environmentalists like myself support the community water supply plan because it rights a profound wrong in the way we have been treating our rivers the past decades. Those who oppose this plan apparently do not care about our environment. Sometimes doing the right thing to restore a natural balance costs money. But it so happens that in this case we have a plan that finally meets the needs of both people and the environment and it's only because the NATURE CONSERVANCY stepped in. In my opinion we should just let them run the whole project and get the consultants out of the way.

After the Nature Conservancy designs a reservir system and dam, would Charlottesville Old Timer like to travel to the top of a skyscraper also designed by NC? Neither project is within NC's expertise, envornmentalist are not.
I know that Charlottesville OT does not answer questions, so rhetorically, exactly what is not environmentally unfriendly about Kevin Lynch's "design?" It doesn't bulldoze down enough trees and absorb enough streams?

Kendra Hamilton former City Councilor at the time the water supply was being formulated has written the following letter also published in the Hook

Sat, 31 May 2008

Friends,

I've been very reluctant to get involved in city politics since stepping down from Council in December, but I'm growing more and more concerned about the 50-year water supply strategy proposed by the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority. I believe the citizens are being asked to pay for a pig in a poke, and I have to speak out.

I learned earlier today that Council is preparing to vote Monday night on a resolution endorsing the current water supply strategy. This set off alarm bells so I went online and read it--and learned that the resolution makes no mention of potential cost savings--amounting to as much as $50 million--that might be realized by dredging, nor does it discuss the health of the Rivanna River. Instead the entire focus is on building an enormous dam and pipeline and protecting the Moorman's River--a lovely resource but one that primarily benefits well-heeled private property owners and those with the transportation and the means to purchase a trout fishing license.

I'm writing, therefore, to plead with you to contact City Council to ask them not to support the resolution at this time. My reasons are as follows:

1) I believe this resolution misrepresents the will of council--or at least my will during the time that I served on City Council. At no time was I presented with accurate information on the costs of dredging while I served on council. I was told that it was impossible to dredge the South Fork of the Rivanna River for less than $200 million and that the costs might be as much as $225 million. Lately, the public has received information that three, private, LOCAL firms are eager to do the job for between $25 million and $28 million. There is no way that I would have supported the current water supply strategy without significant changes had I been aware of those numbers.

2) I am deeply concerned about the class implications of a plan that privileges the Moorman's River over the Rivanna. The Rivanna is a public resource--there are miles of trails alongside it. The common people of Charlottesville fish in the Rivanna every day--and they aren't sport fishing, they're trying to catch dinner. Yet the water supply strategy endorsed in the resolution (it does not qualify as a plan) completely abandons the Rivanna to the degradation that results from silting--in effect abandoning a city resource and the needs of city residents, potentially tripling or even quadrupling already high water rates--to turn the Moorman's into a theme park "scenic river" which can only be enjoyed by a well-heeled minority.

I am certain that the city manager has justified voting on the resolution on Monday on the grounds that the business community, the state, and our partners in the county need to be reassured that the city council "stands firm" on his water supply strategy. I can assure you they do not. Rivanna has three years to present a plan to the state.

I am equally sure the city manager has responded to councilors' fears or questions about dredging by saying "we can fix it tomorrow." Well, I sat on that dais for four years and I'm here to tell you that "fixing it tomorrow" is a loser of a strategy for creating public policy. Not just because "tomorrow never comes" but most importantly because, in this case, the people who will pay the price are the ordinary ratepayers of Charlottesville and Albemarle.

Now, if we truly had no choice in the matter, that would be one thing. We would simply have to suck it up as a community and figure out a way to pay the cost. But the latest information indicates that we DO have a choice and that staff is seeking to nullify that choice BEFORE council has an opportunity to fully consider the options available.

So here's what I'm hoping you'll do. Please send an email TODAY to council@charlottesville.org. It could say something like this:

I want a safe, sufficient supply of water for the future of Charlottesville-Albemarle. But I want the decision about that water supply to be based on the best data possible -- on facts, not on scare tactics, momentum, or ignorance. Please vote NO on the resolution to support the current water supply strategy on June 2. And please vote YES on demanding that the sediment studies on the Rivanna River be performed. These studies will tell us accurately and for the first time what the costs and benefits of dredging the Rivanna are--and they will only take 90 days. The decision about the water supply is a 50-year decision. Rushing to take a vote without obtaining full information is an abdication of your responsibility to protect the public. We have so many needs as a community. If alternative water supply strategies can save us money, it's up to you as our representatives to fully consider those alternatives before endorsing a possibly flawed water supply strategy.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

All the best,
Kendra Hamilton

Does any one find it interesting that "somebody" has decided that the new task force will have separate seats for the Nature Conservancy AND the Rivanna River Basin Commission? The NC is responsible for the creation of the commission and, according to Charlottesville Tomorrow (http://cvilletomorrow.typepad.com/charlottesville_tomorrow_/2006/07/riva...), provided it will $450,000 for its operating expenses. Is it realistic to think that the child will not blindly support its parent? Big money for a government entity meansinordinate lobbying influence. It's also funny how Democrats are always crediting Republicans with being bought by well-heeled lobbyists. We might as well realize that the non-stakeholder, the NC now as at least two votes.

"Cville Eye" -- back slowly away from your keyboard. Go outside. Get some fresh air. Take off the aluminum foil hat. Your conspiracy theories are infecting your good sense. What happened to you, old friend? You used to be someone who made sense.

Dan Bieker wrote the following letter which was published in the Daily Progress. I think it answers some of your concerns Charlottesville Old Timer. Dredging would supply more capacity to retain water at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and thereby increase the Water Supply. This would allow more water to flow into the Moorman's River which we all want.

Dan Bieker's letter from the Daily Progress:

Controversy that has developed over the current water plan (Ragged Mountain Reservoir expansion/pipeline) should not be surprising, as details come to light. Benefits of the plan can certainly not be denied, but respected conservationists and economists can offer valid arguments why the plan is not the most cost effective or least environmentally damaging option, as officials assert. A cost/benefit comparison would seem to be a draw at best.

Improved stream flows, especially for the Moormans River, are a major force behind the water plan, and rightfully so. Courageous citizens have fought for years to improve river flow. The water issue comes down to storage capacity; but any scenario, not just the current plan, that increases capacity can increase stream flows; it's simple physics. The health and volume of the Moormans does not depend solely on the proposed plan.

Listening to officials espouse the benefits of the plan, one might think it's a heaven-sent answer. A national model? Hardly. The truth is we could improve stream flows all over the country by using massive amounts of horsepower to pump water uphill to storage reservoirs, at $100's of millions per project, but is that an answer? Even if this project IS the lesser of evils, one might think twice before trumpeting that as a national model. Not to mention the tremendous (and glossed over) destruction that will take place at Ragged Mountain Natural Area - not only loss of trees, but the fragmentation of contiguous forest by miles of roads to facilitate improvements to the interstate.

At what point does the expense of this project make it a tragic boondoggle? The jail expansion fiasco a few years ago, and the way in which the proposed western bypass estimates seemed to double in cost every few years come to mind. Rate payers' wallets have been entrusted to an engineering firm that substantially overstated (to put it kindly) the cost of dredging; has the firm similarly, to their benefit, underestimated the cost of dam/pipeline construction? If costs rise at the rate that their consulting fees have risen, we are indeed about to be hosed.

I believe Charlottesville Old Timer feels none of Bieker's views (or anybody else's for that matter) is important."In my opinion we should just let them [the Nature Conservancy] run the whole project and get the consultants out of the way." "But it so happens that in this case we have a plan that finally meets the needs of both people and the environment and it's only because the NATURE CONSERVANCY stepped in." The same could have been said of Troppea's $13.1 M bladder plan, I believe. $450k obviously goes a long way with some people.

Dredging surveys and dredging bids are necessary to get accurate information about the cost which has been grossly overestimated by Gannett Fleming. Even Mayor Norris has admitted in a Channel 29 interview that the information they currently have for the cost of dredging is highly inflated. This information could save the community tens of millions of dollars and so anyone on the task force who has already stated a position publicly opposing dredging as part of the water supply should step down as having a conflict of interest. Once the list of participants is known their positions should be well publicized so the community can judge the validy of the opinion they render. I appreciate the information that CvilleEye has provided in this regard.

With such a discrepancy in the dollar figures thrown around regarding dredging this issue needs serious unbiased consideration before moving forward. In these difficult economic times it is of paramount importance that we look at all major expenditures in the budget in great detail. Please continue to explore the dredging option until it can be determined whether or not that is a viable and less expensive option.
Sincerely,
Ray Masters
Starr Hill Neighborhood Association

Will The Hook please investigate and write about the RWSA's plan to clear cut 40 foot swaths through the woods along Meadow Creek, from Barracks Road to Pen Park, in order to replace the existing sewer pipes? This is a plan that has received no publicity, but will destroy hundreds of beautiful trees and leave a wasteland where there is now a beautiful green area accessible to all Charlottesville residents.

Since RWSA is an authority not answerable to the public and probably has easements over that land, is there anything the public can do? I think it will be interesting to see what easements the new regional transit authority the will demand from the public and private spaces. This will be another organization over which the public will have no control.