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