Waterworks seeks scopeless dredge proposals

The waterworks, now pressed by both local governments, voted today to do what it's been avoiding for five years: put out an RFP, a request for proposals, for dredging the silt-choked Rivanna Reservoir. But in a parallel action, the five-member Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority stipulated that the RFP should consider various uses of the reservoir, as guided by a new "task force" composed of the chairs of the four bodies that control it– three of whom have spoken dismissively about dredging's value for the water supply.

"The Reservoir is a water supply, and any other uses are secondary," said dredging supporter Betty Mooney after the meeting.

Fellow dredging supporter Kevin Lynch noted in public comment to the board that there shouldn't be much work for a task force because a local environmental group had commissioned a similar but never acted-upon RFP in 2005.

"You have a good starting point to work from," said Lynch, "so you don't need to reinvent the wheel."

Lynch also told the board that the 1978 documents which created the Authority and handed it control of the Reservoir mandated that the then eight-year-old water body be maintained.

"It's time," said Lynch, "to live up to that responsibility. It's past time."

However, in seeking a "task force" composed of Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris, Albemarle County Supervisors chair Ken Boyd, Albemarle County Service Authority chair Don Wagner, and its own chair Mike Gaffney (only the first of whom has spoken of dredging as a bountiful water supply measure), the board appears to be trying to define the scope of the work after the RFP is issued.

"I felt it was confusing," said dredging fan Dede Smith after the meeting. "How do you put an RFP out without a scope of services?"

Authority director Tom Frederick told the crowd that the RFP might be funded, at least in part, by a $300,000 reserve the Authority holds for watershed protection and that the RFP might entice prospective consultants to submit their credentials while the scope of services is getting worked out.

Acknowledging an "ambitious" time frame, Frederick said the proposals could be considered by "mid-August."

This situation arose after the community became aware that the Rivanna Reservoir is dwindling toward just 12 percent of its original volume by the year 2055, according to the Pennsylvania-based firm guiding the local water supply. The firm has become infamous in some circles for parlaying a $798,000 contract into around $2.5 million in billings and convincing local decision-makers that dredging would get too messy and expensive.

The firm, Gannett Fleming, later won another $3.1 million from local water rate-payers in a contract to design a dam. While supporters note that it would create a silt-resistant dam, critics note that it would wreak environmental havoc by erasing 180 acres of mature forest and focus the drinking water supply in a water body hugging Interstate 64 and unable to fill without a cross-county pipeline.

In other business today, another company whose services are already well known to Frederick and his board won a contract amendment of their own. New York-based Hazen & Sawyer won approval to earn $82,000 for designing a nutrient-removal system for the Moore's Creek wastewater facility.

Athough the Authority could spend just $43,200 on improvements to reduce the dumped nutrients down to the state-mandated maximum of 6 milligrams per liter, in approving the deal the board voted unanimously to spend more than 18 times that amount– $800,000– to get the level down to 5 milligrams per liter.

"That's an expensive milligram," said board member Bob Tucker, shortly before his vote of support.

Tucker and the other board members heard Frederick contend that state regulations are moving toward lower maximum levels, and by paying for the lower, cleaner level, the Authority might be able to sell pollution "credits" for up to $75,000 a year to a less scrub-centric waterworks.

But by approving a nearly six-figure sum for Hazen & Sawyer, which has guided the effluent study, does this board, all political appointees, worry that it might be embarking on another Gannett Fleming situation? Apparently not.

"I'm very comfortable with this," said board member Judy Mueller after the vote. "We're in so far at this point that it does not make sense to bring in another firm."

In another moment of note today, a Western Albemarle landowner named John Via asked the board to return the property it took, via eminent domain proceedings, from his family in the 1980s to build a dam called the Buck Mountain Reservoir. Plans for the dam were abandoned, but instead of returning the land, the Authority is using it as the centerpiece of a $7.7 million effort to mitigate the damage it is causing to the Rivanna River and the Ragged Mountain Natural Area by the controversial $143 million water supply project.

"It shouldn't be used for other purposes," Via told the board, "other than what it was bought for."

In keeping with tradition, no board member offered any comment or solace to Via.


Here is a link to the memo Mr. Frederick sent to the authority's board members, O'Connell-Mueller-Tucker-Fern-Gaffney (developer) with suggestions for a (R)equest (F)or (P)roposals for the dredging study: http://www.rivanna.org/documents/agenda_jun23_2008_doc6c.pdf
I was amazed at all of the information that he suggests (an thereby acknowledges that the public, board, BoS, and Council did not have) should be included in the study, making me wonder exactly what information did that board, the BoS, and Council have in the first place other than Gannett-Fleming's estimates to make any kind of rational decision. It is unclear who our representatives are really representing. If I didn't know better, I would think that the people who made the prior decisions weren't playing with a full deck.
It is important for the public to be able to weigh-in on the RFP BEFORE it is published in order to have input on the scope of the study and it is equally important that the task force hold all of its meetings in full view of the public. The public should demand nothing less when $150M is being spent. Of course, Piedmont Environmental Council and the Nautre Conservancy should not be given a seat. Those groups have had far too much say in this mess, and, quite frankly, they have demonstrated no more expertise than most of the drunks on the Mall and have exhibited advanced states of the closed-mind syndrome.

CvilleEye . . . Here is a suggestion . . . You don't know better . . .You have an enormous chip on your shoulder.

We need a shakeup! The govt. is tainted. I smell a rat.

AND they are all IN with DEVELOPERS, as far as most can tell......Much more to come

TheSaneOne, I have a big hand in my pocket and I find it uncomfortable, as you should. It's okay, though, for you to stand up for your husband. He's bringing a lot of money home.

Is it true the Buck Mountain Reservoir was abondoned because the feds rules it was too close to its restricted/confidential site?

The Buck Mountain Reservoir was dropped because someone claimed to have found the protected James River Spiny Mussel along the stream bed of Buck Mountain Creek. It was only spotted after land was condemned and at least one land=grant farm was taken away from its owners and sold the house. I wonder if anyone has seen a mussel around Ragged Mountain lately.

The presence of a James River Spiny Mussel would not itself preclude the use of Buck Mountain as a reservoir site. It would make the obtaining of a permit to build the reservoir more complicated/difficult. As far as i can learn there is no document from the state or federal governments that informs the RWSA that the Buck Mountain site is precluded from reservoir use.

What is more likely (but I'm guessing)is that the lobbyist/lawyer representing the RWSA with the Virginia DEQ was told that the James River Spiny Mussel habitats included Buck Mountain.

It is interesting to observe that the Virginia Health Department in 2002 wrote a letter to RWSA recommending Buck Mountain as the preferred site based on Clean Drinking Water standards. That same letter recommended against increasing the flow of the Moorman's at the expense of the Ragged Mountain pipeline because it had the highest quality source water in the system..

The big lesson here? That environmental standards and requirements are often more flexible and judgmental than project specific. The agencies involved in our water supply planninng include several federal and state agencies and they will often differ on which proposal best meets the standards of different laws and criteria.

Rich Collins

follow the money.

That is all.