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.