Dredge fans take it to the streets
"We want to make sure that government keeps its word and does a study that's unbiased," said Susa Friday night as he chatted up the cause, in this case with Fridays After Five-goer Veronica Price-Thomas.
Already, charges of bias have been roiling a community that finds itself seemingly committed to a $143 million consultant-driven water plan that's supposed to supply 50 years of water while budgeting nothing for maintenance dredging any of the existing reservoirs. The situation boiled over earlier this month when first the Charlottesville City Council and then the Albemarle Supervisors passed resolutions demanding that the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority commission a study of dredging the Rivanna Reservoir as well as bolstering conservation efforts.
"For me it's personal," says Susa, who moved to Charlottesville from Hawaii about three years ago, "because I'm environmentally conscious, and I love hiking in Ragged Mountain."
The $143 million proposal would not only clear-cut 180 acres of trees in the environmentally sensitive Ragged Mountain Natural Area for a new reservoir that would sprawl all the way to Interstate 64, it would only supply sufficient water if a new pipeline and pumping stations were built to pump millions of gallons of water uphill each day.
Supporters contend that the project would reduce the strain on the Moorman's River and benefit the Buck Mountain Creek area by creating new forests as part of an over $7 million environmental damage "mitigation" plan.
The embattled Authority has steadfastly refused to second-guess its decision to ignore dredging. But the two local governments are now well aware that the consultants, Pennsylvania-based Gannett Fleming, may have overestimated the difficulties and costs of dredging–- which environmentalists agree is the least damaging way to bolster water supplies. After dismissing dredging as a viable option, the company landed a $3.1 million contract to design the new dam at Ragged Mountain.
Authority director Tom Frederick has long defended the process, but in recent months a diverse array of people–- starting with a group of mostly ex-officials called Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply–- have begun requesting less damaging alternatives. The local chapter of the Sierra Club threw its support to exploring dredging in April, followed later that month by electronics mogul Bill Crutchfield. More recently, three of the four most recently departed City Councilors got together on radio to say they'd been duped when they green-lighted the then-unpriced long-term water supply scheme.
The next skirmish may come June 23. That's the date of the next scheduled meeting of the Authority board, whose members were actively downplaying dredging as recently as March, but that was before private contractors began publicly clamoring for a chance to submit proposals.
Susa says he hopes they get a chance to have their concepts considered. By presstime earlier this week, fellow petitioner Betty Mooney said that "hundreds" of citizens have signed the petitition.
–updated 3:40pm June 17