Albemarle to water authority: Study dredging
Albemarle supervisors have either just taken a step toward turning a $143 million water supply project into an approximately $170 million water project, or they're setting the stage to derail the controversial Ragged Mountain mega-reservoir. They voted last night, without discussion, to join the Charlottesville City Council in pushing the local waterworks to study dredging and conservation.
Whatever the ultimate outcome, it appears to be another rebuke to the waterworks, which advanced a $143 million, 50-year water supply project that provided not a cent for dredging–- despite its own studies that showed the main reservoir shrinking during that time to just 12 percent of original capacity.
"I'm extremely pleased," says Keith Rosenfeld, a Barracks Road businessperson who recently joined Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply, the group of mostly ex-officials who claim the public has been misled by a Pennsylvania firm allegedly so tempted by the prospect of a $3.1 million dam design contract that it overstated the cost of dredging by a factor of nearly ten.
While the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority stands by its embattled consultants, the resolution demands that the Authority commission a study of the Rivanna Reservoir "as a valuable water resource for the long term future benefit of the community."
That board chair Ken Boyd placed the resolution on the board's "consent agenda"– the pile of routine and/or non-controversial items voted upon in bulk– signals a possible shift for this governing group. Only a month ago, at a public meeting, the six-member body conducted an informal poll among themselves, and all six vowed their support for the $143 million project despite its reliance on uphill water pumping and a reservoir that would abut Interstate Highway 64.
The consultants, Pennsylvania-based Gannett Fleming, have contended that dredging might cost over $223 million, while various private businesses–- despite the absence of any formal request by the Authority–- have estimated that the job would cost $21-30 million.
According to coverage by watchdog group Charlottesville Tomorrow, Supervisor Sally Thomas, a former dredging supporter turned opponent, recently attempted to persuade her colleagues to name a specific goal of dredging by appointing a "visioning group" to weigh in on the issue.
"I'm not sure I want to dredge at all," Thomas was quoted as saying. Leaving open the possibility that dredging might actually chip away–- or even fulfil–- the projected supply deficit, last night's resolution declined to limit the study.
So attention returns to the Rivanna Authority, whose leadership has now been second-guessed by both local governments. The Authority board, which next meets June 23, not only sits on a trove of approximately $30 million in profits accumulated from water rate increases enacted over the past six years, but it also has $300K set aside for such studies.
"We'll be able to get an accurate bid, and that's what's important," said hopeful citizen Sam Freilich. "How much is sand, how much is silt, and how much is gravel? It has significant commercial value."
Freilich was among seven people speaking in favor of the measure last night; none opposed it. And even though the proposed mega-reservoir would bring the sparkling waters of Ragged Mountain closer to his home, Freilich says his concern is the environmental damage.
"Huge numbers of trees and huge numbers of animals would be displaced," he said. "I'd rather have the forest there than a waterfront property."