Hamilton: reject 'pig in a poke' water scheme

Emerging from a self-imposed political retreat since stepping down in January, former City Councilor Kendra Hamilton re-emerged yesterday to add her voice to the growing calls to reconsider the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority's strategy of building a mega-reservoir/pipeline system. "I believe the citizens are being asked to pay for a pig in a poke," Hamilton writes in an open letter [full text RTF], "and I have to speak out."

Like fellow retired Councilor Kevin Lynch, who has become a leader in questioning the official wisdom, Hamilton now says she was duped when she voted for the scheme. Last November, while still on Council, the two began suggesting that dredging the Rivanna Reservoir should be much more than the "maintenance" strategy now receiving lip service from various pipeline-supporting officials who suddenly find themselves confronted with unsolicited offers roughly a tenth of the nearly $225 million that the Authority's embattled experts claim dredging would cost.

"There is no way that I would have supported the current water supply strategy without significant changes had I been aware of those numbers," Hamilton writes.

And in a subtle dig at City Manager/Rivanna Authority board member Gary O'Connell, who has steadfastly pursued the pipeline/reservoir strategy on various boards (including the Airport Authority, which has been blasted for failing to explore using dredge spoils for a runway expansion), Hamilton points out his latest role. His administration has handed City Council a draft resolution [full text RTF] to consider Monday, June 2 that would attempt to shut down any choice for a dredging concept.

"The latest information," Hamilton writes, "indicates that we do have a choice and that staff is seeking to nullify that choice before Council has an opportunity to fully consider the options available."

In recent days, the scheme to put a reservoir on both sides of Interstate Highway 64 has been buffeted by cost and environmental concerns. And on Thursday, May 29, the Hook reported that contrary to myriad claims by officials to have a 50-year-plan, the Rivanna Authority has filed no such plan with the state.

O'Connell was not immediately available for comment.

Midnight update: O'Connell points to the public hearings held on various water options in an email. "The votes of four public bodies in favor of the plan including the previous City Council, the environmental community's support of the plan, and the turn-out in support of the plan at the recent Public hearing obviously demonstrate support," O'Connell writes, "for the plan that goes well beyond the staff."

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Full text of Hamilton's letter:

Sat, 31 May 2008

Friends,

I've been very reluctant to get involved in city politics since stepping down from Council in December, but I'm growing more and more concerned about the 50-year water supply strategy proposed by the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority. I believe the citizens are being asked to pay for a pig in a poke, and I have to speak out.

I learned earlier today that Council is preparing to vote Monday night on a resolution endorsing the current water supply strategy. This set off alarm bells so I went online and read it–and learned that the resolution makes no mention of potential cost savings–amounting to as much as $50 million–that might be realized by dredging, nor does it discuss the health of the Rivanna River. Instead the entire focus is on building an enormous dam and pipeline and protecting the Moorman's River–a lovely resource but one that primarily benefits well-heeled private property owners and those with the transportation and the means to purchase a trout fishing license.

I'm writing, therefore, to plead with you to contact City Council to ask them not to support the resolution at this time. My reasons are as follows:

1) I believe this resolution misrepresents the will of council–or at least my will during the time that I served on City Council. At no time was I presented with accurate information on the costs of dredging while I served on council. I was told that it was impossible to dredge the South Fork of the Rivanna River for less than $200 million and that the costs might be as much as $225 million. Lately, the public has received information that three, private, LOCAL firms are eager to do the job for between $25 million and $28 million. There is no way that I would have supported the current water supply strategy without significant changes had I been aware of those numbers.

2) I am deeply concerned about the class implications of a plan that privileges the Moorman's River over the Rivanna. The Rivanna is a public resource–there are miles of trails alongside it. The common people of Charlottesville fish in the Rivanna every day–and they aren't sport fishing, they're trying to catch dinner. Yet the water supply strategy endorsed in the resolution (it does not qualify as a plan) completely abandons the Rivanna to the degradation that results from silting–in effect abandoning a city resource and the needs of city residents, potentially tripling or even quadrupling already high water rates–to turn the Moorman's into a theme park "scenic river" which can only be enjoyed by a well-heeled minority.

I am certain that the city manager has justified voting on the resolution on Monday on the grounds that the business community, the state, and our partners in the county need to be reassured that the city council "stands firm" on his water supply strategy. I can assure you they do not. Rivanna has three years to present a plan to the state.

I am equally sure the city manager has responded to councilors' fears or questions about dredging by saying "we can fix it tomorrow." Well, I sat on that dais for four years and I'm here to tell you that "fixing it tomorrow" is a loser of a strategy for creating public policy. Not just because "tomorrow never comes" but most importantly because, in this case, the people who will pay the price are the ordinary ratepayers of Charlottesville and Albemarle.

Now, if we truly had no choice in the matter, that would be one thing. We would simply have to suck it up as a community and figure out a way to pay the cost. But the latest information indicates that we DO have a choice and that staff is seeking to nullify that choice BEFORE council has an opportunity to fully consider the options available.

So here's what I'm hoping you'll do. Please send an email TODAY to council@charlottesville.org. It could say something like this:

I want a safe, sufficient supply of water for the future of Charlottesville-Albemarle. But I want the decision about that water supply to be based on the best data possible – on facts, not on scare tactics, momentum, or ignorance. Please vote NO on the resolution to support the current water supply strategy on June 2. And please vote YES on demanding that the sediment studies on the Rivanna River be performed. These studies will tell us accurately and for the first time what the costs and benefits of dredging the Rivanna are–and they will only take 90 days. The decision about the water supply is a 50-year decision. Rushing to take a vote without obtaining full information is an abdication of your responsibility to protect the public. We have so many needs as a community. If alternative water supply strategies can save us money, it's up to you as our representatives to fully consider those alternatives before endorsing a possibly flawed water supply strategy.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

All the best,
Kendra Hamilton

Full text of O'Connell administration proposed resolution:

A RESOLUTION
APPROVING A COMMUNITY WATER SUPPLY PLAN
FOR THE CITYOF CHARLOTTESVILLE

WHEREAS, the Charlottesville community has been engaged in a lengthy public
process to develop consensus on a Community Water Supply Plan that will ensure an
adequate supply of potable water for the Charlottesville-Albemarle community for the
next 50 years; and,
WHEREAS, since 2004 there have been 10 major well-attended public meetings
on the alternatives for a community water supply plan; and,
WHEREAS, during the consideration of alternative strategies a strong emphasis
was placed on developing a water supply (1) that would meet the needs of the community
for the next 50 years; (2) that would be within a watershed area locally controlled by
Albemarle County; and (3) that would represent the least environmentally damaging,
practicable alternative; and,
WHEREAS, this process identified a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir
as the best alternative to achieve the community's stated goals and criteria; and,
WHEREAS, the Ragged Mountain alternative provides for significant
enhancement of the natural conditions in the Moormans River and optimizes the balance
between human and natural needs within the South Fork Rivanna River basin; and,
WHEREAS, while the Ragged Mountain alternative does result in the loss of
additional forest adjacent to the reservoir, the alternative includes a mitigation plan that
provides permanent riparian protection to 75,000 linear feet of streams in the South Fork
Rivanna watershed, provides for 200 acres of new riparian forest and wildlife habitat,
provides 142 acres of new water surface for additional lacustrine aquatic habitat and
2
passive recreation, relocates and lengthens existing walking trails around the reservoir,
and provides for four acres of new wetlands adjacent to the southeastern boundary of the
City along Moores Creek; and,
WHEREAS, the construction of a new Ragged Mountain dam would protect the
public health, safety and welfare by fully correcting existing dam safety hazards with the
lower and upper Ragged Mountain dams; and,
WHEREAS, the Ragged Mountain alternative also provides that old and obsolete
water supply and treatment infrastructure will be replaced or updated, and where
necessary expanded, in order to provide continuously reliable service; and,
WHEREAS, the expanded Ragged Mountain reservoir will allow for the
replacement of the Sugar Hollow pipeline, which was built in 1927 and is prone to breaks
and iron corrosion, with a new, shorter pipeline from a much larger watershed; and,
WHEREAS, the concept of the water supply plan which focused on meeting the
community's need for capacity for the next 50 years through a larger Ragged Mountain
dam and reservoir and a pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna reservoir was endorsed in
2005 and supported by the Rivanna Conservation Society, Piedmont Environmental
Council, The Nature Conservancy, Advocates for Sustainable Albemarle Population,
League of Women Voters Charlottesville/Albemarle, Southern Environmental Law
Center, Citizens for Albemarle, and Friends of the Moorman's River; and,
WHEREAS, in June 2006 the Charlottesville City Council endorsed this
preferred alternative, as did the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, the Albemarle
County Service Authority and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority; and,
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WHEREAS, the Ragged Mountain alternative has been reviewed, approved and
permitted by the Department of Environmental Quality of the Commonwealth of
Virginia; and,
WHEREAS, on May 6, 2008 City Council held a work session devoted
exclusively to presentations on the proposed water supply plan, followed by a public
hearing at the regular City Council meeting on May 19, 2008, at which time interested
members of the public provided additional input on the proposed community water
supply plan; and,
WHEREAS, this Council has considered all suggested alternatives to the
proposed plan, with due consideration to the financial and environmental consequences
of the proposed plan and the possible alternatives that would meet the community's
potable water needs for the next 50 years.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council for the City of
Charlottesville that the Community Water Supply Plan as proposed by the Rivanna Water
and Sewer Authority is hereby approved, with the following components:
¢ââ??¢ A new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, at a spillway height 45 feet above
the existing lower dam spillway structure, at a preliminary estimated total project
cost of approximately $37,000,000;
¢ââ??¢ A new 36 inch transmission pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to
the expanded Ragged Mountain Reservoir, at a preliminary estimated total
project cost of approximately $56,000,000, which pipeline will replace the 18
inch pipeline from the Sugar Hollow Reservoir, constructed in 1927;
¢ââ??¢ The complete replacement of the piping and pumping transmission system
between the Ragged Mountain Reservoir and the Observatory Water Treatment
Plant, at a preliminary estimated total project cost of approximately $12,000,000,
which will replace the two cast iron pipelines constructed in 1908 and 1949 and
the very aged Royal Pump Station;
¢ââ??¢ A major overhaul of the Observatory Water Treatment Plant to advance public
health by providing state-of-the-art facilities that will increase the Plant's rating
to 8 million gallons per day, at a preliminary estimated total project cost of
approximately $22,000,000;
¢ââ??¢ The expansion of the capacity of the South Fork Rivanna Water Treatment Plant
to 16 million gallons per day, at a preliminary estimated total project cost of
approximately $9,000,000; and,
¢ââ??¢ The expansion of the capacity of the Observatory Water Treatment Plant to 10
million gallons per day, at a preliminary estimated total project cost of
approximately $6,000,000.

22 comments

Let's see... Two of the councilors who voted in 2006 to endorse the O'Connell-Mueller-Tucker-Fern-Gaffney (developer) 50-year water supply proposal (not plan) have now said they did not receive sufficient information from O'Connell-Mueller-Tucker-Fern-Gaffney (developer) to make a decision. What will be the current council's excuse when it continues to serve as O'Connell's lapdog and vote for the resolution tomorrow night anyway? Why do I say it's a done deal? We have two councilors who are only interested in creating more welfare programs at local tax payers' expense, one who gets his marching orders solely from the residents of the Rugby/Oxford Road area, and two city retirees who owe O'Connell their more-than-generous retirement benefits. And, don't forget the costly deal between Overrun O'Connell and Taliaferro for the exorbitant expansion of the "first responders" service. Political Pay-back. Did anyone notice how council has sat back and allowed Overrun O'Connell-MMM to propose a Mall design to the BAR that council does not support? Does anyone ever ask why? Some of the answers lie within Ms. Hamilton's letter above. What a mess the voters of Charlottesville have gotten themselves into.

Kendra

You know who will pay for this! Not the tax payers, it is ALL paid for by the customers of Rivanna Water & Sewage Authority. 30%+ are low income people who don't even know what is happening. They won't get to vote on a single dime of this.

And the fat cats in the county are mostly on wells with NO water bills.

The Nature Conservancy came up with this plan! I guess pumping 25 million gallons of water per day up hill, through town, to a manmade lake under I-64 is environmental. Use 3000 horsepower pumps, cut 53,000 trees, tear up the city, cause massive traffic problems all that is environmentally good and progressive.

Let the Rivanna revert to a free flowing, storm driven watershed. Send all the sedimentation problems downstream after the current reservoir fills in.

All this so The Nature Conservancy can get the Buck Mountain land as a gift. Hey that is already paid for by the water users anyway. It was in the last rate hike.

Oh yes it is also a conservation project to save the fish during a drought. That is why it is paid for by the water users instead of the enviornmentalists. 2 Billion gallons of extra storage capacity. That is over 3 months of storage without taking a drop from the rivers. Of course it will also suppliment the rivers.

All this and the citizens cannot even vote for it. Technically the City Council cannot either; it is up to the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority although the city can stop it.

What is really going on???????

Observer, who owns the property occupied by the reservoirs?

You go, Kendra,

Kendra is right about City and urban County folks getting the environmental shaft from Rivanna's scheme

Under Rivanna's scheme, while the water release into the Moormans during a drought increases by up to 25 times (from 0.4mgd to 10mgd), the water that is released into the Rivanna below the South Fork Reservoir dam DROPS by 6 times! It goes from 8mgd today to only 1.3MGD when the new Ragged Mountain Dam gets built!

That is outrageous! This stretch of the Rivanna River between the dam and Moores creek is where the public has decent access for fishing, boating and hiking and can enjoy the public parks and natural areas. In a drought, this part of the river where the common people fish gets 6 times less water than would be released today and 8 times less water than what will be released into the Moormans!

I suppose that we City dwellers should be grateful for the new fishing opportunities when we can walk across the dried up portions of the river below the dam and catch bass with a dipnet. Thanks Rivanna! TNC and PEC, how can you justify supporting this environmental injustice?

While I have some sympathy for the private landowners and members-only trout fisheries along the Moormans, there can be no question that under Rivanna's scheme, their gain comes at the expense of steep reductions in water flows in the most publicly accessible part of the river. And to top it off, the rate payers have to pay for the scheme. You'd think we could at least get free memberships to Trout Unlimited, since we are paying to turn their tap on and our own water off.

Fortunately Rivanna's zero sum gain is unnecessary. Our water supply alternatives all start by returning at least 2mgd into the Moormans river, which is 5 times the current 0.4mgd 'voluntary' release. If we're not trying pump much more water than we really need from South Fork into the new 2.5 billion gallon mega reservoir, the South Fork will be spilling water over the dam much more often and we can keep at least the 8mgd release that we have now - we dont need to dry up the part of the Rivanna that goes through the City and urban part of the County in minor droughts in order to fill the RMR dam to levels that we probably wont need for another 30 years ¢Ã¢â??‰â?¬Å? if then.

Kevin,

Of course you cannot get to the trout in the Moormans River. It is PRIVATE.

And now 77,000 feet, yes it is many miles, of Buck Creek and its tributaries are also PRIVATE. The Nature Conservancy wants it ALL. And they want the water to run free until it gets below the Rivanna Reserevoir. The we have to pump it all back up hill to our new manmade storage lake.

It is the heist of a lifetime.

WHY?

C'Ville Eye,

Rivanna Water & Sewer controls the land immediately under the reservoirs through a lease from the owner who is the City of Charlottesville. The city can get the land back only if Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority is dissolved. Actually that can be done through a referendum which can be demanded by 5000 voters on a petition, per Virginia Code.

The trout are stocked by truck, also. Not so natural, energy-using escapade.

As landlord, can the City through council, refuse to allow RWSA to alter the property substantially?

Kendra,

There is just so much more to consider. So much that it gets confusing.

The currently proposed mitigation plan is volumnious and complicated which should indicate that the enviornmental impact is going to be substantial.
The mitgation plan does not consider damage to the Rivanna Reservoir ityself.
The mitigation plan does not consider damage to the Rivanna River below the dam. The 8 MMGPD release will be reduced to 1.3 MMGPD
The mitication plan does not consider the Carbon Footprint associated with clear cutting 53,000 trees.
The mitgation plan does not consider the Carbon Footproint associated with operating ~3,000 bhp of electric motor drivn=en pumps.
The mitagation plan does not consider the disruption of traffic as the 36" pipeline is dug and installed through the west side of C'Ville.
The mitgation plan does not consider the untold gallons of motor fuel consumed while autos and trucks sit in a multi-year traffic jam.
The mitigation plan does not consider what happens to the silt that wilol go over the dam as the reservoir disappears. The causes of the sediments are not mitigated, and if they do not fall out in the reservoir they go over the dam and onward to the Bay.
The cost are only estimates which RWSA clearly states are subject to +100% and -50% variations at this point.
The cost are born by the RWSA custoimers, even though this is largely a conservation project.
The RWSA BOD will vote on this. The county and city governments can instruct their representatives how to vote. Gaffney will vote without instruction, he is a superempowered citizen. The citizens cannot vote.
77,000 feet of stream bed and river banks will become controiled by The Nature Conservancy. It is Public Property now and why it needs to be donated is beyond me. Public Property can easily be controlled for its best and highest use WITHOUT The Nature Conservancy.

More and more
Dredging the SFRR is cheap and almost impact free. How can it not be "THE LEAST ENVIORNMENTALLY DAMAGING ALTERNATIVE". If additional water is needed then lets get that increment from other low impact sources.

The bigger question is WHY is there so much push to do so much damage to the enviornment????????

Observer asks "The bigger question is WHY is there so much push to do so much damage to the enviornment????????"
MONEY, of course. And, right now God only knows who will be getting it. Fortunately, these kinds of things tend to come to light down the road. The city and county are spending millions to be green, yet endorse the rape of Ragged Mountain? Love, envy or MONEY is the cause for deception. I believe it was Music Lover who said "Follow the money." I can only hope that the State comes in and investigate for evidence of corruption. It's the only thing that makes sense to me.

i just sent my email to the city council, per hamilton's suggestion.

i received a response within minutes from dave brown, so the emails are getting through. please keep sending them, and by all means, please use your real name and contact, so that they can realize that this decision will impact actual citizens within this community...

Rob Schilling just announced that Kevin Lynch and Kendra Hamilton will join him on the Schilling Show (WINA 1070 AM 1 - 2 PM week days) on Thursday. Too bad it's not a two-hour show, they could spend some time talking about how they were manipulated through the years by Overrun O'Connell and his staff. Since they both spoke with him this weekend at home, it will probably deal with this issue.

Cville Eye...what made you such a bitter person? I don't think I have ever seen a positive entry from you. If you hate this area so much, why are you staying here?

Good for Cville Eye. He is no dummy!
What we have in the city and county is corruption and deception to the core.
Vote em out before the area is ruined.

joeblowcville, realizing I'm not in La-La land and not being an air head and not going-along-to-get-along and not following a pack. What makes you so positive? Do you really want to turn the water discussion to a conversation about me?

Kendra and Kevin. I am glad that you are both finally standing up to Gary O'Connell! It would have been nice if either of you had shown that sort of leadship while actually on council though.

I do applaud your efforts now, but I have to wonder where your concerns about sedimentation were when I repeatedly, over the course of several years, asked the two of you for help in protecting both the small stream on my own property and the Rivanna River from a constant influx of sediment. The stream that passes through my property enters the Rivanna right above one of the favorite fishing holes of the "common people," as Kevin describes them.

The sources that sediment continues to come from are in violation of City Code and readily fixable if the law were to be enforced, but neither of you were willing to lift a finger. Neither of you were wiling to attempt to tackle the very serious problems of incompetence, mismanagement and just plain stupidity of the Department of Neighborhood Development Services, which lets sediment freely flow into the Rivanna from sources all over the City while they chase compost piles and evil of evils, the very "weeds" that might stop sedimentation from happening.

Where were you and what were the consequences when "green" development, approved by the Department of Neighborhood Development Services killed a large stand of trees adjacent to the Rivanna trail with a huge pile of uncontrolled fill that for months covered that trail with mud that flowed straight into the river? A lot of "common" dog walkers and fishermen had to deal with that mess.

Both of you sat silent (well there was a feeble mew from Kevin once, and a personal attack directed at me from Kendra) as I repeatedly asked for your help in resolving the still unsettled problem of the illegal City seizure of private property on Steephill Street. That happened under Gary O'Connell's watch, and quite possibly under his personal direction. At the very best, he was perfectly willing to let a gross violation of the law on the part of the City of Charlottesville go completely unquestioned with no one needing to answer for it, and no resolution, restitution, or compensation ever being offered. His approach to that situation should have been a red flag for you that his attitude towards the public, the law, and accountability are not in keeping with what we as members of the public should be able to expect from the people that serve us. You two just shut up and played along with Gary though.

Your silence on both of those and many similar issues contributed to the situation as it now exists. If you had stood while on Council for the values that you claim to stand for now, we might not have this situation. That said, thanks again for speaking out! I think I understand, it's the Jimmy Carter approach to governance.

This is exactly the type of evasions, half truths and lies that council has to learn how to deal with from city staff: "Mayor Dave Norris asked City Public Works Director Judy Mueller to explain what proportion of the RWSA's water and sewer upgrades City residents can expect to pay in comparison to County residents. She said she will work with the Albemarle County Service Authority to differentiate between capital projects for maintenance and those for new capacity." If the O'Connell-Mueller-Tucker-Fern-Gaffney (developer) group has been designing in such great depth their exobitantly expensive proposal, are we to believe that Mueller has to check with Fern to determine which of the fewer-than-ten projects that they have proposed after such great in-depth study would be classifed as "maintenance" or "expansion" then we to believe that she can not reel them off the top of her head? Maybe Ambassador Norris ought to start paying attention to local issues. Wake up people, that group is having a great amount of fun making fools of the people they claim to serve and laughing all the way to the bank. I'm beginning to wonder if our council has the intellect to keep up.

Just please post something positive. You are right, water is a serious issue and I am not commenting on that, it is just that you ALWAYS take a negative stance on everything. It is depressing and I am sure for you as well. Blogging is an expression of the negative and the positive. Give me one thing that you feel good about now, seriously. Start enjoying your life and not spewing anti county, anti city, anti police venum.

I have never posted anything negative against the police and have no reason to. I was the one that supported the policeman a few months ago when a reporter said that he arrested a man and his pregnant fiance on Water Street after narly running them over. Most people didn't think my position on that incident was positive. Maybe you are confusing me with somebody else. Why don't you just skip over my posts and have a brighter, more positive life? And change your name.

CvilleEye, given that you have rarely shared a "fact" on this site that was actually true (your ignorance is breathtaking in its consistency), you might want to reevaluate whose intellect you are questioning. Just sayin'.