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."
Full text of Hamilton's letter:
Sat, 31 May 2008
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 email@example.com. 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,
Full text of O'Connell administration proposed 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
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,
WHEREAS, the Ragged Mountain alternative has been reviewed, approved and
permitted by the Department of Environmental Quality of the Commonwealth of
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:
Â¢Ã¢â??Â¬Â¢ 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;
Â¢Ã¢â??Â¬Â¢ 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;
Â¢Ã¢â??Â¬Â¢ 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;
Â¢Ã¢â??Â¬Â¢ 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
Â¢Ã¢â??Â¬Â¢ 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,
Â¢Ã¢â??Â¬Â¢ 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