Dredging 101: $25-$30 million

Ho hum. Two guys in suits gave a "dredging 101" slide show tonight. So why was the old downtown visitors center packed with over 60 people?

Until a few months ago, dredging had all the glamor of using diesel equipment to pump mud off a lake bottom. Which of course is what it is.

"Dredging is a fancy word for digging dirt underwater," said one of the suits, Chris Gibson. By the end of the evening, the Wilmington, Delaware-based vice-president of Gahagan & Bryant Associates was tossing out ballpark figures of what dredging should cost this community. And, unfortunately for would-be entrepreneurs hoping to leverage a "MudCat," a "Dragon," or even the evening's touted device– a 1,200+ horsepower "Wilko"– into hundreds of millions of dollars at the Rivanna Reservoir, such hopes are sinking into the turbid waters of reality.

Four years ago, after two unsolicited proposals landed at the then-leaderless Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, the Pennsylvania-based firm that was busily rewriting Charlottesville's 2002 post-drought water plan declared dredging too expensive. The firm, Gannett Fleming, had yet to earn infamy for designing a system of eventually fatal overhead concrete panels at Boston's Big Dig. Here, the firm simply claimed that dredging, which doesn't appear to be one of its specialties, would cost up to $225 million, the bulk of the price based on the questionable theory that most of the dredged material would be put in trucks and driven away.

"You could haul it to D.C. for that," Gibson told the audience. "That seems like a high cost."

In contrast to Gannett Fleming's vision of thousands of trucks hauling five million cubic yards of material over 50 years, Gibson suggested that an impending dredge would probably need to move 1.7 to 2.5 million cubic yards, as the reservoir is not yet choked enough to produce so much.

He guessed a total of just $25-30 million and said his firm would like to conduct a full-blown feasibility study to come up with a firmer estimate, and he claims that such estimates are usually five to ten percent from the eventual cost. He said the "tipping fee" paid to any landowner with at least 50 spare acres to clog with mud and sand might bump up the cost a few more million.

"Ultimately, disposal site selection is the cornerstone of any good project," said Gibson. "You need a hole. Whether you find one or construct one, that's what you need."

He and his associate, Rob Kite, said they examined two tracts near the reservoir, including Panorama Farm, a site already known for dirt-farming (as its sells a compost called Panorama Pay-Dirt). Gibson called Panorama a "perfect" site due to its plentiful acreage, its mid-dredging zone location, and its shallow rise above the pool.

(Dredging advocate Rich Collins pointed out that the owners of Panorama haven't expressed an interest or disinterest in such project yet.)

At the meeting, Gibson conceded that dredging would probably require an Army Corps of Engineers "401" permit but tried to assuage attendees– who included Authority director Tom Frederick– over some of the concerns that have erupted in recent days, now that dredging is finally taken seriously. Frederick and his board have thrown their support behind a $143 million plan to upgrade two treatment plants and create a new Interstate highway-hugging, pipeline-dependent reservoir that requires the felling of 180 acres of mature forest.

River-loving attendee Leslie Middleton, who hosts a weekly five-minute WTJU radio program called the Rivanna Rambler, blasted the Hook for providing "partial information" that has fostered "divisiveness." She says she supports both maintenance dredging and the $143 million plan.

"It's an odd, multi-faceted, and– to my understanding– elegant solution to a lot of problems." The plan is said to restore historic stream flows on the Moorman's River by pumping water out of the Rivanna Reservoir during wet times and storing it in the proposed jumbo reservoir.

One thing everyone can agree on is that the 42-year-old Rivanna Reservoir is filling with sediment.

"Today," said Gibson, "we were running aground in a boat that drew eight inches of water, and I couldn't see the bottom. That's turbidity."

In response to an audience question, Gibson said that a full-blown feasibility study by his firm will cost about $275,000, including lake-bottom imaging, geotechnical probing, sediment sampling, and going door-to-door to find a willing disposal site.

One attendee was Mitch King. With Blue Ridge Sand Inc., he offered one of the two unsolicited bids from four years ago. He wants to win the dredging business by employing a system of sluices that simultaneously dewater and classify the material for greater marketability to contractors and landscapers."We need about three acres," said King.

The other unsolicited dredging firm, Dock Doctors, was also in attendance. Owner Don Meyer said he'd planned to buy a farm with the proceeds and create wetlands on the parcel to earn credits for any environmental damage that might occur. He'd offered to perform the dredging for just $21 million.

Dredging supporter Joe Mooney, one of the activists who encouraged Gahagan & Bryant to come to Charlottesville, was asked what he thought of it all.

"I don't know," said Mooney, who slipped into the meeting around 9pm as it was ending, "because I was over at the City Council meeting talking about William Crutchfield's letter."

The founder and CEO of one of the nation's biggest consumer electronics retailers, Crutchfield recently entered the fray with a letter [RTF] blasting the decision-makers. He questioned the expertise of the Nature Conservancy, asked about a potential Gannett Fleming conflict of interest, and worried about the carbon footprint of a system dependent on pumping water uphill. Crutchfield wrote that "prudent businesspeople" would have gotten a second opinion on dredging. And that's what Gibson wants to provide.

"It's not a real complex project," said Gibson. "It's not a real big project. It's middle of the road."

24 comments

Bill Crutchfield is very much a common sense kind of guy. And he has very little patience for fools. I'm glad somebody of his stature is willing to stand up and call the "decision-makers" for having at best a faulty and at worse a fraudulent process.

Why not truck sediment to the airport for fill, instead of pumping it there? My guess, the short-sighted,tunnel visioned,closed-minded BOS doesn't want the trucks on the road. The BOS should look beyond any inconveniences in this regard.

I am glad to have more accurate information on "maintenance dredging" and continue to believe that we should retain use-ability of the SFRR.

I think we have had a repeated problem in not comparing apples to oranges when it has come to costs. The "water supply plan" that some people speak of may (or may not) include upgrades to water treatment plant at Observatory Hill and may (or may not) include whatever upgrades would have to be made to the existing Sugar Hollow-Ragged Mountain pipeline if that part of the whole "system" is to be maintained along with SFRR dredging. I believe, likewise, that dredging estimates and the assertions upon which they have been based have also been troubled by not comparing apples to apples.

I am also troubled by our collective inability as a community to try to find ways to come to consensus about this issue. Rather than say "which side I am on," (as you asked me last night), I hope that I am on the side of a clean and healthy Rivanna watershed ... because our own coomunity's health is dependent upon this, ultimately. Balancing ecological needs and human needs is a struggle -- that's why I have suggested that we need to continue to look for ways to decrease the amount of sediment flowing in to the SFRR as well as look at the ways we use water and conserve water.

Many of us who either professionally or as citizen activists have been involved in the water supply planning process over the last five (or more) years have also been through the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute, a program founded by Rich Collins at the Institute for Environmental Negotiations. I hope that we can collectively do what we learned in that program works best: search for common ground. The present water supply "plan" (expand Ragged Mt, build pipeline between the two reservoirs, maintain instream flow in the Moormans) was an honest attempt to do so. There has been precious little acknowledgement of this good faith effort in the present discussion.

Certainly we must look to all solutions as we move forward. Sadly, public trust in city-county elected officials and also the Rivanna board has erroded.
There are lessons to be learned. The public and media should have been involved 100% from the beginning. It is members of the public and the media who will solve the problems. It is time for elected officials in the city/county, to be fully open and welcoming to the discerning eye. This situation is an example of what can happen when details are withheld. Elected officials should have supervised the Rivanna Boards' work very carefully. In my view, heads should now roll.
Thanks to THE HOOK for printing the facts and for holding all accountable.

The most productive way to clean up the local surface water supply is to give farmers incentives to keep cattle out of the streams beginning with relaxing recently imposed restrictions for the use of their land. This is certainly much more important than creating a stream buffer(recently passed by the BOS) for driveway crossings.

"Sadly, public trust in city-county elected officials and also the Rivanna board has eroded." You sure about that? Not many local incumbents get booted from office. I would say that trust in elected officials among those paying attention has eroded. Most people aren't paying attention. Our elected leaders aren't accountable because they aren't required to be.

I have no doubt that the citizens involved in creating the water plan were acting in very good faith, and they deserve a great deal of credit for all their hard work.

Perhaps what you're seeing here however, is a justifiably angry reaction to the fact that certain elected officials have used a divide & conquer strategy in order to marginalize the members of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply. What they have uncovered regarding Gannett-Fleming and the RWSA Board is quite troubling and needs to be dealt with. No amount of wishful thinking will make this go away.

I understand the feeling from some that they just want to move ahead with the plan at hand and not discuss it any further. But the fact remains that some of the numbers that were used to help create that very plan now turn out to have been cooked, or are at best unreliable.

We were given two choices as citizens: Ragged Mountain OR James River pipeline. Out of those, the more environmentally responsible choice was Ragged Mountain, the lesser of two evils. At no point were we given dredging as an option because that option was suppressed by the firm that stood to benefit the most.

This has to be addressed, unfortunately at the 11th hour thanks to some of our officials. But doing so in no way implies criticism of the many hard-working citizens like Leslie Middleton who have given so much time, talent, and energy to the process.

The mess-ups here must be discussed, AND heads should roll, in this case. These are the the same goofy guys who have negatively impacted other community concerns such as the controversial Parkway. Come on folks, wake up before it is too late!

"Not many local incumbents get booted from office"

True. It is also impossible for me not to observe that not many US Senators are booted from office either. Depends upon what level of competence satisfies one.

ahoy maties.... lets get these gannet flemming guys and make em walk the plank...

seems to me the dredging is the obvious solution...

The point: There was the "other choice of dredging", and NO elected official was smart enough to see to this option,until now. Lack of attention to this detail is unaceptable.

I'd like to see more talk about who is going to pay for whatever plan is approved. As I understand it, it will be paid for by increases in water rates in C'ville and the urban ring.
People with wells in the county won't contribute a dime, nor will residents of Crozet or Scottsville (who have their own water systems). The largest burden will fall on city residents, 25% of whom live at or below the poverty line. Water rates have nearly doubled in the city in the past few years, and if the $143 million plan goes forward, are projected to double again. This is fiscally irresponsible, given that much cheaper alternatives are available.

As I understand it, the county water customers will have to pay a larger share since that's where the growth will be. I'd like to see the developers take the hit instead.

"People with wells in the county won't contribute a dime, nor will residents of Crozet or Scottsville (who have their own water systems)."

As a county resident with a well, why should I help pay for a municipal water system upgrade that I'll never need to use to get my water? You seem to imply that this is somehow unjust. Care to explain why citizens who either have wells or are hooked up to a completely different water system should have to pay for improvements made to yours? When RSWA starts making house calls to replace my well pump or pressure tank, or when they come out to pump my septic tank, then I'll be happy to pay for their services. But until that day arrives, expect nothing but chuckles from me and my neighbors when you float the idea of having us pay for this mess.

Below is a link to a letter by David J. Hirschman and Stephen P. Bowler on why the City and County should not abandon the current, approved water supply plan. Stephen Bowler is currently employed by a federal agency that deals with water resource issues across the country and Dave Hirshman currently works for a non-profit organization actively involved in watershed protection in the Chesapeake Bay and nationally.

The gist of the letter:

"...Our conclusion at this point in the water supply discussion is that the City and County should not abandon the current, approved plan. There have likely been flaws in the process, but we believe the outcome represents sound water supply planning. Through the history of the planning process, citizen input has led to substantial improvements in the plan. Community input on dredging, water conservation, and other issues should continue to be used to improve the plan through the implementation stage. The following section summarizes our judgments about several key issues related to the water supply plan. This is followed by a more detailed analysis of specific issues.

The link:

http://www.pecva.org/anx/index.cfm/1,93,1168,0,html/Local-Water-Resource...

"likely been flaws" Goodness, that's a pretty ambivalent phrase to describe what actually happened.

Since they seem to have been so intimately involved in the water plan process, do either the PEC or the Nature Conservancy intend to address the issues of inflated bids by Gannett Fleming? After all, the recommendations from this "flawed" company seemed to have informed the decision-making pretty thoroughly.

The Nature Conservancy and PEC are both fine organizations. Despite the fact that dredging is a great idea, in all likelihood the Ragged Mountain plan will probably end up being pushed through due to political expediency. But there's still the issue of potential obstruction to deal with.

Dredging is NOT a new concept! Why is there so much talk about something that has been done successfully for centuries! A year from now I bet we will still be discussing this issue.

I do question the price though. Does that include kickbacks??? :)

I don't think well owners should have to pay for other people's water use. My point is that city residents should not have to pay for improvements in the county. Let's face it, the $143 million plan isn't just about water--it's about improving the quality of life in the county (e.g., improving flow to the Moormans), and allowing more county growth. Why should C'ville residents, especially those below the poverty line, pay for that? If this were just about water, it would cost $30 million.

P.E.C.'s introduction of the opinions of two people whose identities are almost as mysterious as mine needs further scrutiny. "Community input on dredging, water conservation, and other issues should continue to be used to improve the plan through the implementation stage." This suggested process of gathering input from all citizens is part of the problem. That input is only of value during the DESIGN stage, not the implementation stage, after the contracts have been signed, the razing is finished and the construction has started, and it really doesn't matter what the citizens waste their time spewing out a lot of hot air after the fact to tweak a bad plan. That's typical top-down thinking and is unfortunately the usual game plan around here. My question is, "What's the rush?"

May 19th at 7:30pm City Council will hold a public hearing about what water plan will be best for this community.

Both city and county residents are welcome to comment, and unfortunately for county folk it may be your only opportunity unless you can implore your elected officials to hold their own hearing. To date there has been NO PUBLIC HEARING before elected officials in the county and I see this as a huge miscarriage of our ability as citizens to participate in this critical process. All previous meetings were conducted by the RWSA which includes NO elected officials. The RWSA proposal will have huge implications for our community and for all city residents and those in the urban county who will see drastically increased water bills for years to come. Not just the first 5 years , but far into the future. This is not yet a plan and before we lock ourselves into needless expense we need to finally take care of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, which has not been maintained for 40 years, We must insist that our officials take the first step and that a feasibily study be done that will cost a fraction of the 3.1 million that Rivanna Consultants, Gannett Fleming are being paid to engineer the new dam at Ragged Mt.
A sedimentation study was part of the RWSA budget and recommended by the cosultants, but was dropped by the RWSA board this year.

We all know that whatever plan is chosen that remains in our watershed and provides enough water for 50 years MUST include maintaining capacity at South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and so the money for that must be in any plan that our elected officials approve.

Please attend the May19th public hearing at City Council Chambers at 7:30 and not let our Reservoir continue to silt in and continue to keep it a viable part of our water supply.

May 19th is also the WATER RATE PUBLIC HEARING 7:30 pm
City Council Chamber. This your only shot at affecting your water bills !!!!

If you, like CvilleEye, would like to know who Stephen Bowler and David Hirschman are.... in the full text, to their credit, they disclose their conflict of interest:

"In the interests of full disclosure, it is important to note that we both worked at various stages in the process, that through a circuitous route, eventually led to the standing proposal. Stephen served as a paid consultant for The Nature Conservancy, working on the development of the current water supply plan, and also served on the RWSA panel that unanimously selected Gannet Fleming as RWSA's water supply consultant."

Full Disclosure, I, for one, appreciate your adding the disclosure statement. The Nature Conservancy is a lobblying group and I have a fundamental objection to the growning priactice of lobbyists serving on governmental policy-making committees and boards as in this case. I also have a problem with agencies that receive government funding having positions on policy-making boards and committees such as Piedmont Housing Alliance, and I have a fundamental problem with governmental agencies belonging to groups that lobby them such as the City belonging to the Chamber of Commerce. These are several ways that cause things to get screwed up.

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