Hook raises Authority spending questions

A recent Freedom of Information Act request by the Hook finds that the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority isn't willing to let favored consulting firm Gannett Fleming rest on its existing multi-million-dollar contracts.

Despite having already received over $2.5 million to rewrite local water plans plus another $3.1 million to design a controversial dam– not to mention $123,800 for "public involvement"– the firm just won approval for two contract amendments totaling $17,000.

The Freedom of Information Act request also turned up a rough draft of a PowerPoint presentation thatcasts dredging in such dire and foreboding terms (noise, thousands of truckloads of dirt rumbling down highways) that even dredging opponent and Authority board member Gary O'Connell City spokesperson Ric Barrick remarked in an email, "It doesn't appear as though the writer ever intended dredging to be an option."

This is the very same Gannett Fleming PowerPoint that, as previously reported, O'Connell had hoped to keep out of public view until City Council sets water rates in May.

"Given all the spending thus far, how in the world can you justify giving Gannett Fleming an additional $12,000 to make a PowerPoint presentation, and an additional $5,000 to rush the Army Corps of Engineers to hurry up on approving a permit?" Hook journalist Hawes Spencer asked the Authority board this afternoon at the five-member body's regular monthly meeting.

"We're here to listen to your comment," replied chair Mike Gaffney, "not to answer questions."

"Well, I thought there might be some answers," said Spencer, moving on to his second question: "How could one firm so take over water policy, get that much money, and really destroy the [2002] water plan?"

Gaffney: "Are there other members of the public who would like to speak?"

After the meeting, Authority director Tom Frederick defended the additional spending, which he had arranged under a discretionary ceiling already approved by the board.

"We were getting a lot of questions," said Frederick. "We made a judgment that we needed additional support."

(Photo: Doomed by official refusals to dredge, the sediment-choked Rivanna Reservoir will shrink to just 12 percent of its original volume 42 years from now. PHOTO BY SKIP DEGAN)

Correction: I misread the from and to lines in an email. The person who wrote, "It doesn't appear as though the writer intended dredging ever to be an option," was not Gary O'Connell but City spokesperson Ric Barrick. O'Connell was the recipient of that email. Correction made within the story.

13 comments

Sorry to be off topic, but is Hawes Spencer quoting Hawes Spencer in this article?

Ha ha ha - Spencer's self parody of the egomaniac journalist has reached new heights - he's quoting himself in the third person! Classic!

Focus, people, focus. Back to the topic at hand, the questions the intrepid reporter asks are extremely germane and the fact that the authority refuses to answer them should be a big ol' red flag to anybody trying to pay attention. The people charged with plotting our water future are not being accountable to the citizens. Keep lighting matches under their toes, Hook!

It's one thing when local officials get all stupid on matters of road intersections, property taxes, and mall repaving, but the issue of the water supply might be the tipping point. The outcome will be either the development of intelligent leadership, or rapidly increasing water costs that will precede a crisis the next time the rains stop for 6 or 7 months.

Who was it who once said to get to the root of the issue, follow the money?

Follow the money. Follow it to the RWSA, and follow it to Gannett Fleming.

Accountability. These people have been duped. With all of the liberal Lawyers in this town why won't someone put their money where their mouth is and file for an injunction?

You all hate conservatives so much and this big business just shoves it in your butt and you just let it.

It is a sad thing to watch.

Music Lover resonates like Mozart's Requiem when he/she states follow the money. One might ask how does a local land developer become appointed chairman of the board of the RWSA and why would they want this job? Could there be a lesson to learn from Bill Clinton making 200K per year as President and 10+ million per year as ex-president? Did Gannett Fleming lobby anyone for this project or have ties to anyone in RWSA? The national transportation safety board was not impressed with the work of Gannett Fleming on the I 90 Boston interchange that collapsed. Something about failure to anticipate adhesive creep. Hopefully, the new dam will not use the same adhesive. Creeps me to think about. Cudos to the Hook for asking the hard questions even if those in authority refuse to justify their decisions( or answer questions ).

12 percent of its original volume 42 years from now? Give me a break. What is the origin of this statistic?

I say dredge. It is not a simple, what is cheaper arguement. If you extend that logic, then in 50 years, would build yet another, larger dam. Well in 500 years, thats 10 more dams. And we would have a bunch of non-functioning, silt filled marshes.

Fix what we have, basically.

Kudos to the Hook for doing real investigative journalism-- something that's been sorely lacking in Charlottesville for years.

Also, bravo to Joe and Barbara Mooney, Rich Collins, Kevin Lynch, and others for not giving up on dredging. Charlottesville owes them a debt of gratitude for their willingness to bring all of this to light.

Too often, journalists and citizens are portrayed as troublemakers when they stand up for their rights, and the rights of others. But they are simply doing their jobs-- as responsible journalists and citizen-activists.

Now it's in Council's hands to listen to all sides fairly, and to absorb the FOIAed documents. Some of what happened is definitely on the shadier side, and that will need to be addressed in an open manner.

D'oh, sorry. Meant to type Betty Mooney, not Barbara.

Apply some logic makes a great point. If we don't dredge this reservoir, are we just deciding to build reservoirs every 50 years or so, or are we just deferring the actual dredging decision for a generation or two? It makes no sense to not dredge.

Grant --

The 12% number came from the RWSA, as calculated by their sister company, Gannett Flemming.

You're right about "give me a break" -- everything else coming from them smells pretty bad ... they might have overestimated this one!

"The RWSA's Tom Frederick has responded that dredging alone, regardless of the cost, will not restore enough capacity at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to meet the community's long term needs." http://cvilletomorrow.typepad.com/charlottesville_tomorrow_/2008/04/supp...
This is the type of conversation that is purposefully trying to mislead the public. I have yet to hear anybody recommend just dredging and Mr. Frederick knows it. I had respected him until this statement. The original plan also included a bladder. This is a deliberate attempt to divert the public from having a realistic conversation to come up with a realistic solution. Is it really realistic to run a reservoir underneath I-64 with its hundreds of chemical-laden trucks weekly? I have grown to expect this kind of non-reasoning from Overrun O'Connell (100% on 3rd St NE bricking project) but from the rest of them? Yes, follow the money. The council work session on May 6th will be a joke since council has yet to show it can think its way through Overrun O'Connell's rarely well-articulated reasoning.

"The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority will pay a consulting firm up to $12,000 to answer questions from residents and come up with a presentation for the City Council on May 6.
The consulting firm, Gannett-Fleming, which has offices in Arlington and Fairfax, has consulted on Charlottesville and Albemarle County's long-term water supply solution for several years."
http://www.dailyprogress.com/cdp/news/local/local_govtpolitics/article/w...