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  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.