NEWS- Money pit: Quarry offered as dredging base

Pat Enright and Katurah Roell want to get into the dredging business.

The old quarry lies about 3,000 feet from the Rivanna Reservoir.

To skeptics, the big hole in any proposal for saving the Rivanna Reservoir is the potentially expensive problem of what to do with all the dredged-out dirt. Well, a big hole just arrived, and it wants its fill.

A local company has put together a team and a concept that involves engineers, dredgers, and an already owned site adjacent to the Reservoir. And the cost– $24-29 million– appears to be the lowest yet offered that both restores the Reservoir's original capacity and precisely explains where the sediments would land.

"It would be a turn-key operation," says Pat Enright, the CEO of Dominion Development Resources LLC.

On Monday, May 12, he and company president Katurah Roell led a reporter through a tract near the southern end of the Reservoir off Rio Mills Road. The 80-acre site almost appears tailored for handling massive quantities of excavated lake bottom, as it contains a dormant 14-acre rock quarry whose walls climb 70 feet on three sides. As for "dewatering," it also contains two pre-existing ponds that could aid in stripping sediment from water before it returns to the Reservoir or to the Rivanna River– both of which are options with this site.

"It's a pretty good price," says dredging expert Robert Kite, who toured the site during his recent visit to speak before City Council. "If they can do it, I would say go do it," he says, although he believes any dredging operation will still benefit from the geotechnical, bathymetric, and other studies that his firm, Gahagan & Bryant, has offered to perform for $275,000.

Yet the folks at DDR aren't demanding the dredging job. They say they want to compete for it.

"We're a one-stop shop," says Roell, noting that DDR was formed two years ago in a merger of some of Charlottesville's better known land-planning firms: B. Aubrey Huffman and Associates, Bob Anderson Architects, and Rivanna Engineering. The dredging consortium also includes Rivanna Quarry, a company owned by well-known real estate investor Dr. Charles Hurt, who has a stake in DDR and owns the land on which the quarry lies.

DDR got interested after a salvo of Hook articles about the way the idea of dredging was discarded despite fears of environmental damage including clear-cutting 180 acres of trees for a replacement reservoir under Interstate 64.

Enright, himself a marine engineer, says putting together this concept, which is based on removing approximately two million cubic yards of sediments, involved in-house engineers and helpful feedback from Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority officials including director Tom Frederick and chair Mike Gaffney, both of whom have steadfastly maintained that dredging alone cannot supply the community's 50-year water needs.

That belief has been joined by Jeff Werner, the land-use field officer for the Piedmont Environmental Council, who claims that the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority's $143 million water supply plan is the "least expensive" alternative.

"Dredging is more expensive," Werner said on a May 9 talk-show hosted by former City Councilor Rob Schilling on WINA-AM radio.

During the 33-minute discussion, Werner also accused the Hook of "misrepresenting," of offering "misinformation," "no analysis," and also of being "offensive" and "inappropriate." And he cites alleged ulterior motives of those who oppose the controversial plan.

Such high-tenor debates are things DDR keenly wants to avoid, but the company does want to quash some questions that have recently arisen. Enright points out that DDR had over 350 clients last year and its officials, having had well over 100 site plans approved, have extensive experience in dealing with Albemarle County officials.

The concept is laid out in a 15-page document that Enright would not release for publication due to competitive concerns, but he did permit a reporter to take notes.

DDR envisions a floating hydraulic dredge with twelve-inch pipes laid along the water's edge and a series of booster pumps to bring sediments from the farthest reaches of the 366-acre Reservoir back to the quarry. The one road that must be tunneled under is private and lies on property already owned by a member of the consortium.

Preliminary pricing is based on speed, with an eight-year project costing $29 million, a six-year project costing $27 million, and a three-year project costing the least: $23.8 million.

"This takes out a majority of the logistical concerns," says Enright. "We're taking the liability."

Enright says everything's included, even environmental permits, but his report omits any mention of what might be done with all the pumped-out stuff.

 "As far as we're concerned," says Enright, "it'll get pumped here and stay here."

But what about the idea of selling some as sand, topsoil, or even fill for the nearby Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, which wants to spend about $12 per cubic yard for 2.3 million cubic yards of sediment for a runway expansion?

"Our concept does not rely on any reuse of sediment," says a smiling Enright, who notes that he's not ruling anything out.

As for maintaining the reservoir volume into the future, Enright urges the RWSA to explore the idea of constructing forebays to trap sediments before they get into the reservoir, but he notes that it's taken 42 years for the reservoir to lose one third of its capacity. He says DDR has an idea, which he's not yet willing to reveal, that could remove future sedimentation at no cost to water users.

For now, DDR is calling on local leaders to issue a formal RFP, a Request for Proposals, and Enright contends that as long as it doesn't request a la carte services, they believe they have a good chance of winning it.

"The community is looking for answers, and the only way to get answers is for somebody to commit to a dollar figure with a proposal that is complete, valid, and viable," he says.

On Tuesday, May 13, Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority chair Mike Gaffney, while continuing to insist that dredging cannot replace the $143 million plan, says his board is "open to further direction from the City and the County to study maintenance dredging."



Isn't it amazing what can happen in America when our government becomes more transparent and the public is able to come to the table with ideas and resources? Hopefully, the city will involve the public in its deliberations with storm water management rather than deal with a small group. Nah, it won't.
I'm sure that dirt will be looked at as fill dirt for the many development projects down the road and can be sold.

I'm 100% pro-dredging, but this makes my blood run cold. When uber-developers like Charles Hurt and and his longtime employee Katurah Roell are interested in a project, all the little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

These guys live to see Chalbermarle paved and, unless I'm mistaken, a few years ago Roell tried to convince the BOS it was a good idea to run a huge road from the county through the middle of a residential city neighborhood. I'm very wary of this proposal.

This is excellent news. This is how the process should have been working in the first place. If local leaders will put together an RFP that involves a turnkey solution, then the private sector could solve this problem much more efficiently than can government.

As long as the process is open and transparent and the citizens can observe it, we will eventually arrive at a solution that is best for the people of the City and County.

Great work on your series, Hawes.

Who cares whether the solution that might give the tax payers a 100 million dollar cost savings is provided by a developer? It makes me more confident that the problem will be solved when the interests of the party actually doing the work is aligned with the community. I'd much rather have a local (and a local who has a business interest in the positive future of Charlottesville and Albemarle County) to be doing the work than some out of towner who will pack up and leave once his job's done.

I've been waiting for this. It shows that Gannet Fleming is either incompetent, dishonest, or both. $225 million for dredging: give me a break.

Also I am not worried about Va. Land Company. Sure they are out to make a buck but if you don't think Gaffney and all of the other developers who are pushing the expanded Ragged Mt and pipeline aren't looking out for their own interests you are kidding yourself.

At last a bit of sensibility in this debate. I don't think Uh-oh should be so concerned about DDR in this regard. They seem like a sensible choice if they should win and have the resources and the local assets to match well with the demands of this project. Good work Hawes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled with the idea that a solution could be so close at hand. It seems a win-win, but we need to tread carefully. Lord knows I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but please consider who is holding the carrot and stick.

My point was that I wished it was almost any other company.

I am a firm believer in the private sector. It is rare that the government is able to do things more cheaply or efficiently than private businesses, and if these guys have been able to figure out the disposal, which is the most expensive part of the dredging process, good on them! I do, however, believe that there should be competitive bids based on an actual rfp.

I firmly believe that DDR and VA Land Co want to fill in the quarry and turn it into another development. Making money twice. How long does it take for 70 feet to compact enough to build on it?

There should absolutely be an rfp. DDR hasn't gotten the job, they've just provided one solution to the dredging problem that looks cheaper than what the BOS and the RWSA had been told by Gannet Fleming. The fact that they've found a place to put tens of millions of tons of sludge looks like the results of a dredging rfp might be considerably more affordable than previously thought.

Maybe VA Land has some scheme to develop the property down the road, but with the rezoning atmosphere we have today in the County, they won't get away with anything other than a first class development (see Biscuit Run).

There is no question that the environmental community (including myself) got played when Ragged Mountain was chosen as the preferred alternative. There are even a few well meaning folks like Jeff who still believe that this was an idea put forward by environmentalists. This email from Mike Gaffney, shortly after the RMR solution was put forward, ought to dispel that idea.

All of us environmentalist types were so busy congratulating ourselves about the Ragged Mountain solution and how we had saved the community from an expensive growth subsidy (the James River pipeline), that we forgot to ask ourselves how we nearly got sold down the river in the first place.

The reason that Ragged Mountain looked like such a good solution in 2005 is that Gannett Fleming told us over and over again that dredging was prohibitively expensive. If you still believe that dredging would cost $223 million dollars, then yes, enlarging Ragged Mountain and pumping 25 million gallons per day, nine and half miles and 300 feet uphill still looks somewhat reasonable. But now we know that these outrageous claims of dredging costs simply do not hold water. When we can restore the South Fork to its original condition for 24 million dollars or less, suddenly that 142 million dollars of shiny new pumps and pipes and concrete doesn’t look like such a bargain.

This community used to believe in something called sustainability, which is why dredging was part of our original 2002 water supply plan (which we have been paying for by the way, even though nothing has been done in six years). When we originally hired Gannett Fleming in 2003, part of their job description was to do the engineering for dredging. Three months later, they told the Rivanna board it would be too expensive (back then, too expensive meant 42 million dollars). Next they told the board that raising the South Fork reservoir with a four foot bladder (also part of their original job description) was unlikely to get permitted. So what should we do? Two years and millions of dollars in consulting fees later and the answer is … surprise! Dams and pipelines! How convenient!

Some of us were not convinced that dams and pipelines were the answer, and I give Jeff credit for being one of those folks. Sally Thomas and Dennis Rooker also deserve a lot of credit for not swallowing the company line (and more recently others on Council and BOS have raised similar questions). Why not dredge we asked? It solves most of our water supply problem and other communities are doing it much cheaper. When we asked, Gannett Flemming came up with more hand waving, increased the dredging estimate again (and again), and then sent us a bill for their troubles.

What Gannett Fleming never told the public, or the Rivanna board for that matter (at least not according to the records we FOIA’ed) was that while they were blowing smoke up our collective asses about the prohibitive costs of dredging, two dredging firms with operations in Virginia had come forward with proposals for doing the job at a fraction of the cost. Dock Doctors and Blue Ridge Sand both deserve credit for trying to creatively solve the problem. But their proposals never saw the light of day. If it were not for the reporting of the Hook we never would have known about them. While Hawes may not be a “water expert”, he has done a whole lot more actual work to solve the dredging question than any number of people who got paid with our water bills to supposedly solve the problem, and we should thank him for this.

When we saw the proposals of Dock Doctors and Blue Ridge Sand in the FOIA’ed documents of Rivanna, we were naturally outraged. How did this happen we asked? Why hasn’t Gannett Flemming been fired for this? What other cost numbers in our water plan might also be misstated by an order of magnitude? For some reason, instead of answers from the Rivanna board, all we got was talking points. “Well, those proposals are old now …. The price of diesel has gone up … the land they were going to buy for storage is no longer for sale … the airport might not need a new runway after all … too late, you missed your chance for questions … full steam ahead with the Emperor’s New Water Plan!”

Now we have a new proposal from a local consortium of firms with plenty of expertise, capital, a good site for dewatering and long term storage capacity if necessary. And these arent the only folks looking at how to solve the problem. I believe that with a competitive bidding process and better information on the sediment composition, we can get the initial cost of dredging below 20 million dollars. If we build forbays to capture the incoming sand, gravel and clay where it can be easily removed, the value of the material could pay for future maintenance for the next 50 years. Dredging the material costs around 7 dollars a yard. Sand for concrete sells for 30-40 dollars a yard. Gravel for asphalt is around 15-20 dollars a yard. The airport is planning to spend 12 dollars a yard for fill. Do the math.

By dredging the South Fork Reservoir and keeping it properly maintained we can add 5.5mgd of capacity to our system. That’s more than half of the 50 year water need, even if you believe Gannett Fleming’s inflated water demand estimates which overstate future population, understate conservation in a drought and ignore the fact that for the past ten years our water demand has actually been dropping as we have become more efficient in our use of water. If you take these factors into account, dredging can easily provide two thirds of our 50 year need – maybe more.

So why isnt the latest proposal by DDR great news? Why arent public officials talking about which parts of our expensive 142 million dollar water supply system are now no longer necessary? About how we can reduce our environmental footprint at a very reasonable cost? Maybe even lower the water rate? Why indeed?

The answer my friends is that even when they don’t realize it, bureaucracies love to grow. Government bureaucracies especially! Bigger pipes, bigger dams, pumps and bigger water bills make for bigger paychecks and bigger departments. Bigger desks! Bigger toys! Bigger pension plans. The board of Rivanna is four bureaucrats and a developer. That’s a recipe for a cash burnin’ clear cuttin’ dam buildin’ high water pumping machine! Toss Gannett Fleming and a 30 million dollar cash reserve (thanks ratepayers!) into the mix and now the embiggening machine is running on all cylinders and belching smoke. And the best part is (depending on your perspective of course) none of them are accountable to the public!

Fortunately, the Rivanna board IS accountable to the elected officials (at least in theory – in practice this doesn’t seem to always happen). And the elected officials are accountable to the public. Which is you.

If you are tired of seeing your water bill being used to finance a New Deal program for bureaucrats and consultants, please come to Monday’s City Council meeting and go to the next Board of Supervisors meeting. Tell them that they’ve been stalling long enough! Its time to move forward on dredging now – starting with a sediment survey right now and followed by a request for bids to restore the reservoir to its original storage as soon as the survey is done. They can call it maintenance or restoration or whatever else they want to call it as long as they call it done! Otherwise prepare to pay dearly for the next 15 years while Rivanna’s board builds their pipe dreams at your expense.

Since when does the Nature Conservancy fund its projects by taxing needy residents who can afford it the least? The $143 million dollar water plan is not just about water, it’s about restoring flow to the Moormans River, which would be a good thing. But the huge cost of this project will be paid for by water rate increases in Charlottesville and the urban ring in the county. Most county residents (including those who will benefit most directly from the increased flow to the Moormans) will not pay a dime. This is especially problematic when we can meet virtually all of our long-term water needs by dredging the South Fork reservoir for $120 million less than the Nature Conservancy’s plan. Wake up, everybody, just because this plan has “Nature Conservancy” stamped on it does not mean it is in the best interests of the community, especially the part of the community who will actually pay for it.

C'ville Voter's information is incorrect.

The $143 million plan includes mostly projects that will have to be done whether the community goes with the current plan of raising the Ragged Mountain dam or decides to do dredging.

Either way, the community will have to do something about the 13-mile pipe from Sugar Hollow to Ragged Mountain. You still have to upgrade the water treatment plants. You still have do something about the unsafe Ragged Mountain dam.

If you read the C-ville Weekly's story or attended the city's water supply plan worksession, you'd know that the Nature Conservancy only came up with the idea to connect the Ragged Mountain reservoir and South Fork Reservoir, which is a shorter pipeline that creates redundancy in the water supply system, allowing the community to forgo a more expensive upgrade of the O-Hill water treatment plant.

Plus, if you read the Progress stories about the various options being considered at the time of the plan's development, you'd realize that the idea to expand Ragged Mountain existed already.

RWSA was already considering the expansion of Ragged Mountain before Drink local water, a group of citizens that included Rich Collins, endorsed and encouraged local officials to support the slightly tweaked Ragged Mountain idea that made the water supply plan work so well and solve so many water storage issues that ultimately made it the most cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Finally, since when do only county residents use the Moormans? The Moormans River provides a significant amount of water that flows into the South Fork Rivanna reservoir, which city residents use too.

Thanks to Water Observer for your reply. You are correct that the $143 million plan includes some needed upgrades to the system, such as improvements to water treatment plants. However, the most expensive parts of the plan are (1) raising the Ragged Mountain Dam by an additional 45 feet and (2) building a new, 9-mile, uphill pipeline. The pipeline alone will cost around $60 million, not including the continuing costs of pumping water uphill. About 90% of the cost of the $143 million plan consists of these two components, neither of which is necessary now that we know dredging can be done for under $30 million.

Nor do you the address the question of why the neediest parts of our community should pay for improvements that are unnecessary to meet our water needs for years to come.

Thanks for all of the comments. Yes, there are some other things that would have to be done to the system that are in the 142M projected cost. There are also a lot of costs which are not accounted for in the current scheme. For an analysis of how a less expensive and less environmentally damaging plan can be built around dredging see:

The bottom line is that in a best case scenario, adding dredging to the mix of options cuts the total cost of a 50 year plan to 80M. Worst case scenario would be 120M. In either case the environmental consequences are much better