NEWS- Money pit: Quarry offered as dredging base
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."