NEWS- Hamilton 'pokes': Council issues demand for dredging
Emerging from self-imposed political retreat since stepping down in January, former City Councilor Kendra Hamilton has added her voice to the growing calls to reconsider the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority's plan to build a $143 million mega-reservoir/pipeline system without first exploring dredging, and City Council seemed to listen. On Monday, June 2, they voted unanimously to demand a dredging study.
"I believe the citizens are being asked to pay for a pig in a poke," Hamilton writes in her an open letter [full text RTF] dated May 31, "and I have to speak out."
Like fellow ex-Councilor Kevin Lynch, who has become a leader in questioning the official water wisdom, Hamilton now says she was duped when she voted for the scheme. Last November, while still on Council, the two began suggesting that dredging the Rivanna Reservoir should be much more than the mere "maintenance" strategy now receiving lip service from various pipeline-supporting officials suddenly confronted with unsolicited offers roughly a tenth of the nearly $225 million that the Authority's embattled experts claim dredging would cost.
"There is no way that I would have supported the current water supply strategy without significant changes had I been aware of those numbers," Hamilton writes.
And in a subtle dig at City Manager/Rivanna Authority board member Gary O'Connell, who has steadfastly pursued the pipeline/reservoir strategy on various boards (including the Airport Authority, which has been blasted for failing to explore the use of dredged spoils for a runway expansion), Hamilton points out his latest role: his administration handed City Council a draft resolution that attempts to shut down any consideration of the dredging concept.
"The latest information," Hamilton writes, "indicates that we do have a choice, and that staff is seeking to nullify that choice before Council has an opportunity to fully consider the options."
City officials wanted options. Before a near-capacity crowd in Council chambers Monday night, Mayor Dave Norris offered his dredging amendment, the first official action suggesting that local officials may have been presented a bogus view of dredging by Gannett Fleming, the Pennsylvania firm hired in 2003 to carry out various water supply strategies including a pilot dredging program. With the approval of the Authority board, the company quickly consumed its initial $800,000 fee and will have soon racked up billings of about $5.5 million– including $3.1 million for designing a dam that critics contend isn't needed.
In recent days, Gannett Fleming's scheme to put a reservoir on both sides of Interstate Highway 64 has been called into question by cost and environmental concerns. And as reported by the Hook last week, contrary to myriad claims by officials that they have a 50-year-plan, no such document has been filed with the state, which must review all water conservation plans. The resolution passed by Council appears to acknowledge the omission by calling on the Rivanna Authority to more fully explore conservation.
The Council heard from worried water user Naomi Roberts, who urged Council not to embark on measures that would drive up her rates and force her from her home. Anoher citizen, a new arrival from Hawaii named Brian Sousa, noted that City Council's so-called "Vision 2025" calls for the City to be a leader in "innovation, environmental sustainability, and social and economic justice."
Economic justice resonates with Councilor Holly Edwards, who often enlivens dry council meetings with literary allusions. "It's a sin to kill a mockingbird," said Edwards. "The mockingbird is the oridinary people who work, go home, and pay the bills and might not even know this conversation is going on."
Authority director Tom Frederick hailed Council's resolution– which continues to endorse the vast new reservoir and pipeline– as a victory, calling it a "strong validation" of the process. O'Connell agrees.
"The votes of four public bodies in favor of the plan including the previous City Council, the environmental community's support of the plan, and the turn-out in support of the plan at the recent public hearing obviously demonstrate support for the plan," O'Connell writes in an email, "that goes well beyond the staff."
But "staff" earned a pre-meeting rebuke from Hamilton.
"Staff has been driving the bus on this one," Hamilton writes. "City Council is supposed to have full access to the information. We're not like PR to support their proposals. Four years from now," she says, "Gary will be retired and on a golf course somewhere when those rates go up, and a howl will be heard from here to Richmond."