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March 04, 2008

Council to take a look at phasing of Ragged Mountain Dam replacement

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The Charlottesville City Council will hold a work session before May to discuss the potential of building a replacement Ragged Mountain Dam in two or more stages. The RWSA is currently planning on building a larger Ragged Mountain dam all at once raising the reservoir’s pool level by 45 vertical feet, but some members of the community say that plan is too expensive.

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Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch addresses Council on phasing

Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch, who is a member of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, says he voted for the Community Water Supply Plan in June 2006 because it provided the option of phasing the expansion of the new Ragged Mountain Dam.

“We advocate taking a phased approach to the Ragged Mountain Dam, and making a serious commitment to preserving our existing water resources at South Fork Reservoir,” Lynch said. He told Council he thought the RWSA has changed the plan since it was submitted to state and federal authorities, and to illustrate this point he read a passage on phasing:

“The first element of the project could be to construct a replacement dam to an initial height that would significantly increase existing yield but that would be short of the ultimate 45 foot [pool level] increase. This would accomplish the objectives of eliminating the dam safety issue at Ragged Mountain and provide adequate safe yield at a manageable cost for a reasonable initial period. Construction of the dam’s first phase  would produce adequate yield to cover the interim period while avoiding the greater capital costs associated with future needs. The dam would be raised to its full height in the future when more users create additional demand and those additional ratepayers would share the cost.”

Lynch said ratepayers are going to see a tremendous spike over the next few years to cover the debt service, and Councilors have to act now to stop it.

“You are responsible for water policy. Not [the RWSA], not their consultants, don’t let them talk them into a bad decision for this community,” Lynch pleaded.

There were no specific items on Council’s agenda on March 3, 2008 to deal with the water supply plan, but Mayor Dave Norris said at the beginning of the meeting that he wanted to discuss the issue under “other business.”

Later in the meeting, Norris then asked his fellow councilors if they had interest in a work session before Council adopts the City’s water rates in May. Those rates will increase to help the RWSA pay for the plan. The agency’s proposed five-year Capital Improvement Plan includes $42.7 million to pay for the full construction of the new dam.

“I think in advance of that we owe it to ourselves and owe it to the taxpayers to get some more information on the table on what the alternatives are in terms of phasing in the plan, and the cost allocation strategy and how it’s going to impact utility bills and not just in the next three years, but the next twenty or thirty years,” Said Norris.

City Councilor David Brown asked what the status of cost-allocation negotiations between the City and County. O’Connell said he is ready to present that to Council in closed session, which could occur at the next regular Council meeting. O’Connell said he supported a work session.

Brown said Albemarle County citizens also needed to be involved in any discussion about the role of dredging South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Councilor Satyendra Huja went even further and asked if the County Board of Supervisors should be involved in the discussion. O’Connell pointed out that the Albemarle County Service Authority, and not the Board, makes the decisions on water supply for the County.

At a community meeting held on September 13, 2007, to discuss phasing, RWSA’s Tom Frederick said building the dam in two phases might be counter-productive, as the surrounding environment would be disrupted twice, and because he said the first phase would need be built to raise the pool level at least 42 feet. The second phase would be to construct a dam extension such that an the pool level could be raised an additional 3 feet, and Frederick said that would not be cost effective.

In an interview with Charlottesville Tomorrow after the Council meeting, Frederick said the RWSA is still open to ideas on phasing the community water supply plan.

Gary O’Connell: No money to build new airport runway now

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Joe Mooney (right) makes his case to Council

Another member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply, City resident Joe Mooney, appeared before Council to clarify a request and suggestion he had made in mid-February to use fill from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to help build the planned runway extension at Charlottesville Regional Airport. He said he phoned Barbara Hutchinson, Executive Director of the Airport Authority, to confirm that they have a need for $50 million worth of dirt to create the space for the new runway.

“In talking to Ms. Hutchinson, what I heard was that their engineer had completed a study and defined a need for 2 million cubic yards of fill at a cost of $44 million, and that they planned to begin with a year,” Mooney said. “It seems to me that this matching or pairing of the airport and the RWSA is just a very common sense kind of thing to explore.” Mooney said.

But City Manager Gary O’Connell, who serves on the Board of Directors for both the RWSA and the airport authority, said there is no money to expand the airport’s runway in the next five years. Instead, O’Connell said expansion should be seen in the context of the airport’s strategic long-term plan. He added that the Airport Authority Board has directed Hutchinson to speak with RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick to explore the possibility of using dredged sediment from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir when the time comes to expand.

“I think it’s important to not mix the two [issues] together,” O’Connell said.

City Councilor Julian Taliaferro repeated his request to have a new estimate for dredging of the South Fork reservoir. O’Connell said the RWSA board looked at dredging extensively during the 2002 drought, but said the permitting process to allow that procedure was too long. “We’ve been seven years trying to get a permit to do something,” O’Connell said.

Sean Tubbs

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