The Charlottesville City Council
will vote on June 2, 2008
to set the water and wastewater rates for City residents and businesses. They’ll also take a new vote to indicate whether the City supports the implementation of the 50 year community water supply plan, which was adopted unanimously by a previous Council in June 2006. Whatever Council’s decision, it will be informed in part by the recent three-hour Council work session
on whether dredging should be a component of the plan, as well as the two hour public hearing held earlier this week.
There were roughly two camps among the thirty-four people who spoke at the meeting, and both sides traded applause throughout the evening. One group consisted of the opponents of the plan, who think dredging should be done first before a new dam is built at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. The second group was made up of business leaders, citizens and environmentalists who say the existing plan is the best way to proceed.
OPPONENTS MAKE THEIR CASE
Former Mayor Francis Fife, a past member of the RWSA Board, said he was astounded the organization did not consider dredging more carefully. Susan Smith, representing the Ednam Forest Association, urged Council to delay implementation of the plan if dredging could prevent the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
Tom Olivier, Conservation Chair for the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, said his group still supports the adopted water supply plan, but added they now want dredging to be reconsidered as a key component. Colette Hall of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association said she should not have to pay higher rates to support future generations. City Resident Downing Smith said the City should dredge now, and wait at least another 10 years before adding on to the dam.
Former City Councilor Kevin Lynch largely repeated the information he presented at the May 6, 2008 work session on the water supply plan, and criticized the permit for using faulty population data. Lynch also handed Councilors and reporters a written version of his plan
. Rich Collins, a fellow member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, said the group will be traveling to Richmond on Friday to ask the Department of Environmental Quality
to reconsider the permit it issued in February
Sam Freilich, whose property adjoins the Ragged Mountain Natural Area, doubted that the proposed $56 million pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir would be technically feasible, given that it would have to travel 9 and a half miles uphill. Keith Rosenfeld doubted the RWSA would be able to obtain the right of way for the pipeline.
Engineer Martin Chapman, whose company Indoor Biotechnologies tests water quality, said Council did not have enough information about dredging alternatives. James King said the RWSA should pay for a bathymetric study of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.
Betty Mooney, who helped organize the Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan group, said the current Council would be remembered for killing trees if they allow the plan to be implemented. She also said many people cannot afford the higher water rates that will result. Her husband, Joe Mooney, concluded the public hearing by issuing a six point plan of action for Council, which involves repairing the Ragged Mountain Dam rather than expanding it. SUPPORTERS URGE AFFIRMATION OF ADOPTED PLAN
Rod Gentry, president of Union Bank and Trust, urged the Council to show leadership and continue to support the plan. Martha Levering, representing the Natural Resources Committee of the League of Women Voters, said the adopted plan is the “least environmentally damaging solution.” City Resident James Nix said spending money on dredging would divert money from capital improvements to increase reliable storage.
County Resident Jim Kennan said further delay would increase the construction costs, raising the price tag for the whole plan. That sentiment was echoed by City Resident Bob Hodous and Timothy Hulbert, President of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Robbi Savage, Executive Director of the Rivanna Conservation Society (RCS), acknowledged that “planning ahead can be tough” but said Council needed to take steps to make sure there is enough clean drinking water for “our children and our children’s children.” Jason Halbert, also with RCS, said Albemarle County and Greene County should do more to control sedimentation in the Rivanna River Basin “before one dime is spent on dredging” the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. David Hirschman, who supports the adopted plan, said the community needed to decide what role it wanted that Reservoir to play before undertaking a dredging program.
RCS Member Leslie Middleton called on Council to follow the legacy of City leaders who in 1908 built a second dam at Ragged Mountain, when it was clear that the first one built in 1885 was not enough to meet the needs of the community.
“This second dam has helped meet our needs for a 100 years, and we have benefitted from this investment since then,” Middleton said. “It is now our turn to invest in a plan that provides for at least the next 50 years, and we certainly hope more. We should bear this cost, and should be willing to bear this cost because it is our turn to bear it.” COUNCIL COMMENTS
Council took no action after the public hearing, but Mayor Dave Norris
asked his Councilors if they had any reactions to the hearing.
Councilor David Brown
, who is the only sitting member of Council to vote for the plan’s adoption in 2006, said he did not think there was any doubt that the water supply needed to be expanded, even as the community gets used to conserving water. He pointed to climate forecasts which show the southeastern United States will be dryer in the near future.
“If dredging alone can’t solve the problem, then the economics favor building the dam,” Brown said. “If you have to raise the dam part of the way, it doesn’t cost much more to raise it the rest of the way, and that negates any savings that occur from dredging being cheaper then you thought it was going to be.”
Brown went on to say he was not prepared to make the same assumptions being made by opponents of the adopted plan, who say demand will not be as high as the RWSA projects in 2055 because of increased conservation and lower population growth.
“I’m not prepared to go along with those assumptions,” Brown said. “The risks of not being conservative in your estimating are significant… I think we have to err on the side of being careful.”
Councilor Holly Edwards
urged both sides of the debate to refrain from attacking each other, and added that the African American community has not been engaged in the discussion.
“The Rivanna River belongs to all of us, and in the past, African Americans weren’t a part of the decision process, but we’re there now so we need to be present,” Edward said.
Councilor Julian Taliaferro
said he wants to make a decision and move forward. “This thing has gone on far too long,” he said.
Mayor Norris acknowledged the City and County have not taken good care of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. He agreed with some speakers who argued the RWSA Board of Directors did not adequately represent citizens, given that four of its members are City or County employees. Norris cautioned against making direct comparisons between different dredging plans.
“I think it’s important when we talk about the competing visions and competing proposals that we compare apples to apples,” Norris said. “We hear occasionally people say ‘Why would you consider a $140 million plan when this company can do it for $20 million. That’s not an accurate comparison, and I think the public needs to know that.”
Norris also reminded Downing Smith that the state Department of Environmental Quality requires a 30-year planning horizon, but encourages a 50 year plan. “It would certainly be much easier if we could just plan for 15 years, because then we could do it by dredging alone,” he said. “But I agree with Dr. Brown that we can’t do it by dredging alone, and I think even Kevin Lynch has not made the argument we can’t do it by dredging alone.”
Norris said the community needed to move forward with an examination of dredging, though not necessarily as part of the water supply plan. He said he would introduce a motion before the RWSA’s June Board Meeting to direct the City’s representatives (Public Works Director Judy Mueller and City Manager Gary O’Connell) to move forward with a feasibility study as well as the creation of a task force on the future of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.