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November 26, 2008

New daily train to DC awaits Commonwealth Transportation Board approval

20080507-Amtrak1

The proposed daily passenger train from Lynchburg to Washington took a big step forward this month.  On November 19, 2008, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VDRPT) unveiled a Six-Year Improvement Plan for Rail Allocations that includes a $39.5 million subsidy to cover the full cost of the Amtrak service.  The VDRPT improvement plan fills a funding gap that had previously been reported.

Other projects included in the Six-Year Plan include engineering and construction of track upgrades for the Crescent Corridor as well as operating subsidies of $17 million to support a three-year demonstration project for both the US29 and I-95 corridors.  VDRPT expects that this proposed funding allocation will be approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) before Fall 2009.

Funding for this first phase of the Transdominion Express comes from the DRPT’s Rail Enhancement Fund, which anticipates public-private partnerships in order to achieve these improvements. Over the next six years, approximately $268 million in state rail capital funding is expected to become available.  Additional private and local matching funds are estimated to total bring the total available funding for capital projects to $481 million. 

In determining the Six-Year Plan, projects were considered that deliver public benefits such as reduced congestion on highways, at ports and at airports and reduced energy consumption.  Additionally, allocations were focused on projects that improve public safety and air quality, support transit oriented development and increased mobility, create jobs and support tourism.  Allocations were directed towards improvements that provide emergency alternative transportation as well as timely and cost effective travel alternatives and freight shipping alternatives.

The new daily train running through Charlottesville is expected to remove 135,432 cars from the road saving 1,191,837 gallons of fuel.  Additionally, this train alone is expected to save 8,897 tons of CO2 emissions according to DRPT estimates.

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Since railroad tracks in Virginia are privately owned by freight rail companies, the schedule and timing of improvements must conform to their business plans.  While Amtrak has the right to use freight rail lines, other commuter rail services must negotiate with private railroads for access to their tracks.


Fania Gordon

Toscano starts preparing legislation for Charlottesville-Albemarle transit authority and sales tax referendum

20081125-RTA-WG
Delegate David Toscano
(D-57) has started preparing two pieces of legislation which would, if enacted by the General Assembly, enable Charlottesville and Albemarle to form a joint Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and allow each locality to hold a voter referendum on a new local sales tax of up to 1 cent.  If a full cent increase on the sales tax was levied, over $25 million would be raised annually to fund transit and transportation projects in the community. 

Download

 DOWNLOAD the Work Group’s guidance related to legislation for sale tax referendum

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The work group of City Councilors and members of the Board of Supervisors who have been facilitating the creation of the RTA met on November 25, 2008 and received an update on the legislative effort.  Toscano’s draft bills will be reviewed by the work group and presented to City Council and the Board of Supervisors for approval before they are submitted formally to the General Assembly for the 2009 session.

While the work group has initially asked Toscano to prepare legislation calling for a new sales tax, the officials acknowledged that legislators in Richmond may have a preference for some other revenue source.  Alternatively, the General Assembly may not want any local government to be empowered to raise a new tax next year.  In October, Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) told the work group that he did not yet have enough information to support what he saw as a “very substantial tax increase,” even if it was only enacted via a successful voter referendum.

The local Chamber of Commerce has said it will also have difficulty supporting a sales tax increase.  Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) updated the work group on his November 13th presentation to the Chamber’s Economic and Government Affairs Committee.  Slutzky said the committee was supportive of the formation of the RTA, but that it preferred for transportation funding to come from the state and that any new revenues be generated from a gas tax.  “What was not so clear was their willingness to embrace up to a penny on the sales tax,” said Slutzky. “They had their strong aversion to that.”

“I think we had an adequate airing of the issues,” said Slutzky.  “I’m sure they fully understand why we ended up with the recommendation of up to a penny on the sales tax.”

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he thought it was important to emphasize that the legislation seeking funding authority was tied to a referendum.  “When you ask someone, ‘Do you want to increase the sales tax?’ Most businessmen are going to say, ‘No,’ said Rooker.  The community, he said, is seeking “support for the public’s right to determine whether or not they will increase the sales tax.”

Slutzky said the Chamber’s Board of Directors would be reviewing the proposal very soon and that they may have additional feedback.  “It would be wonderful if we were to receive some sort of an endorsement for what we are trying to accomplish from the Chamber,” said Slutzky.

20081125-RTA-WG-Huja
City Councilor Satyendra Huja

A common refrain in the questioning of the RTA project by business leaders, legislators, and community members has been, ‘How much money are you going to raise, what road projects would it support, and how much will be earmarked for public transit?’  City Councilor Satyendra Huja suggested it would be helpful if the “draft priority project list” that accompanies the legislative proposal gave some specificity to the amount of funding for transit.  Under transit improvements, the estimated cost column had noted that it was “To Be Determined (some costs are eligible for federal or state funding).”

Mayor Dave Norris said, in part to respond to Delegate Bell’s concerns, that it might be good to place a range on the estimated transit operational costs.  The work group reached consensus to indicate that transit improvements would be expected to receive between $4 million to $8 million annually for operations.  Capital needs, according to the work group, will be largely covered by other state and federal funds.

Bill Watterson, head of the Charlottesville Transit Service (CTS), told Charlottesville Tomorrow after the meeting that his operating budget today is just under $6 million, but that the local contribution from the City and County totaled about $2.75 million.  The operations of CTS would be taken over by the new RTA.  Thus, if the sales tax was approved by the voters and increased by a full penny, with $4-8 million allocated to transit, that would allow for both increased bus operations and for the remaining $17-21 million to be allocated to other transportation projects each year.

The next meeting of the RTA work group has not been scheduled, but is expected to take place after Delegate Toscano receives draft legislation from the Virginia General Assembly’s Legislative Services staff.  City Council and the Board of Supervisors are expected to endorse a final legislative proposal in December or January.

Brian Wheeler

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:30 -- Call to order by Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio), Work Group Chairman
  • 03:52 – David Blount, Legislative Liaison for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC), updates work group on Delegate David Toscano’s (D-58) work on legislative proposals
  • 06:24 – Blount, Slutzky, and Mayor Dave Norris describe flexibility in approach that may be required when negotiations begin during the General Assembly session.
  • 16:00 – Slutzky reports on presentation to Chamber of Commerce’s Economic and Government Affairs Committee
  • 21:35 – Slutzky opens discussion on the sales tax funding option.  Rooker emphasizes that the sales tax authority would be for up to a penny, but it may not be levied at the full amount.
  • 22:20 – Work group discusses possible breakout of funds raised between transit and transportation projects.  Agrees to specify that public transit improvements would be specified in a range of $4-8 million annually for operations.

RWSA discusses financing for upgrade to Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

At their meeting on November 24, 2008, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors approved a resolution of intent that states the RWSA will pay Virginia back up to $33.3 million in loans that will be used to help pay for the now $52.7 million upgrade of the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.  Construction of the project is slated to start sometime next year. 

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Frederick
RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick

There was no monthly report from RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick, and no other business was listed on the agenda. However, RWSA Board Member Gary Fern asked to pull three items off of the consent agenda, and RWSA Board Member Judy Mueller asked to pull another. Fern is the Executive Director of the Albemarle County Service Authority, and Mueller is Charlottesville’s Director of Public Works.

The first item pulled was RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick’s report on on-going projects . The report provided a status update on the proposed upgrade for Moores Creek, which will boost the facility’s ability to remove nutrients from the water it releases into the Rivanna River. The upgrade is necessary to help the RWSA comply with provisions in the Chesapeake Bay Act which require wastewater treatment plants to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous that enter the watershed.

The firm Hazen and Sawyer is finalizing the design for project, which had a cost estimate of $52.7 million when the project reached the 75% design phase. The RWSA has applied for a grant from the Virginia Water Quality Improvement fund to pay for a portion of the project, and is applying for a loan from the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund  to pay for the rest in the short-term.  The resolution of intent to reimburse the state is required by the Internal Revenue Service.

Financing for two other capital projects, the Community Water Supply Plan and the Meadow Creek Interceptor project, remains unclear due to the decline in the bond markets.  RWSA financial staff will present short-term capital financing alternatives to the Board at their meeting in December.

Plant
Preliminary engineering drawring for the Moores Creek ENR project

The progress report mentioned that a meeting between RWSA staff and potential contractors for the upgrade had taken place on November 20, 2008. Gary Fern wanted to know what the interest level from contractors has been.  Bob Wichser, the RWSA’s Operations Director, said over two dozen contractors and subcontractors attended. That implies the actual cost of the project could be lower than the estimate if multiple firms are competing for the project during the economic slowdown. 

“They’re very hungry,” Wichser said. RWSA Engineering Director Jennifer Whitaker said there are at least five contractors who are very interested, and have taken a tour of the facility. The RWSA will hold an open house for the public in early 2009.

Also of note in the report of on-going projects was a reference to a November 2008 deadline imposed on the RWSA by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The two existing dams at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir are operating under a “Class 1 Conditional Operating Certificates” because of their age and obsolete structural design.  To continue operating the dam, the RWSA had been required to submit design documents for the new Ragged Mountain Dam to DCR by the end of November Because that project is now on hold pending further direction from community officials, Frederick told Charlottesville Tomorrow that DCR staff are recommending a further 12-month extension to submit new designs, but will not likely extend the deadline to replace or strengthen the existing dams.

The final item discussed by the board related to review of a site plan for a 5 building complex to be built at the intersection of Route 250 and Luxor Road in the Pantops area. During review by st aff, they discovered that there was an opportunity to build extra capacity that would help the RWSA complete its Southern Loop Water Line. That project would eventually connect the Avon Street Tank and the Pantops Tank with an 18” water main, which would allow “finished” water to be transferred between the South Rivanna and Observatory water treatment plans without hydraulic restrictions. The developer is responsible for re-routing an existing 12” water main at a cost of $40,100, but the RWSA has agreed to pay an additional $9,250 to “over-size” the line to meet future capacity needs by building an 18” line now. If the developer and the Albemarle County Service Authority agree, the item will come back before the RWSA Board in December.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 1:00 - RWSA Chair Michael Gaffney calls the meeting to order, and Board quickly adopts previous minutes
  • 1:45 - Public comment from Dede Smith of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
  • 3:30 - Public comment from Betty Mooney of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
  • 7:20 - Public comment from Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum
  • 9:15 - Public comment from Liz Palmer, Albemarle County resident and member of the ACSA Board of Directors
  • 10:45 -  Gary Fern asks for information on the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade    (Item C)
  • 12:00 - Mueller pulls discussion of "Ultraviolet Disinfection Equipment Pre-Selection" (Item D)
  • 14:45 - Discussion of Item E - Capital Financing
  • 19:00 - Discussion of Item F - Reimbursement resolution and state revolving loan fund
  • 21:00 - Discussion of oversizing of 205 foot water main to serve Luxor Commercial property

Sean Tubbs

November 24, 2008

Council gives lukewarm response to stormwater utility fee

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Jean Haggerty of AMEC Earth and Environmental makes her presentation to Council

The Charlottesville City Council has voted 3-2 to recommend that a proposal for a “water resources protection program” proceed to the next phase of its development. The $2.5 million-a-year program would include the replacement of existing stormwater pipes, and would be paid for in part through the collection of a stormwater fee. The possibility of a new fee led to Councilors Satyendra Huja and Julian Taliaferro to vote against further consideration of the program at this time.

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“Our system is in trouble,” said Environmental Administrator Kristel Riddervold as she began her presentation at Council's meeting on November 17, 2008. She said the “trouble” is because of increasing state and federal regulatory requirements, deteriorating infrastructure that will take at least $3 million to replace, as well as a backlog of $1 million worth of maintenance projects. She said Charlottesville positions itself as a “green city” and that this program would be an example of the kind of environmental stewardship that has won the city awards.

As stormwater runoff makes its way into area waterways, pollutants attach to the water molecules as part of the stream. This leads to contamination of streams as well as major waterways such as the Rivanna River. Municipalities with stormwater systems like Charlottesville must comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Stormwater-chart  
Source: City of Charlottesville

The program was originally before Council in September 2007 and again at a work session in January of this year. An advisory committee has been developing the details of the program with technical assistance from the firm AMEC Earth and Environmental. According to Riddervold’s presentation, the program would cost approximately $2.5 million a year. Currently the City spends about $910,000 from the general fund on maintaining the existing system. Additional funds raised through a stormwater fee would go to enhance the system.

However, Riddervold acknowledged the current financial uncertainty in the opening minute of her presentation.
“We come tonight with our eyes wide open about the budget situation and the economic situation,” Riddervold. “But we are asking Council to consider the proposed program, and to consider the opportunity to tackle what we’re currently faced with and look at a way to get ahead of this issue for the longer term… There are some critical timing issues that we can describe.”

Jean Haggerty of AMEC Earth and Environmental said the existing stormwater system contains many stretches of corrugated metal pipe that are over 50 years old. When those pipes fail, it can lead to flooding, sinkholes and a decline in water quality in streams.  As maintenance is deferred, the problem can get worse. Haggerty said the City must stay within compliance of the Clean Water Act, which is regulated in Virginia by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) through programs such as the Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Program. Participation in the VPDES program costs the City $175,000 a year, according to Haggerty.

Haggerty said a large issue is that City officials do not have a full picture of the existing system.

“There’s bits and pieces that nobody has ever inspected,” Haggerty said.  Part of the water resources protection program would include conducting a full assessment and inventory.   

Haggerty said a stormwater utility fee would be a “fairer way to distribute the costs” of making improvements to the system. The fee would be assessed based on the amount of impervious surfaces on a piece of property.  The committee is proposing that a billing unit would consist of an area of 1,000 square feet, meaning there would be approximately 63,000 billable units in the City. Credits would be given to property owners who can demonstrate they are controlling their own stormwater, through rain gardens or other methods of filtering the water. Haggerty said the main advantage of a stormwater fee would create a permanent stream of revenue to pay for ongoing maintenance as well as debt service for capital projects.

The proposed rate structure sets an initial rate of $2.10 a month per billing unit. A typical homeowner would have two billing units and would pay just over $50 a year and would be included on the real estate tax bill. A commercial building with 10,400 square feet would have 11 billing units, which would cost $277.20 a year.

A resolution to turn the proposal into a City ordinance has not yet been finalized, and Riddervold suggested continuing the public outreach process with an open house.

Councilor David Brown said he supported the program and thought it should be implemented “in an expeditious fashion.” Councilor Holly Edwards acknowledged that the City has to do something to address the stormwater system, but that the timing was not good. She called for more outreach to property owners to educate them on the need for the program.

Councilor Julian Taliaferro said he was concerned that taxpayers are being hit with other utility increases. “We can call it a user fee if we want, but in actuality it’s a tax.” Councilor Satyendra Huja said it was a good program, but it was coming at the wrong time.

“Given the economic situation, and given that other taxes are going up… I am hard-pressed to support it this year,” Huja said. He did not rule out supporting the program when the economy improves, but said it would be “insensitive” to pursue it at this time.  Norris asked O’Connell how the program would be paid for without a stormwater fee.

O’Connell said whether the fee was levied by an additional fee, or through higher property taxes, it would take an equivalent of raising the tax rate by an additional 4 cents. He said more needed to be done to explain the program, and that there might not be time to implement the program given the impending budget cycle. He added that taxpayers who have been told there will not be a tax increase will be confused when they receive a stormwater bill. O’Connell suggested that stormwater is just one of many infrastructure issues that need to be addressed.

“In the bigger scheme of things, I see [the program] as competing with other needs the City has,” O’Connell said.

 Brown defended the program, and said that the bill to fix the stormwater system will come due eventually.

“The problem with doing it the way we do it now is that because you don’t see deteriorating storm sewers… therefore, if it’s a choice between building sidewalks that people see and walk on every day or repairing something that is beyond the point of needing work, it’s an easy spot to cut the budget. That’s the reason why having a fee in the long run becomes an important part of having a program that actually gets somewhere,” Brown said.

Huja said he would be receptive to devoting more Capital Improvement Program funds to stormwater programs. 

After debate, Council voted 3-2 to go forward with the public outreach program, which will be designed to get public feedback on the concept of the program rather than the specific details. Riddervold said she is aiming to schedule a open house for the public for the week of December 8. O’Connell said that if Council does decide to pursue the stormwater utility fee, the ordinance would need to be approved by January.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 1:00 - Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris introduces the item
  • 1:50 - City Environmental Administrator Kristel Riddervold begins her presentation
  • 4:45 - Presentation from Jean Haggerty of AMEC Earth and Environmental 
  • 11:00 - Haggerty discusses the cost of the proposed program
  • 24:00 - Riddervold makes final pitch to Council before their discussion
  • 24:51 - Mayor Norris asks for more information on state mandate
  • 26:00 - Norris asks what other localities have implemented the fee
  • 26:30 - Brown asks question about role GIS would play in enforcing the fee
  • 27:14 - Brown asks if billing units would be averages, or integers
  • 28:00 - Brown asks a question about the issuing of bonds based on revenue stream
  • 28:51 - Councilor Taliaferro asks about taxes on other City utilities
  • 29:50 - Norris asks a question about whether credits would apply to residences as well, and what would qualify
  • 32:11 - Brown asks why the City would continue to pay money from the general fund to continue parts of the program
  • 34:00 - Brown praises the committee that put the proposal
  • 34:20 - Councilor Edwards says she is concerned with the timing of the fee
  • 35:00 - Councilor Huja says the program is a good idea that is coming at the wrong time,   
  • 38:15 - Huja asks City Manager O'Connell for his opinion on the project
  • 29:30 - O'Connell goes through the timing of the fee
  • 44:40 - Norris sums up the discussion
  • 45:50 - Riddervold describes how the public process would proceed
  • 47:37 - Brown defends the program
  • 50:15 - Norris says he hears 3 votes to move forward
  • 51:05 - Riddervold asks for more specific direction on what Council wants to see from the public 
  • 52:30 - Norris says he would favor seeing a scaled back budget for the program
  • 54:30 - Motion made, carries on a 3-2 vote

Albemarle County Planning Commission and Service Authority discuss ways to share info

20081118-Wide

The Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) and the Albemarle County Planning Commission have held a rare joint meeting that was designed to foster greater cooperation and communication between the two bodies. The November 18, 2008 meeting covered topics ranging from better ways to share information, the Planning Commission’s initial thoughts on a future sewer line, and whether homeowners with septic fields in the development area should be compelled to connect to water and sewer service.

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 “These are two bodies that interact through staff, but don’t have an opportunity to sit down around the table and just hear where the other body is coming from,” Morris said.

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Albemarle County Planning Director Wayne Cilimberg (left) and ACSA Executive Director Gary Fern (right)

The first topic for discussion covered how much information the Planning Commission should see on a project’s impacts on water and sewer infrastructure before making a decision on a rezoning. Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning, said that ACSA, Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and Community Development staff met before the joint meeting to discuss ways to streamline the exchange of information. Cilimberg said ACSA staff want to receive more data on proposed projects, including square footage, the number of dwelling units requested, and building heights.

“Also, an interest was expressed that we try to determine where within projects there may be existing public lines and easements needed so that developers are aware of what they need to make allowance for,” Cilimberg said. “We talked a little about Albemarle Place  as one example of a project that actually did very early in its review… have identified the limitations of the Meadowcreek Interceptor.”

However, while the RWSA and the ACSA were aware that the interceptor could not accommodate the full build-out of Albemarle Place, that information did not stop the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors from approving a rezoning in 2003.  One recent innovation has been that County planning staff is now sending packets to the RWSA as well as the ACSA for their review.

“It’s safe to say in the rezoning process that you don’t normally have the specific details pinned down and it’s a little tough to know how the mix of uses will play out over years. These projects can be 5, 10, 20 year projects. Realizing that, there’s still some good information on what both authorities have in their plans for infrastructure, [how] developers believe their projects are going to develop in terms of phasing and timing, and try to mesh those two together to have a better understanding of how the projects going to fit in the bigger picture.”

Gary Fern, Executive Director of the ACSA, said his organization knows that developers often do not have a full picture of how their projects will be developed. But, he wants developers to share whatever information they can. Fern explained that the ACSA will enter into agreements with developers to assure that infrastructure will be in place when it is needed. A recent example of this is the agreement signed by the developers of Biscuit Run to guarantee they will pay for the upgrades to the Biscuit Run Interceptor when it reaches 80% of its capacity.

Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) remarked that the ACSA is not present during rezoning, unlike the Virginia Department of Transportation, which weighs in on the necessary transportation infrastructure required. She called for the ACSA to find a way to become more transparent in communicating its needs in future developments.

The second topic for the meeting concerned the ACSA’s future infrastructure needs. The ACSA is currently preparing the plans for a North Fork Regional Pump Station that could satisfy capacity in Albemarle’s northern development area until 2030. After that, the ACSA is considering the possibility of building a gravity-fed sewer line along the North Fork Rivanna River to take sewage to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.  

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ACSA Board Member John Martin

ACSA Member John Martin (White Hall) expressed the concern that a gravity sewer line would open the nearby rural area to development. “There a lot of land there that is owned by developers who obviously think it’s in the rural area and they’re going to [have a ]view to develop it someday,” Martin said. “Maybe they should, and maybe we’re going to need it. But, we have to be careful making the decisions. Building that pipeline could accelerate that process when we don’t want to.”

Planning Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall) said it would be prudent to make those decisions within the context of the master planning process. Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) said he wanted to see a specific plan before weighing in.

Wayne Cilimberg said that there was a precedent for running water and sewer lines through the rural area, pointing to the Crozet interceptor and the extension of water lines to the Village of Rivanna. ACSA Attorney Jim Bowling said a water line to Stillhouse Mountain is another example.

“If the political will is there, there’s nothing wrong with a cross-country interceptor, a limited access interceptor,” Bowling said. Strucko said that the County’s policy of not developing the rural areas had stood up over time. Loach was less confident and said decisions made by the Board of Supervisors can always change the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) said the County should be doing whatever it can to look at new land that can be developed in order to boost economic development.

ACSA Board Member Jim Colbaugh (Scottsville) said that a gravity-fed sewer line would be more optimal than a pumped line from an engineering perspective. He also said that many septic tanks along the span of the North Fork Rivanna River could fail, and that should be taken into consideration.

20081118-Wagner
ACSA Chair Don Wagner

Another topic concerned whether homes in the ACSA’s jurisdictional area (roughly the development area) should be compelled to connect to water and sewer lines. Some homes in the Northfields subdivision are reluctant to connect because they would be forced to pay a large connection fee in order to do so. Martin said there are many different opinions on how to proceed. Don Wagner said that in his 25 years on the ACSA Board, the Department of Health has never made that a requirement.

Loach asked how big a problem the County faced with failing septic fields. Fern said that there are other subdivisions that have pockets of failing systems that the ACSA would like to connect, but the issue comes with how to pay for it.

“If we do it with our rates, existing ratepayers would pay for expansion of the system, and the service authority’s mantra has been growth pays for growth,” Fern said. Colbaugh said the ACSA would gladly extend service to existing subdivisions, but that all existing homeowners would not be willing to spend the money to connect. He estimated that only 25% would pay to connect. Loach asked if there were any ways to finance the construction, echoing the same questions made when the ACSA met with the Board of Supervisors. Palmer said the ACSA is in a ‘discovery phase’ of trying to find additional solutions.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

  • 1:00 - Meeting called to order by Planning Commission Chairman Cal Morris
  • 2:30 - Morris asks participants to introduce themselves
  • 4:00 - Albemarle County Planning Director Wayne Cilimberg discusses why meeting was called
  • 4:51 - First item of discussion begins - How can Planning Commission be better notified of water-sewer infrastructure decisions made by ACSA
  • 12:30 - Comments from Gary Fern, Executive Director of the ACSA
  • 13:50 - Commissioner Eric Strucko explains his concerns of the Biscuit Run agreement
  • 16:30 - Commissioner Marcia Joseph says she thinks cooperation has improved since Biscuit Run
  • 19:30 - ACSA Board Member Liz Palmer asks how extra information from ACSA helped PC decision on Yancey Mills
  • 20:47 - ACSA Board Member Jim Colbaugh explains how the ACSA funds its project - through connection fees
  • 22:15 - Palmer points out there are situations where connection fees would be waived, followed by explanation by ACSA Chair Don Wagner. Wagner then talks about how developers can be asked to pay for oversizing
  • 24:20 - Joseph says VDOT assists PC with seeing what
  • 26:00 - ACSA Board Member John Martin agrees with Joseph that communication has improved since Biscuit Run, but discusses how the agreement might
  • 27:40 - ACSA Board Member Clarence Roberts asks Planning Commissioners if they conduct impact statements on projects
  • 29:00 - Strucko answers Roberts by saying that County staff to provide a fiscal impact statement for projects
  • 33:00 - Palmer asks Commissioners if they are bothered by the tipping point of 80%, Joseph responds
  • 37:00 - Joseph asks how involved the ACSA has been with master planning efforts in the County
  • 38:30 - Martin previews the decisions being made regarding the North Fork Pump Station
  • 39:30 - Cilimberg comments on ACSA involvement in master planning process
  • 42:00 - Cilimberg switches topic to second item on agenda - Does PC mind if sewer lines run through rural areas?
  • 42:30 - Gary Fern details the ACSA's future needs
  • 45:30 - Martin says he wants the decision to be made in the correct way
  • 47:00 - Planning Commissioner Tom Loach says it would be prudent to restrict lines to the development area
  • 48:00 - ACSA Board Member Jim Colbaugh describes the merits of gravity-fed streams
  • 49:30 - Morris asks what the plans are for the possibility of more septic tanks failing
  • 50:20 - Martin begins discussion of Northfields, a water-only subdivision that is now having sewers installed by the ACSA
  • 53:30 - Loach asks if there is any way for homeowners to finance sewer construction, prompting discussion
  • 56:00 - Wagner discusses the history and short future of the Camelot Treatment Plant regarding the North Fork Rivanna sewer line
  • 58:45 - Strucko said he needed to see more information on the gravity sewer line concept before he could weigh in
  • 59:40 - Cilimberg compares the North Fork discussion with the precedent of Crozet interceptor and extension of water lines to Village of Rivanna
  • 1:02:45 - Commissioner Linda Porterfield says she supports development of the rural area
  • 1:05:33 - Commission is briefed on the Oak Hill sewer extension project
  • 1:07:45 - John Martin calls the Oak Hill project "the most exciting in town" because the ACSA may get federal funding
  • 1:09:45 - Loach how big a problem the County faces with failing septic fields
  • 1:12:30 - Bowling discusses the initial studies of extending sewer system that were made 10 years ago
  • 1:16:00 - Strucko asks for cost estimate for Oak Hill extension ($500,000)
  • 1:19:00 - Fern returns to details of $10.7 million North Fork Regional Pump Station
  • 1:34:30 - Martin points out his questions with the North Fork Regional Pump Station
  • 1:38:20 - Loach asks how rates might go up to pay for NFRPS - Fern says no info at this time

November 21, 2008

Supervisor Thomas provides update on work of reservoir task force

Thomas
Sally Thomas presents progress report to the PACC

The Chair of the South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force gave a preliminary report on the group’s progress to the Planning and Coordination Council (PACC) at their meeting on November 20, 2008..  The PACC consists of representatives from the City Council, Board of Supervisors and University of Virginia and meets on a quarterly basis to address issues of common interest to the three groups.  The report given by Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) represented her views and not those of the   Task Force.

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Thomas said it is likely that some form of dredging will be recommended for the South Fork Reservoir at some point because sedimentation has formed islands behind fallen trees and along the edges of the reservoir and is decreasing its water storage capacity.  According to Thomas’ report, dredging would help to meet the projected fifty year water supply demand but it would not fully meet its requirements.  Dredging South Fork is not a requirement of the approved water supply plan. [Editor's note: See correction in comment below]

A potential issue raised by Thomas was that the bottom of the reservoir could possibly contain stumps and debris that would prevent effective dredging.  Additionally, one acre of hardened land is necessary for the dredge to enter the water and refuel.  Studies would need to be done on the impact of that land use on local soil erosion.  It has been suggested that the dredges could enter the reservoir by way of Ivy Creek, the Task Force is currently examining if the bridge at Ivy Creek is too low to make that a feasible entry point.

According to Thomas, “recreation is probably the strongest reason to dredge.”  The UVA Rowing Team, whose former members have won several Olympic medals, uses the reservoir for practice.  Hydrilla, an invasive plant species has been growing in their typical practice routes due to the increased sedimentation.  The rowers only need a 4ft deep channel in order to practice but to stifle the hydrilla the channel needs to be at least 10 feet deep.

Thomas reported that the differences in cost predicted for dredging do not come from the cost of removing the sediment itself, but rather the cost of “what you do with the mud” after it has been removed from the reservoir.   The Task Force was briefed by a representative from the Charlottesville Airport who said that the airport may have found enough soil on site to meet their need and therefore they would not be interested in purchasing the dredged sediment.  Furthermore, according to FAA standards, the airport cannot use any soil that may contain fish or other wildlife that would attract birds to the runway.

Thomas said, “it’s a symbolic concern,” that people are so worried about their water supply, and that people do not want to witness the “death” of the reservoir.  However, she pointed out, “it’s not unusual what we’re seeing,” many other places have experienced similar problems, but “we could be leaders” in finding creative solutions to deal with the sedimentation.

Norris-o-connell
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris and City Manager Gary O'Connell

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, who sits on the PACC, expressed surprise that there are no better records of whether or not stumps had been removed before the reservoir was filled. Additionally, he asked if dredging would affect water quality.  Thomas responded that while the plans for the reservoir set forth that the stumps were to be removed, eyewitnesses have come forward saying that it may not have happened.  As far as water quality goes, Thomas said that screens can be installed when dredging begins to ensure the water coming out of the reservoir is as free from debris as possible.  She did say that there is more concern that the pumps used to transport the sediment away from the reservoir are gasoline powered and therefore a plan would have to be made to ensure that they did not contaminate the drinking water in any way. 

The task force will next meet on December 8, 2008 to continue its deliberations.


Fania Gordon







   

RWSA Operations Director discusses how dredging might affect reservoir’s water quality

Third of three stories

Wichser
RWSA Operations Director Bob Wichser presents to the task force

The final speaker at the November 13th, 2008 meeting of the South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force dealt with another angle for the group to consider. If the reservoir is dredged, how would that alter the quality of the drinking water that the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority supplies to the community?

Bob Wichser, the RWSA’s Operations Director, spent about thirty minutes exploring that question.  He described how the reservoir is fed by a series of streams. As the water pours into the reservoir, sediments come along for the ride, carrying a variety of chemicals and nutrients that have attached to the sediment particles. These sediments will largely settle to the bottom, but nutrients such as phosphorous will periodically be pulled back into the water due to changes in pressure and temperature.

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“Remember that a reservoir is a physical, chemical biological process,” Wichser said. Operators of the South Fork Water Treatment Plant monitor water quality and modify the way they treat the raw water. “As we get more sediment in, they will be required to add different chemicals to remove those sediments.” Alum, or aluminum sulfate, is used to remove much of the sediment. The amount of sediment in the water is measured by something called turbidity. 

Rwsa-dredge-pipe
Source: RWSA

Wichser provided an example of how dredging would release chemicals from the reservoir’s floor. The suction dredge pipe would remove solids, but Wichser estimates that as much as 80% of what comes through the pipe would be water. He also said there are biological organisms that live in the section of the reservoir floor called the “sediment/water interface.”

Wichser said there were two potential ways in which water quality would be affected by dredging. First, there would be a short-term increase in the level of suspended sediment in the areas in which the dredge was operating. One way to mitigate this would be to use something called a “double silt curtain,” but Wichser said the curtain might not prevent radical drops in oxygen. As the dredge pipe sucks up water, the disturbance to the bottom of the reservoir could cause plumes of sediment-heavy water to form.

Plumes are columns of liquid that have a different density than the water in which they are suspended, and these oxygen-depleted plumes float through the reservoir. Depending on their size, Wichser said they can create temporary dead-zones which would lead to fish-kills. These plumes would be more likely in warmer months, because water in colder temperatures retains more oxygen. For that reason, Wichser recommended avoiding dredging in April and May, when fish are spawning.

The other potential threat would come from a fuel spill from one of the dredging barges, which Wichser said would affect the water up to ten feet below the surface. The barges carry between 300 and 800 gallons of fuel.

“There is the potential if there was a fuel spill that the water plant would have to be taken off-line until the fuel spill either passed or we could ensure that the [chemicals] from the fuel spill are not being taken in,” Wichser said. He added the water treatment plant does not have the ability to treat water contaminated with petroleum products. Any spill must be immediately reported to the federal National Response Center  and the Virginia Department of Health would not allow the plant to go back online until it could be proven that hazardous chemicals such as benzene were not entering the treated water supply. Wichser said that could take as much as 48 hours. 

Wichser concluded his presentation by discussing a study that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Effects Research Laboratory conducted on the impacts of dredging on the environment.

“It concluded that the environmental impacts of small-scale dredging events in urbanized areas are likely to be localized and of short-term environmental consequences,” Wichser said. “It’s telling you that mother nature is very resilient and the system will repair itself.”

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 1:00 - Bob Wichser, Operations Director for the RWSA
  • 9:20 - Wichser describes what might happen to the chemistry of the reservoir during dredging
  • 12:20 - Wichser discusses effects of dredging on water quality
  • 18:20 - Wichser discusses the threat from plumes

November 20, 2008

University of Virginia water consumption increases for third straight year

A currently running video promoting sustainability at the University of Virginia makes this claim: “Through conservation efforts, water usage at UVA dropped six years in a row, despite a larger University population and the construction of new facilities.” While this statement is technically true, those six years were from 1999 through 2005. For the last three years, both total water consumption and water consumption per person has risen.

Based upon data provided to Charlottesville Tomorrow by the University, total water usage has declined by 27.2% since 1999 (183 million gallons less in 2007-08) and during a period in which the University grew its facilities by 35% (gross square feet). However, the University of Virginia Facilities Management Department also reports that the trend of declining usage ended in 2005 and has been rising ever since. The total water consumption of 489 million gallons for fiscal year 2007-2008, is an increase of 12 million gallons from the prior fiscal year.

WaterChartTotal

Because the University uses approximately 7 - 8% of the total water distributed by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA), these figures are relevant to the ongoing discussion over the adopted 50-year water supply plan.

UVA purchases the vast majority of its water from the City of Charlottesville, and a small portion (under 5%) from the Albemarle County Service Authority. Both of these bodies are the only two customers of the RWSA. One of the central questions the RWSA faces as it evaluates its water supply plan is accurately projecting demand for the entire urban service area over the next 50 years.. In May of 2004, Gannett Fleming, a consultant to the RWSA, released a document projecting demand to 2055. The demand analysis purported to take “water conservation and drought management “ into account as well as development preferences stated in the comprehensive plans. They predicted a demand of 14.5 Million Gallons a Day (MGD) by 2025 and 18.7 MGD by 2055. In comparison, the average daily water use in 2007 was 9.93 MGD.

  WaterChartPer

Some citizens have taken issue with these projections. Greg Harper, Water Resources Manager for Albemarle County, issued a report as a private citizen in May 2008 suggesting that residents of Charlottesville-Albemarle county possessed the ability to achieve a higher water conservation target than Gannett Fleming accounted for in its calculations. While the Gannett Fleming estimated an annual conservation rate of 5%, Harper set the bar higher at 15%, reasoning that the community demonstrated their ability to conserve by reducing usage by 20% during the 2002 drought. The local group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan offers a similar alternative projection.

In the context of this debate, an assessment of the University’s track record on water conservation could assist the community in determining which projection is most realistic. The University can set building design guidelines related to water use that exceed state and federal requirements. With complete control over its facilities, the University can, for example, mandate low flow toilets and shower heads whereas the City and County would have to motivate the public to voluntarily conserve or pass ordinances to mandate new restrictions.

The University has been implementing several conservation measures, from replacing shower heads with more efficient models to no longer washing buses and service vehicles. The Meadow Creek Stormwater Management Plan, which won national engineering awards in 2007, has created the Dell pond on Emmet Street, which is being used as a non-potable water source for landscaping. The University estimates, according to the Greener Grounds website, that these conservation efforts have reduced water consumption by 4.5% of what it would be without these measures in place.

Nevertheless, this amount of conservation has not been able to reduce total consumption. According to David Neuman, Architect for the University of Virginia, the University of Virginia is growing its enrollment slower than any other institution of higher learning in Virginia. Yet the University’s student enrollment is growing, with an increase of .07% from last year. This rate of growth can be expected into the foreseeable future, because the State of Virginia mandates an increase of at least 150 students per year. However, this growth cannot fully account for the increases in water consumption. The usage rates per person have also seen a modest rise.

One explanation offered by the University for this upward trend is the amount of water needed for heating and cooling the campus facilities. Like many other universities around the county, UVA heats and cools its buildings with a centralized system of steam tunnels. Steam is created through two main boilers, located on Central Grounds and North Grounds, and transmitted to radiators in the individual buildings, and the condensed water is returned through pipes back to the central boiler.

KevinCollins
A steam tunnel under UVA - Source: Kevin Collins

While this system is generally considered to be energy efficient, it does require a constant input of clean water to run. According to a UVA website, “roughly 25 percent of water usage at UVA is consumed in the heating and chiller plants to heat/cool our buildings and process applications for research, animal care, and patient care.“ Any change in the number of days requiring heating or cooling from year to year will result in a corresponding change in the amount of water needed.

The effort to determine exactly how much water the RWSA will need is ongoing. The City of Charlottesville recently called for the creation of an expert panel to further investigate the 50-year water supply plan. Both the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the board of directors of the Albemarle County Service Authority ACSA has requested a meeting with the City over this decision. On Tuesday, November 25, 2008 the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will meet with the Charlottesville City council to discuss the reopening of water supply review.

Daniel Nairn

Council votes to support legislation for local funding options for transit and transportation

Trolley_rta

The Charlottesville City Council has voted to support legislation that would allow the City and Albemarle County to hold a referendum on up to a one-cent sales tax that would pay for a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) as well as other transportation projects. A working group of Supervisors and Councilors are still crafting the legislation in advance of next year’s General Assembly session. They’ll meet on Tuesday, November 25, 2008 to determine how to proceed. 

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Council has already indicated its support for the legislation when it approved the City’s legislative program. Council has also voted to support enabling legislation that would allow the RTA to be formed.  

“What’s before you tonight is a document that has come through the RTA working group that provides a little more detail and outline to that proposed one-cent sales tax increase,” said Craig Brown, Charlottesville’s City Attorney.  Here are the four points covered in the draft legislation, taken verbatim from the motion Council adopted:

  • The City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle would be authorized to levy a local sales tax of up to one cent to be designated and spent solely for the purposes of transit and transportation initiatives.
  • This local sales tax shall be levied only if the tax is approved in a referendum within the City or County in accordance with Virginia Code § 24.2-684 initiated by a resolution of the local governing body.
  • The amount of the local sales tax, not to exceed one cent, would be adopted by ordinance. The transit and transportation initiatives to be funded by the local sales tax would be determined by each locality.
  • The initiatives would be limited to transit costs, including funding for each locality’s share of the cost of a Regional Transit Authority, and transportation projects selected from the region’s Constrained Long Range Plan, the City’s Urban Road Program, or the County’s Secondary Road

Other communities across Virginia had flirted with the idea of pursuing regional authorities as a way of generating local funds for transportation and transit projects. Jurisdictions in the Richmond area have opted not to go forward for this year.  Brown said the prognosis did not look good for Charlottesville-Albemarle’s efforts.

“The prospects for this being passed this year by the General Assembly are not good,” Brown said.
After making a motion to approve the specific legislative request, Councilor Satyendra Huja said he did not see any reference to the fall-back options that are available to some other regional authorities under HB3202 (legislation approved in 2007). Attorney  Brown said the request would be submitted to the state Division of Legislative Services to draft the legislation, and that the area’s legislators can be made aware of the fall-back position. 

Sean Tubbs

November 19, 2008

City begins FY2010 budget cycle; Council adopts guidelines that assume no tax rate increase

20081117-CC-Beauregard

The City of Charlottesville has officially kicked off its budget season now that the City Council has adopted staff’s recommended guidelines for how the budget will be shaped. Budget Director Leslie Beauregard presented an overview of the process and shared the latest financial forecast with Council at their meeting on November 17, 2008.

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Beauregard reported that City is still expecting to see an increase in revenue collection through FY2014, though the rate of growth is much slower than in recent years. However, Beauregard says revenues are not increasing enough to cover the increasing cost of local government services. The City is still trying to fill a $1.78 million shortfall for the current fiscal year, but will have a clearer picture by the end of the calendar year of how much revenue will be generated by real estate taxes. Other City taxes on meals and lodging, sales and BPOL are also declining in growth.  Beauregard warned that Governor Tim Kaine might make further cuts to the state aid to local government program in the current fiscal years’ budget.

Budget-slide1
A slide from Beauregard's presentation

“As of right now, we’re looking at 1% growth on residential and commercial, which is dramatically less than what we’ve seen in past years which has been double-digits,” Beauregard said. Staff had anticipated a 4% increase. Beauregard said the City is not anticipating revenue trends to increase for the next five years.

“Revenues have dropped dramatically and we don’t see this turning around any time soon,” she said. She said a “revenue team” of City budget officials is meeting every month to review the data, more frequently in the previous year.  Beauregard said the City is saving money by delaying capital projects, canceling a planned launch of ambulance services, freezing 13 positions, and by not granting market salary adjustments.  She said City agencies are conserving between 11% and 18% of their normal energy consumption.

With the general threat of further revenue reductions, Beauregard sought Council’s input on how the City can meet its mandated requirement of adopting a balanced budget for FY2010, which begins on July 1, 2009. Beauregard said the budget process is clouded by an incomplete revenue picture as well as uncertainty over what programs will need to be cut to balance FY2009. Staff has already put together a draft Capital Improvement Budget which will be heard by the Planning Commission at a work session on November 25, 2008.

“What we have presented is a dramatically cut CIP with no new projects funded,” Beauregard said. For the operating budget, departments are being asked to submit flat budgets as well as 10% reduction plans. Departments cannot make any new requests for funding unless they can find their own revenue or unless the request is offset by equivalent cuts. Both the City and the County have sent letters to outside agencies telling them not to submit requests for new funding in the next fiscal year.

Beauregard listed 15 guidelines for how the FY2010 budget will be put together, and here are some of them:

  • Budget to assume current tax rate of $0.95 per $100 of assessed value
  • Use performance measures to help make budget decisions that support budget priorities related to City Council’s Strategic Vision and Priorities”
  • Continue allocating up to 40% of new City real estate and property tax revenue to schools
  • “Conduct agency review jointly with Albemarle County, the Commission on Children and Families, and the United Way to scrutinize agency requests for program alignment with Council’s priority areas.”
  • “Transfer at least 3% of general fund operating expenditures to the Capital Improvement Fund”
  • Continue budgeting for a Council Reserve
  • City will use the ongoing efficiency study to assist in budgetary decisions – a report will be ready in February according to Assistant City Manager Maurice Jones
  • "Budget a Fund Balance Target Adjustment pool of funds to help ensure that the City continues to meet the important financial policy of maintaining an unappropriated fund balance in the General Fund equal to 12% of the City’s operating budget"
  • The City will receive $18 million from the County in revenue sharing for FY2010, a $4 million increase from the previous year. Beauregard is recommending that 30% to 50% of that amount be put into a reserve fund to help with shortfalls in future years.

Councilor Satyendra Huja said he would like to see at least some of the $18 million from County revenue sharing go to pay for CIP projects and one-time expenditures. O’Connell said staff suggests putting into a reserve because of the uncertain revenue picture.

“Our sense is with the revenue sharing money we would be able to set that aside and you could look at it year-by-year,” O’Connell said. He suggested Council consider building a large reserve to weather the current and future downturns.

Councilor David Brown said it was important that Council not sacrifice maintenance needs to balance the budget. “We need to look hard at making sure we don’t fall further behind on critical capital needs,” Brown said. O’Connell said the budget would be developed based on priorities given to staff at Council’s retreat. He pointed out that the second priority was “Repairing Aging Infrastructure.”

“What we’re going to try to protect are things that are major maintenance kinds of items,” O’Connell said. “One of the things we did while the economy was really good was invest in major buildings and major facilities that had not gotten attention over time… Part of the suggestion as we move into next year’s budget is to slow down some of those major investments.”

The City’s current  budget is nearly $127.3 million for operations in FY2009, an increase of 4.27% over the previous year. That includes nearly $7.7 million in County revenue sharing.  The remaining amount was transferred to the CIP Fund ($3.9 million), Charlottesville housing fund ($900,000), the Facilities Repair Fund ($550,000) and the Equipment Replacement Fund ($584,950).

Citizens will have many opportunities to give their opinions on how next year’s budget should be shaped. In addition to numerous work sessions and public hearings, the City is conducting an online budget survey. On February 11, 2009, the budget will be released by the City Manager’s Office. It will be formally presented to City Council on March 2, 2009 followed by a series of work sessions before being adopted in a special meeting on April 14, 2009.

Sean Tubbs