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November 13, 2008

Supervisors delay update of water resources portion of comprehensive plan

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The Albemarle County Comprehensive Plan contains five sections that provide guidance on how and where the County may grow. The Natural Resources and Cultural Assets section was last adopted in March of 1999, and continues to reflect that year’s assumptions about how the community’s 50-year water supply plan would be developed. The document references the possibility that the County’s Buck Mountain property in Free Union would be studied as one potential reservoir site to increase the community’s water supply.

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With the discovery of the James River spineymussel in the Buck Mountain Creek watershed, that option was later dismissed because it was felt that it would not be determined by state and federal regulators to be the “least environmentally impacting” of the many other alternatives that were presented.

After a long planning process, the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County adopted a water supply plan in June 2006 that would increase drinking water capacity by building a bigger dam at the existing Ragged Mountain Reservoir which would be filled by a new pipeline from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Land purchased by the RWSA to build a reservoir at Buck Mountain, it was determined, would be used to offset the environmental impacts of streams inundated at Ragged Mountain .

When the Board reaffirmed the water supply plan earlier this year, that triggered a review by Community Development staff of the water resources portion of the Comprehensive Plan to reflect the Board’s current direction. Staff submitted a revision to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors that included the following changes, according to Chief of Planning David Benish:

  • Remove detailed discussion of outdated water supply studies, transfers discussion to the comprehensive plan’s Utilities section
  • Removes discussion of North fork Water Supply (including the Buck Mountain option) and Chris Greene Lake to update with current plans and to eliminate redundancies in Utilities section
  • Updates and simplifies list of major watershed management planning actions in the County
  • Adds a new section which discusses the County-wide supply planning required by the Commonwealth, and differentiates this from the plan recently completed for the Urban Service area

The Planning Commission held a work session on July 29, 2008 and recommended adoption of the amendment after a public hearing on September 16, 2008.  The Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the changes at their meeting on November 12, 2008. Chairman Ken Boyd (Rivanna) told the audience that the public hearing time was not meant to be used as an opportunity to address the water supply in general.  He reminded the audience that the Board would be discussing the rising cost of the plan during a November 25th joint meeting with the City Council, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors, and the Albemarle County Service Authority’s Board of Directors.

However, opponents of the adopted plan made their comments anyway, and urged Supervisors to reconsider the plan. Bernard Williams of Ivy said the County should be frugal and spend money restoring capacity to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, rather than building new infrastructure. Pat Keats of the Key West area said the County should reconsider the adopted plan because the City of Charlottesville has “put a red flag” on the dam and the pipeline’s cost and feasibility.

Betty Mooney

Three speakers said the County should not remove Buck Mountain as a potential water supply option. Rich Collins of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said evidence of the James River spineymussel in the Buck Mountain watershed was “rumor and hearsay.” Dede Smith wanted the Board to clarify why Buck Mountain was removed from consideration, and asked if a live specimen had ever been found in its watershed. Betty Mooney said she has requested and has not been given documentation that the creature lives there.

Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council said that the opponents of the plan are selectively presenting facts to make their claims, and likened the process to “swift-boating.”

“I’m offended that people who I held in high esteem are so determined to obstruct [the plan],” Werner said. He acknowledged that the current water supply plan has run into obstacles, but said that the opponents of the plan were not being honest.  John Martin, who spent several years working on local water issues as an activist before being named earlier this year to the ACSA Board, recalled a tour he took in the early 1990’s with state regulators who were evaluating the Buck Mountain Creek watershed.
“The regulators got out on the bridge, went under the bridge, and they found a James spineymussel. I was there,” Martin said.

John Martin

In an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow, RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick wrote that the Buck Mountain option was eliminated after state regulators with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries said they could not support a permit application which used that watershed. Frederick said a “rational screening process” eliminated the Buck Mountain alternative.

“Federal law, regulations, and ‘case law’ on selecting the ‘least environmentally damaging’ alternative is vastly more complex and multi-faceted than the simple ‘proof’ of the presence of a mussel,” Frederick wrote. “It was clear early in the evaluation process the a Buck Mountain Reservoir could not have lower overall impacts than more favorable alternatives among which were Ragged Mountain, and it would have been an unnecessary expense of public resources to thereafter keep studying more details of Buck Mountain.”

Frederick also said that the regulators support the adopted plan, and pointed to the permits approved earlier this year by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


After closing the public hearing, Supervisors debated whether to take action or to postpone until after the November 25th meeting of the four Boards. Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) said the Board should go ahead and adopt the amendment even though he at one point thought that the Buck Mountain watershed might be viable. 

 “We went through an extensive public process, we reached a decision, the decision was voted on, and this is the water supply plan that the County and City have adopted,” Slutzky said. “I don’t understand the backlash unless it’s some sort of continuing effort to undermine an outcome that has already been determined... I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of controversy here. I think there’s just a lot of frustrated people who didn’t like the outcome of the public process and they continue to beat their drums of dissent in the hopes that they’ll stimulate some further delays.”

Boyd said he was once a proponent of the Buck Mountain plan, but he has been told by regulators that the community could never win regulatory approval to build a dam in that watershed. “We couldn’t sit there just hoping and keeping it in their plan that they might change their mind,” Boyd said.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said he agreed that regulators had made it clear to him that Buck Mountain could not be an option, given that other options would be less environmentally damaging.
“It was made pretty clear that Buck Mountain in our circumstances where we could obtain water from the James by a pipeline, where he have other options in the community, that that was not something that would be approved,” Rooker said. He said the standard is calculated using measurements such as “feet of stream inundated” and “wetlands taken” and the creation of a new reservoir would have more of an impact than other options.

However, Rooker suggested waiting on making the amendment in deference to the City’s desire to re-examine the plan. “We may or may not agree with them on that, but we’ll have a significant dialogue on it, and hopefully come to a conclusion as to exactly the process that we want to go forward in refining the cost estimates and other components of the plan.”

Supervisors decided to postpone adoption of the amendment until after the November 25th  meeting with City Council. The amendment will likely come back on the consent agenda for the December 3rd meeting.

Sean Tubbs


  • 1:00 - David Benish delivers the staff report
  • 5:40 - Comments from Chairman Ken Boyd before he opens the public hear
  • 7:00 - Public hearing comment from Bernard Williams of Ivy
  • 10:20 - Public hearing comment from Pat Keats of Key West
  • 13:30 - Public hearing comment from City resident and former RWSA Chair Rich Collins
  • 17:20 - Public hearing comment from City resident and former Mayor Francis Fife
  • 20:00 - Public hearing comment from Jeff Werner of the Piedmont Environmental Council
  • 23:30 - Public hearing comment from County resident Joe Jones
  • 25:50 - Public hearing comment from City resident Dede Smith
  • 27:10 - Public hearing comment from Free Union resident and ACSA Member John Martin
  • 28:15 - Public hearing comment from City resident Betty Mooney
  • 32:15 - Public hearing comment from Ivy resident Keith Rosenfeld
  • 34:50 - Comments from Supervisor David Slutzky
  • 36:00 - Comments from Ken Boyd on Buck Mountain
  • 37:00 - Comments from Supervisor Dennis Rooker on Buck Mountain
  • 38:00 - Rooker suggests waiting on comp plan amendment
  • 41:50 - Comments from Supervisor Ann Mallek and a question about removing Chris Greene from the comp plan
  • 43:00 - Comment from Ken Boyd
  • 44:30 - Supervisor Lindsay Dorrier asks why this is coming up now
  • 46:45 - Supervisor Slutzky seeks consensus
  • 48:00 - Rooker suggests that the amendment could be brought back quickly
  • 51:20 - Comments from Supervisor Sally Thomas
  • 54:00 - Rooker says the comprehensive plan amendment would also include a recommendation to explore maintenance dredging



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