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December 19, 2008

ACSA Board reacts to Council’s water supply amendments

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Members of the Albemarle County Service Authority’s Board of Directors have reacted to City Council’s amendment of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding the next steps in the adopted community water supply plan. ACSA Executive Director Gary Fern received an e-mail with the amendments on the morning of the ACSA’s December 18, 2008 meeting and shared it with the Board. The Board decided to wait until early next year to make a formal response. 

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At its meeting on December 15, City Council amended the MOU to include further study of pipeline alternatives, and to include a condition that no construction be performed on the new Ragged Mountain Dam until all requested studies are completed.  The MOU was also amended to require that the conservation studies conducted by the City and the ACSA “include a nationwide review of best practices of water conservation.”

Legal counsel James Bowling said, however, that he heard a consensus reached during the meeting of the four Boards on November 25, 2008. He recommended making a transcript of the meeting and sending it around to all of the parties as a reminder of the direction that was given to the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA).

“The directions aren’t 100% clear but at  least there are signposts there pointing which way they’re supposed to go,” Bowling said. He said the RWSA still has to gather information and that a final agreement will come later.

Board Member John Martin (White Hall) said he was concerned that the review of best management practices on water conservation could become expensive if consultants are hired to compile the list. Liz Palmer (Samuel Miller) said she was uncomfortable with the term “nation-wide” because different areas might have different standards.  Fern said he was comfortable the review could be done in-house at the ACSA.

Martin suggested rejecting Council’s amendments and sending back a note saying that consensus had been reached previously. Martin said the ACSA should stand up and be strong.

“This is not acceptable,” Martin said. “Nobody is willing to stand up to the City on the way they’re behaving in this whole affair.”  Palmer said the ACSA should not be discourteous in its tone back to Council. 

On the topic of the pipeline study, Fern told the Board about an e-mail from Tom Frederick, the Executive Director of the RWSA. Frederick said that because Council asked for additional information on the pipeline, the requested study could exceed the $25,000 budget agreed to by the four boards. 
Bowling suggested a one-page cover sheet attached to the transcript advising them that consensus was reached.  Palmer suggested the ACSA Board wait until after the stewardship task force made its recommendations before communicating  anything to Council. Martin suggested waiting until after the Board of Supervisors has had time to consider Council’s revisions.

Robert Humprhis (Jack Jouett) wanted to see a legal definition of what a memorandum of understanding means in Virginia law. Bowling responded that there isn’t one.

“A memorandum of understanding  or a letter of intent is used when  the parties almost have a meeting of the minds but not quite, and it envisions that there will be a later event memorialized by a written agreement in which the minds actually meet so it becomes legally binding,” Bowling said.

Martin had one concern on Council’s demand that no construction on the Ragged Mountain Dam begin until all of the requested studies are complete. He asked what would happen if the task force recommends a feasibility study, but one is not conducted for 5 years. Would construction on the dam have to wait until then, he asked?

Jim Colbaugh (Scottsville) said he could understand the City’s need to have questions answered.  “I guess I would like to see the City get what they need in order to stand up to the folks who are beating them up,  and if we keep saying ‘No’… we’re not going to be in a good position.” He said that much of what the City has requested could be accomplished within six months.  Colbaugh added that he felt that all the Council wanted was a succinct summary of all the discussions and studies that have been conducted before.

However, Martin said the City would continue to make more requests in an effort to stall the process.  “It’s just going to go on and on and on,” Martin said.

Clarence Roberts (Rivanna) said that the City’s decision to reappoint Mike Gaffney was a step in the right direction.  “I believe that City Council, in doing that, sends the message ‘let’s move on with this.’”
ACSA Chair Don Wagner pointed out that two of City Council’s five seats are up for election next year and the water supply has become a political issue.  The first terms of Mayor Dave Norris and Councilor Julian Taliaferro end in December 2009.

Fern also briefed the ACSA Board on Council’s request to expand the membership of the RWSA Board by adding a City Councilor and an Albemarle County Supervisor. Roberts suggested making them ex officio members who are only there to observe. Colbaugh said this would water down the power of the single at-large Chair who would only have 1 out of 7 votes. Martin said that he thought the County should have a majority vote on the RWSA Board because the County will be paying for more of the community water supply plan. 

In other news, this was the final ACSA meeting for Robert Humprhis, who has served on the Board since 1978. His replacement will be named by the Board of Supervisors in early January.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 1:00 - Gary Fern describes the revisions made by City Council to the memorandum of understanding
  • 3:10 - John Martin asks what the City's goal is in seeking a nationwide review of conservation best practices
  • 4:30 - Liz Palmer says she is also concerned with the idea of a nationwide review because of differing standards geographically
  • 7:30 - Robert Humprhis asks if the City's request is for similar sized cities
  • 8:00 - Fern reviews Council's amendment to the dredging feasibility section
  • 10:40 - Chairman Don Wagner expresses concern that members of the task force do not understand how water system works
  • 15:00 - ACSA Counsel Bowling said that he had heard consensus at the November 25 meeting of the four boards
  • 16:50 - Palmer says that there is a lot of confusion
  • 19:00 - Martin says the whole confusion began when City Council unilaterally issues their November 3 resolution demanding the additional studies
  • 22:45 - Bowling suggests a course of action
  • 23:50 - Martin addresses Council's demand that no work take place on the Ragged Mountain Dam until all studies are complete
  • 25:00 - Palmer describes what she thinks the task force will recommend
  • 27:00 - Jim Colbaugh says he understands the City's need for more information
  • 29:30 - Martin responds to Colbaugh's comment
  • 30:17 - Clarence Roberts says that Council's reappointment of Mike Gaffney is a step in the right direction
  • 31:45 - Wagner says Council's interest in further study is motivated by next year's elections
  • 37:00 - Robert Humprhis asks for a sense of what an MOU is
  • 40:00 - Palmer says that many people don't have an understanding of what it means to add something to a water supply plan
  • 41:00 - Roberts says someone needs to transcribe the meeting
  • 42:00 - Colbaugh points out that the 5% target for water conservation is in the plan, but it is not yet being met due to water loss
  • 43:30 - Palmer describes a discussion with Mayor Norris about water conservation
  • 46:45 - Fern reads from an e-mail from RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick
  • 52:00 - Fern briefs the ACSA Board on Council's request to restructure RWSA Board

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