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August 26, 2009

Price for dredging feasibility studies more than double the expected amount

Reader comments (1) By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A series of dredging feasibility studies which would determine the logistics and costs of restoring the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to its original capacity could themselves cost as much as $700,000. That’s more than the Rivanna Water Sewer Authority had expected to pay, but Board members appeared to reach consensus at their August 25, 2009 meeting that they are prepared to pay more to get additional data. However, the Board postponed a final decision on whether to retain HDR Consulting.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090825-RWSA

On August 5, 2009, an RWSA committee announced the selection of HDR Consulting as its recommended finalist to conduct a series of surveys as defined in the scope of work agreed to by the City Council, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, the Albemarle County Service Authority and the RWSA. RWSA staff began negotiating with HDR to determine a work schedule and fees. The goal had been to complete that process by the RWSA Board’s August meeting.

20090825-Frederick
Tom Frederick
However, HDR twice asked for additional time to complete both their proposal as well as the cost estimate for their services. RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick told the RWSA Board at the August meeting that he had received HDR’s full proposal that afternoon. He said he had not taken a look at the full proposal, and so could not offer a recommendation. Frederick did reveal that the initial cost estimate to conduct the studies was “close to $700,000.” He said he would try to negotiate a lower cost for the studies, but said he wanted to make sure the community got the information it had asked for.

City Public Works Director Judy Mueller said staff needed to have the opportunity to negotiate the price.

“Speaking for the City, we need the opportunity to take a look at those parts of the study that will be paid for by the City and have the City Council look at those numbers,” Mueller said.

While not an official recommendation, Frederick said that he could justify paying the full cost requested by HDR.

“Given the magnitude of all the things requested in the current scope, given the high visibility of this project, and the need for a lot of public information and public processing, we’re never going to get this study down anywhere close to the figure that some people had in their head from Gahagan and Bryant,” Frederick said.

Dredging firm Gahagan and Bryant, which was invited to the community by the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, had suggested in May 2008 that it could perform the studies for around $275,000. The selection committee, however, did not rank that company’s official proposal very highly

At the March 3, 2009 meeting of the four Boards, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said he thought conducting the dredging feasibility study would give the community information it needed about whether dredging could be an affordable option. At the time, he said the estimates for a full restorative dredging have ranged from $31 million to $225 million.

“Do we not owe it to our ratepayers and our taxpayers to at least explore the feasibility of that option and figure out if that changes the water supply equation?” Norris asked in March. “I want to nail that number down and I don’t think it’s going to cost us $300,000 to nail that number down.”

20090825-RWSABoard
Left to right: City Councilor Holly Edwards, RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney, Albemarle County Supervisor Sally Thomas, and County Executive Bob Tucker
Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller), one of two newly appointed elected officials to the RWSA Board, said she could imagine that the bathymetric study of the reservoir was one of the more expensive components of the studies.  Frederick said each of the nine proposals submitted by various firms contained different levels of detail for the bathymetric study. He said HDR was ranked highly by the selection committee in part because of the level of detail they said they could offer.

“But the thing we have to realize is that more detail means more money,” Frederick said.

RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney said it was clear that the extra detail was required. He said the community needed an accurate estimate of what full restorative dredging would cost, and that would only come with a “thorough bathymetric study.” Gaffney said the RWSA could not deviate from the scope of work adopted by the City and County.

Frederick said the RWSA would try to get the price reduced without also reducing the scope of work. Mueller said City Council should weigh in on what level of detail it wanted.

Frederick will continue to negotiate with HDR to get the price reduced, and may call a special meeting of the RWSA before its next scheduled meeting to brief members on his progress. If not, the matter will next be discussed at the September 22, 2009 meeting.

RWSA approach to public comments continues to evolve

At the conclusion of the RWSA’s July meeting, City Councilor Holly Edwards asked the RWSA Board to consider a more consistent policy for responding to public comment. Partially in response, Frederick used his written executive director’s report to respond to the four public comments given to the Board last month. This approach is somewhat new, and prompted discussion among RWSA Board members about whether it was appropriate. 

This month there were only two comments from the public. Dede Smith with the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan wanted clarification on federal and state requirements for creating a water supply plan. 

“It is certainly my understanding that the state-required water plan is not the same as the water plans as we call them that have been adopted,” Smith said. She wanted to know how the RWSA was preparing to create a water supply plan required by the Department of Environmental Quality by 2011.

Frederick said that the U.S. Clean Water Act, which created the requirement that localities seeking to expand or alter their water supply, requires communities to explain to the Army Corps of Engineers and state regulators how they will meet demand in such a way to ensure that the waters of the United States are not negatively effected. He said the legislation does not say what communities need to call the description of how those needs will be implemented.

“We as a community chose to call it ‘the community water supply plan’ and that was not one person’s idea but was a collective community idea,” Frederick said. He said that during the period when the RWSA was preparing its permit applications, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring all localities in Virginia to submit a plan. He said the RWSA is required to submit this state water plan by 2011, a deadline he said he intended to meet.

“That plan does not in any way negate the work that was done for the federal and state permits,” Frederick said, adding that the permits had been granted by both DEQ and the Corps.

The second public comment came from Hawes Spencer, editor and publisher of The Hook. He asked when the $25,000 conceptual study of the proposed South Fork pipeline would be ready. The study was requested by City Council as part of their call for more information on the details on how the community water supply plan was evolving. Frederick responded that he had previously announced a target date of December 2009 for the completion of study at the previous RWSA meeting.

At the conclusion of the August meeting, Edwards passed around guidelines used by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to guide public comments before that body. In part, guidelines compel CRHA officials to respond to questions asked during public comment in writing within 7 days. Gaffney said that he felt 30 days was a more appropriate timetable. County Executive Bob Tucker said he liked how Frederick responded immediately after each public comment period was ended. 

“I think it would be helpful for those in the public, if they know what their question is going to be, to give Tom [Frederick] a heads-up before the meeting so he might give an answer at the meeting,” Tucker said.

Other water supply plan news:

The RWSA has received two submissions from firms who want to be considered to perform the redesign of the proposed dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Interviews with Hazen & Sawyer and Schnabel Engineering were conducted on August 20, 2009. Frederick said a recommendation on a finalist will come before the RWSA at is September meeting.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST
  • 01:00 – Meeting called to order by RWSA Chair Mike Gaffney with review of minutes
  • 01:40 – Executive Director Tom Frederick responds to public comment in his monthly report
  • 05:00 – Dede Smith of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan asks for clarification of required water plans
  • 06:45 – Hawes Spencer of the Hook asks for status update on South Fork pipeline study
  • 08:50 – Frederick responds to comments from Smith and Spencer
  • 14:30 – RWSA Board member and Supervisor Sally Thomas recommends change to formatting of finance reports
  • 15:30 – Thomas asks for details on certain ongoing projects, including Stillhouse Pump Station replacement
  • 16:30 – RWSA Water and Wastewater Director Bob Wichser updates Thomas on Stillhouse Pump Station
  • 17:20 – RWSA Board adopts consent agenda
  • 17:30 – Discussion begins for HDR Proposal for dredging feasibility study
  • 28:30 – Wichser updates Board on how herbicides are not an issue for the RWSA treatment plants
  • 31:30 – RWSA Board considers whether to endorse grant proposal for private “ecosystems services” project
  • 41:30 – Councilor Holly Edwards offers advice on how to respond to public comment

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