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May 28, 2010

ASAP research challenges community to shrink its ecological footprint

By Bridgett Lynn
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 28, 2010

Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) met Thursday night with local residents to discuss recent findings in a study called the Ecological Footprint Analysis of Albemarle County and Charlottesville. The analysis evaluates the environmental sustainability of the community and its optimal population size.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100527-ASAP

The study found that the footprint (demand) of Albemarle and Charlottesville exceeds the biocapacity (supply) of the area causing an ecological deficit, which is an unsustainable situation that occurs when an ecosystem is exploited more rapidly than it can renew itself..

20100527-Marshall
Jack Marshall, Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population
“We are running a severe ecological deficit. We are not living sustainably,” said Jack Marshall, president of ASAP. “We’re really doing a lousy job.”

ASAP researchers calculated this deficit by measuring the ecological footprint of Albemarle and Charlottesville, which is the amount of land and water required to satisfy the demands and waste of people in the area, and the biocapacity for the same area, which measures how much land is available for consumption and waste.

The city and county have an ecological deficit of 3.7 land areas, meaning that there is not enough biocapacity from Albemarle and Charlottesville’s 736 square miles of land alone to accommodate for the demands of 135,000 residents.

In August 2009, ASAP published research indicating that the community could be home to a population of up to 300,000 people if it was willing to sacrifice some environmental conditions in the development areas. With this additional research, however, ASAP has calculated that Albemarle and Charlottesville can sustainably only support a population of about 37,000 people.

“If our community were to source all its current consumption and waste disposal right here on our available land, we would need 3.7 Charlottesville/Albemarle land areas to support our consumption,” said Marshall. “We need a lot more land than we’ve got.”

ASAP argues in the study that if we continue to ignore the ecological deficit, then we will see destruction of natural habitats, reduction of water quantity and quality, and erosion of ecosystem services in environments of other places. It may not happen in this community in the near term, but it will maintain pressure on global ecosystems according to the study.

“The way we live with our ecological deficit erodes the health of living systems at a global level," said Marshall. “It causes deforestation, water shortages, declining biodiversity, and we screw up the air, the water, and the soil. Locally, we do the same thing.”

ASAP was formed in 2002 to study the effects of population growth on natural resources, and their goal is to provide data for local city and county decision-makers  to help identify an “optimal sustainable population size”. The Ecological Footprint Analysis is one of five scientific studies being conducted by ASAP.

“The information from the ASAP studies should be used by local government for planning,” said John Cruickshank, chairman of the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club. “For land use planning, for transportation planning, and for the planning for the protection of natural resources.”

Cruickshank believes the community should focus on protecting the environment by creating more nature preserves and parks, pursuing green building practices, and encouraging density.

“When development does occur , we should cluster the residences so there’s not as big of an impact on the environment,” said Cruickshank. “We need to think smaller. We need to drive smaller cars, we need to have smaller houses, we need to use less and less and less.”

20100527-Rooker2
Dennis Rooker, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
In the audience, Supervisor Dennis Rooker said he agreed with the goal of preserving more rural land.  “The more land we can get in conservation easements for parkland, the better,” said Rooker.

The Board of Supervisors agreed to spend $25,000 for the scientific aspects of the study, and the City of Charlottesville paid $11,000. Additional funding came from ASAP members as well as a $50,000 grant from the Colcom Foundation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

According to Marshall, no other community in the nation has conducted a similar study, and the national planning community is watching ASAP's work to see if the study might be used as a harbinger of things to come.

Although Marshall agrees that less resident consumption is important, he argues that that alone will not dramatically improve the ecological deficit.

“One of the results of this research I hope will be to bring greater attention to the fact that there are two components in achieving sustainability,” said Marshall

“Reducing consumption is not enough,” said Marshall. “Simultaneously we have to deal with the number of consumers, the population.”

 “I believe that government should not be in the business of recruiting new residents.” said Cruickshank. “There has been a lot of recruiting to get new people from other parts of the United States to move to the Charlottesville Area.”

“We don’t need to go out and spend taxpayer money bringing growth to this community which is already growing about 1,000 people per year,” agreed Rooker.

The Board of Supervisors will be holding a work session at 2pm on Wednesday, June 2, at the County Office Building, Lane Auditorium, to discuss Albemarle County’s new economic development action plan.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

00:45 – Jack Marshall introduces filmmaker Dave Gardner
01:13 – Gardner talks about his upcoming film, “Hooked on Growth”
03:16 – Marshall introduces ASAP
04:24 – Dennis Rooker talks about community participation
11:28 – Marshall outlines meeting agenda
13:16 – Marshall summarizes ASAP’s mission
17:31 – Marshall summarizes Ecological Footprint (EF) analysis
24:34 – Tom Olivier talks about biocapacity calculations
31:17 – Marshall talks about measuring the Footprint component
32:37 – Marshall discusses EF analysis
41:58 – Olivier comments on unsustainable living
50:12 – Mike Mellon talks about human footprint issues
54:39 – Brian Richter talks about EF water related issues
1:03:04 – John Cruickshank talks about Sierra Club policy and EF analysis
1:12:08 – Randy Salzman questions how to distribute EF information to public
1:12:55 – Elizabeth Burdash comments on youth involvement
1:15:32 – Dennis Rooker comments on conservation easement
1:17:27 – Richard Lloyd questions community exports
1:28:42 – Conclusion

UVa increasing efforts to reduce vehicles

DailyProgress By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 28, 2010

The University of Virginia has set new goals in its quest to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles used by employees in their daily commute. While removing cars from Grounds might have an environmental benefit, the effort is primarily designed to make way for more buildings.

“If we can reduce the number of parking spaces needed, then we can save that land for a higher and better use, which for us would be classrooms,” said Julia Monteith, UVa’s senior land use officer, at Wednesday’s meeting of the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Download Download UVa's presentation to MPO on travel demand management

The university does not plan to build any more parking lots, and many surface lots are destined to become the sites for future buildings. There are currently more than 16,000 parking spaces that serve UVa’s core campuses but that number will dwindle as more construction occurs.

To solve the potential deficit, UVa created a program known as transportation demand management (TDM) to lure commuters from their cars. As part of the program, the school’s transit service entered into a reciprocity program with the Charlottesville bus system, started a car-sharing program and made it cheaper for those who carpool to park. Two people who carpool get a 10 percent discount, whereas three who regularly do so save 25 percent.

“Instead of just focusing on how cars move around Grounds, we [wanted to] be able to look at more multi-modal transportation and be thinking about this in more of a forward-thinking way,” Monteith said.

In 2008, the Center for Survey Research found that 78 percent of employees drove alone to get to work. As part of an expansion of TDM efforts, UVa wants to bring that number down to 70 percent by 2015 and to 64 percent by 2020.

“We do have robust transit, we have great walking conditions and improving bike conditions but realistically speaking, this is where we set our goals,” said Rebecca White, UVa’s director of parking and transportation. She said the most effective tool will likely be the encouragement of carpooling.

“About two-thirds [of UVa employees] do not live within a quarter-mile of a Charlottesville Transit bus stop,” White said.

White recently hired a staff member to specifically try to meet the goals of the program. UVa will also begin using special software to match those who are willing to carpool.

Monteith said it will take a concentrated effort by UVa to meet the goal.

“This is a cultural change that [we’re] trying to enact and to do it for just three or five years doesn’t really make it happen,” Monteith said.

White also said the university would like to partner with the Charlottesville Transit Service to increase frequency on some routes, but stopped short of saying that the university would join a regional transit authority. Efforts to create such an authority stalled after the General Assembly declined to allow Charlottesville and Albemarle to hold a voter referendum on a possible sales tax increase to pay for expanded transit service.

TDM efforts do not include the Fontaine Research Park or the UVa Research Park north of Airport Road. Monteith also explained that the University Transit Service does not extend to these properties because the majority of its funding comes from fees charged to students.

May 27, 2010

Area cyclists develop education and safety action plan at bike summit


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cyclists from all over the Charlottesville region gathered recently to share ideas on how their favorite form of transportation could be better supported in the community. The summit was the conclusion of Bike Week 2010, a celebration of the role the bicycle plays in society.

"The reason we're here tonight is to answer the question, ‘What can we do to make the Charlottesville region safer and easier for bicycling?’" asked Vince Caristo, the executive director of the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100522-Bike-Summit

BikeSummit_16
Vince Caristo, ACCT
Photo: Heather Higgins, Bike Charlottesville
Caristo said there is a growing awareness of how vulnerable cyclists can be in the wake of several high-profile accidents, including the death of a UVA grad student in April. The summit was an attempt to discuss potential solutions by stakeholders who have the most to contribute."All of us as bicyclists or bicycle advocates ride our bikes on the road, and so we know where the problems are and we have an idea what to do about it," Caristo said.

The work to develop an action plan was guided by a presentation by Chris Gensic, Charlottesville's trail planner. He pointed out several projects that are underway, such as construction of a bicycle trail that will run alongside the Route 250 bypass.

Participants were split into several groups to brainstorm on specific areas of how cycling could be improved.

One group was asked to suggest ways to better enforce existing traffic laws that protect cyclists. Ideas included assigning someone to serve as a liaison between the biking community and the police and changing laws to allow for cyclists to yield at stop signs (but not lights). Another idea would be to penalize people who use bike lanes incorrectly, such as runners and cyclists who use them to travel in the wrong direction.

Groups also discussed ideas to encourage people to consider commuting to work on bicycles. Thoughts included the creation of tax incentives, developing informal bike routes with input from cyclists and encouraging bike friendly development. The idea of marketing the region as a tourist destination for cyclists was also discussed.

BikeSummit_13
Ruth Stornetta, Monticello Velo Club
Photo: Heather Higgins, Bike Charlottesville
Another group came up with ideas to educate people about cycling. One idea was to make sure UVA first-years are educated about traffic rules and the greater biking community. Another was to make it a priority to get Charlottesville ranked on Bicycling magazine’s list of the top fifty “bike-friendly” communities.

At the end of the meeting, all of the participants were asked to vote for the ideas to be worked on further. A similar process in 2006 led to the creation of a list of priority projects, many of which have been acted upon. ACCT volunteers will collate the information into a new list for 2010.

“What the voting indicated to me is that there is strong interest in programs that span all of these areas and that are necessary to improve bicycling in the region,” said Caristo in an interview.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:


  • 01:00 - Introduction from Vince Caristo of ACCT
  • 09:45 - Trail planner Chris Gensic describes current efforts to add to Charlottesville's bike infrastructure
  • 18:00 – Report on ideas to increase enforcement of existing laws
  • 28:00 - Report on ideas to boost encouragement of people cycling
  • 38:00 - Report on ideas to educate people about cycling
  • 46:00 - Report on engineering better trails on roads
  • 52:15 - Report on engineering off-road trails
  • 59:45 - Discussion of roads that are more problematic than others
  • 1:02:20 - Report on how to evaluate future possibilities for fixing problems
  • 1:05:30 - Discussion about creating a network of off-road trails dedicated to cyclists only
  • 1:11:30 - Group votes to prioritize the most important ideas for action

City Planning Commission weighs in on public housing redevelopment plans

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, May 27, 2010

When the Charlottesville Planning Commission heard details of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s (CRHA) master plan for their 376 units of public housing, their primary concern was how the effort would fit in with the goals of Charlottesville’s comprehensive plan.

“These are some of the major opportunities we’re going to have for redevelopment [in Charlottesville],” said Commissioner Genevieve Keller. The topic was on the agenda for the commission’s May 25, 2010 work session.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100525-CPC-CRHA-Master-Plan

20100525-CHRA-Properties
A map depicting the location of CRHA's sites. Click for a larger image. Visit the CHRA's website to download the draft master plan.

City officials and community members are developing a master plan for the redevelopment of these properties over the next twenty years.  CRHA owns 40 acres of land, spread out over 11 sites in 7 city neighborhoods. The authority also owns one vacant parcel of land on Levy Avenue near downtown which is currently being used as a parking lot for city employees.

The average income for CRHA residents is $11,235 a year. Residents are required to pay 30% of their monthly income towards rent, with a minimum of $25 a month required. CRHA also manages the over 300 federal housing vouchers allocated to Charlottesville.

The redevelopment plans are being formulated in order to replace aging buildings with energy-efficient structures, improve the quality of the neighborhoods, and to allow CRHA to become less reliant on federal funds. That last objective will be met by adding commercial space and market-rate alongside housing for low-income families.

Download Download Amy Kilroy's presentation

“Right now, all of our sites are strictly public housing,” said Amy Kilroy, the CRHA’s director of redevelopment. “After redevelopment is over we’d like to have a mixture of public housing residents… affordable rental units, market rate units and homeownership units all within the same site.”

The firm Wallace Roberts and Todd (WRT) was hired to conduct a study of CRHA’s properties in order to create a master plan to suggest potential futures for the sites. Over 100 community meetings were held to get feedback from residents and members of the development community to come up with ideas.

Last year, the City Council adopted a bill of rights for public housing residents that promises temporary places to stay while are redeveloped.  The document also guarantees that there will be at least 376 units of public housing when work at all sites have been completed.

Many of the sites were built with relatively low-densities, even though underlying zoning would allow for more compact development. For instance, the 25 units at a CRHA site on Sixth Street are spread out over 7.3 acres at a density of 3.42 dwelling units per acre. The land is zoned for a maximum potential of 43 units per acre as part of the Downtown Extended Corridor.

Kilroy said that residents have different views of how to proceed.

“Some residents would like to keep their neighborhoods very similar to what they are now and just improve the units,” Kilroy said. “And then there are some residents that are more comfortable with the idea of adding families to their neighborhood.”

Westhaven1

Westhaven2

WRT depicted two scenarios for the redevelopment of Westhaven. The top is for less density than the second, but both envision a new connection with Main Street

WRT released a master plan last November that depicted possible ways to rehabilitate or redevelop the sites. After seeing the plans, the CRHA’s Redevelopment Committee asked WRT to develop a new set of drawings that planned for greater density at some locations.  All of the scenarios released are considered drafts at this point. The first two sites to be redeveloped will be the parking lot on Levy Avenue and Crescent Hall.

Even though the plan has not been adopted, CRHA is seeking a budget amendment that would allow them to reprogram $450,000 of funding from current rehabilitation to the purchase of 401 Avon Street. That would allow CRHA to enlarge their property at Levy Avenue site so commercial and office space could be built on a major corridor.  City Council will consider the amendment on June 7, 2010.

Some sites are not targeted for income diversity. For instance, the 105 units in Crescent Halls on Monticello Avenue will be renovated, but no market rate units will be added.  The reason is because the site, which primarily consists of one bedroom units, currently serves the elderly.

The Westhaven site in the 10th and Page neighborhood presents an opportunity to provide more road connectivity to open up that neighborhood to the greater community. Two separate plans have been drawn up for Westhaven which currently has 126 families spread out over 10 acres.

Both would increase the density and add market rate unites. Both also envision the purchase of property on West Main Street, including a parking lot on West Main that the plan envisions as being redeveloped with commercial buildings. 

Sixth-street
WRT also developed a new concept for Sixth Street South.Click for a larger image.
Kilroy said her board believes some sites have the potential to add more density near downtown. For instance, CRHA’s site at Sixth Street currently has 25 units, and the first master plan draft released by WRT envisioned raising that number to 40 units. WRT produced a second draft which increased that number to 108 families.

Kilroy said the conversation about the appropriate level of density will continue right on
up until site plans are developed.

“This is one neighborhood where staff anticipates feeling a lot of pushback from residents who live there,” Kilroy said.

“The final master plan is… by no means the end, but where we’ll jump off from for future conversations.”

The master plan process will be ending in the next six to eight weeks, with an additional round of community meetings planned. The entire project could take over twenty years, according to Randy Bickers, the CRHA’s executive director.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Presentation begins from Amy Kilroy, CRHA's Redevelopment Director
  • 02:15 - Kilroy explains what CRHA is
  • 03:45 - Kilroy describes why the master planning process is being undertaken
  • 07:30 - Kilroy lists three objectives of redevelopment process
  • 09:10 - Kilroy describes the residents' bill of rights
  • 14:00 - Kilroy updates Planning Commission
  • 15:30 - Kilroy begins describing neighborhoods, beginning with Levy Avenue
  • 17:08 - Discussion of Crescent Halls
  • 20:00 - Commissioner Genevieve Keller asks about Levy Avenue project
  • 29:45 - Commissioner Kurt Keesecker asks about additional buildings called for on Monticello
  • 31:45 - Conversation moves to discussion of Westhaven
  • 51:40 - Conversation moves to South First Street site
  • 54:15 - Keller asks about input from parks and recreation
  • 1:00:00 - Conversation moves to Sixth Street SE site
  • 1:05:30 - Conversation moves to Michie Drive site
  • 1:07:15 - Conversation moves to Madison Avenue site
  • 1:10:30 - Conversation moves to Riverside Avenue site
  • 1:13:00 - Kilroy discusses the role played by the redevelopment committee
  • 1:16:30 - Kilroy describes the next steps with the master plan

May 26, 2010

Rivanna Conservation Society discusses protection efforts for the Chesapeake Bay

By Bridgett Lynn
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
20100525-BayTMDL-slide2
Click here to download presentation

On May 20, 2010, the Rivanna Conservation Society held their Third Thursday Brown Bag lunch meeting and discussed protection efforts for the Chesapeake Bay. The featured speaker was Rick Parrish, a senior attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100525-BayTMDL

Over the course of the hour, Parrish talked about the watershed and the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which refers to the total amount of pollutants allowed to enter into a body of water before water quality becomes impaired. He discussed the TMDL’s history, significance, and goals in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Parrish finished up the presentation describing some of the successes that the Bay has seen to date, and next steps on the schedule for the TMDL and local Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs).

The draft TMDL plan for the entire Chesapeake Bay will be completed by August 1, 2010, after which the public review process will begin. The EPA is expected to release its final Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan in December 2010.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST


00:46 -- Robbi Savage introduces speaker
01:46 -- Rick Parrish gives background on TMDL
08:23 -- Question about former directors of the bay program
09:14 -- Parrish outlines Bay problems
10:11 -- Parrish talks about obligations of EPA
11:12 -- Question about organic sediments
11:53 -- Question about focus on Nitrogen and Phosphorous
13:07 -- Question about contribution that West Virginia makes to Bay
13:24 -- Parrish describes picture where the dissolved oxygen problems are in the bay on slide 3
13:45 -- Parrish describes Bay health assessment on slide 4
17:08 -- Question on acceptable level of dissolved oxygen
18:24 -- Parrish shows Bay watershed on slide 5
22:48 -- Question about upstream Potomac requirements for Bay TMDL
24:41 -- Question about TMDLs for Virginia
25:17 -- Question about comparing the goals to the different segments of Rivanna
29:13 -- Parrish describes TMDL plans
32:21 -- Parrish describes symbolic representation of the Bay TMDL on slide 5
35:03 -- Parrish showing reflection on how bay model is improving on slide 6
35:52 -- Parrish shows nutrient loads by state and nutrient impacts on Bay on slide 8 and 9
37:04 -- Parrish talks about EPA’s best estimate at making allocations on slide 10
39:32 -- Question about the sources of Nitrogen and Phosphorous
39:49 -- Parrish describes Virginia’s estimated loads on slide 12
44:11 -- Parrish talks about improvements of the Bay
46:41 -- Parrish shows where dissolved oxygen problems are in VA on slide 13
46:59 -- Parrish talks about lower James River on slide 14
47:41 -- Question about where TMDL for the rivers will be administered
49:47 -- Question about Rivanna river plans
51:32 -- Question about waste water treatment plants and farmers
53:49 -- Parrish talks about successes to date on slide 16
54:46 -- Parrish shows current TMDL and WIP schedule on slide 17
59:34 -- Conclusion

Earthen dam proposal for Ragged Mountain presented to water authority

DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Board of Directors of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) met Tuesday to review the latest proposal to construct a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir as part of the community’s 50-year water supply plan. Opponents of the dam called for more information to be provided, while supporters said it was “cause for celebration” and time to move forward.

20100601-get-involvedTwo representatives from Schnabel Engineering, based in Glen Allen, presented their recommendation that the RWSA build a massive earthen dam just downstream from the current Lower Ragged Mountain dam. The new dam would raise the reservoir’s water level by 45 feet and is a design change from the concrete dam proposed by Gannett Fleming, the previous consultants.

Randall Bass, a project manager with Schnabel, said that geotechnical investigations at the reservoir had led to the selection of the earthen dam alternative.

“Earthfill dams have been around for a long time. In fact, if you look at the national inventory of dams … there’s about 80,000 dams in the U.S. that are typically above 25 feet [in height] and close to 90 percent of those dams are earthfill dams,” Bass said. “If you have earth available, it is a lot cheaper to move dirt than to place concrete.”

“When we started looking for on-site aggregate [for a concrete dam], all we found was dirt,” Bass said. He also said that an earthen dam would eliminate the need for 15,000 truckloads of concrete material to be brought up Reservoir Road and that it was a project more local contractors would be qualified to bid on.

20100525-Palmer
Liz Palmer, former member of the
Albemarle County Service Authority Board of Directors
“For many in this community, this Schnabel report … is cause for celebration,” said Liz Palmer, a county resident and former board member of the Albemarle County Service Authority. “[The RWSA] staff’s foresight, professionalism and dedication will result in our community savings millions of dollars, and so I want to thank them. Now that we have a price for the new dam that is less than the price previously approved … I urge all of you to move forward as soon as possible to take advantage of the current construction climate.”

RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. said the new dam will have a total cost of between $28.5 million and $36.6 million, which includes final design and engineering work, an environmental mitigation plan and protection of the Interstate 64 embankment, which the larger reservoir will reach.

“They are seeing very favorable prices in the construction market for dams in the current economy,” Frederick said in an interview. “There is uncertainty how long that period will last, but they have told us if there is a way to get this project to bid sooner rather than later, it is possible we could even see prices below the range that Schnabel has provided.”

“This community has been debating water supply for a lot longer than I have been here, probably 30 or more years,” Frederick said. “One of the decisions that may face this community, if we’ve got an excellent proposal that provides a 50-year or even longer solution, can we do that and then move on to other priorities, or do we keep thinking small and keep debating this issue for another 30 to 40 years?”

20100525-Mooney
Betty Mooney, Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
Charlottesville resident Betty Mooney, a representative with Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, told the board she was concerned a cheaper dam wouldn’t be as safe.

“Gannett Fleming, our last dam designers, were fired not because of the cost of the dam they gave us … They were fired because they wouldn’t accept the risk of a cheaper dam,” Mooney said. Mooney asked for more information about the lifespan of an earthen dam and the seepage rates included in Schnabel’s design.

“There was a very careful deliberation on that decision,” Frederick said about the dismissal of Gannett Fleming. “There were a number of factors involved. Their design was overly conservative and led to higher costs, it was not a single issue as Ms. Mooney might suggest.”

Mooney has said previously that no decision should be made about the dam’s construction until additional studies are completed on dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and on a revised demand analysis.

Neil Williamson, executive director of the Free Enterprise Forum, said in an interview he was encouraged by Schnabel’s new design.

“I’ll be more encouraged when we reach an agreement solving the community’s future water supply needs,” Williamson said. “I believe some are arguing for additional studies in the interest of delay.”

20100525-RWSA1
Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said in an interview that he expects the studies he wants to see will all be done by late summer, allowing a decision in the fall.

“I don’t think the construction market is going to be dramatically different a few months from now. If we find that the existing dam can be simply repaired and enlarged at a cost that is significantly cheaper than building a new dam, then if we can still meet our long-term needs with that approach, then we need to continue to ask those questions,” Norris said. “I have no interest in prolonging this debate for many more months and years. It needs to be decided by summer or early fall.”

At the very beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd seized an opportunity to add the dam to the assumptions in the RWSA’s five-year capital budget, a document he thought should include the major elements of the plan approved in 2006.

“We have an approved [water supply plan] right now,” Boyd said. “I am more inclined to think we ought to go ahead and put forward a [capital budget] based upon our approved plan.”

“I hate to put staff through all the effort of pricing that plan that may well get changed,” Norris responded. “But for the purposes of starting the discussion that is fine.”

The board reached consensus to add the water plan projects to the capital budget. A draft of the proposed capital budget will be presented to the RWSA board at its July meeting.

The RWSA has scheduled two public information sessions related to recent water supply studies.

The first, which will focus on the new earthen dam design, will be held at 6 p.m. June 1 at CitySpace in the Market Street Parking Garage. The second meeting is to discuss the next phase of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir dredging feasibility study. That session will be held at 6 p.m. June 30 at the same location.

May 24, 2010

Council holds first reading on water and sewer rate increases

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, May 24, 2010

City Council has been briefed on higher rates being proposed for public water and sewer services.  Finance Director Bernard Wray presented the utility rate report to Council during a public hearing on Monday, May 17, 2010.

“The average residential single family household that uses… 3,860 gallons of water is proposed to increase from $25.94 [a month] to $26.48,” Wray said. That translates to an average increase of 2.08%.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20100517-CC-Rates

Even though the city projects it will purchase less water from the RWSA next year, finance officials are requesting an increase in the retail rate charged to customers. If adopted by City Council, the composite rate for water will increase from $42.51 per 1,000 cubic feet (MCF) to $43.56 MCF, a 2.47% increase, beginning on July 1, 2010.

For sewer service, the city will increase rates from $40.30 per MCF to $42.16 per MCF. That’s a 4.6% increase despite a relatively stable cost for treating wastewater.  The increase is mainly due to a RWSA proposal to increase the wholesale rate it charges the city by 3.38%.

20100517-CC-Wray
Bernard Wray
Wray said the major reason for the increase is due to capital improvement projects to repair and maintain utility infrastructure that the city maintains. From 2009 to 2015, the city anticipates spending $23.5 million on water and $34.5 million on sewer projects.

Those figures are not related to infrastructure projects being planned and implemented by the RWSA for expanding their water and sewer capacity. A portion of the wholesale rate the city pays the RWSA is devoted to the authority’s capital projects. This rate is based on a nearly $150 million capital improvement program adopted in 2008 which assumes $59.7 million in water projects and $88.3 million on sewer projects.

The RWSA has not updated its CIP due to a series of additional studies into the costs of the community water supply plan. The authority is expected to develop a new CIP this summer after more information is developed on the various components of and alternatives to the adopted plan.

Mayor Dave Norris said the biggest driver for utility rates will be the community water supply plan, making it necessary to come up with the most cost-effective approach.

“The other big driver of course is sewer costs,” Norris said. “Our system is in desperate need of an upgrade… That’s not as optional as a brand-new dam that we may not have to build depending on how the data shakes out.”

Wray said his staff will develop a tiered rate structure for water service for next year’s . The primary reason to move to such a system would be to encourage water conservation by charging less for the first few thousands of gallons of water. The Albemarle County Service Authority began using a tiered structure last year.

Council’s second reading of the utility rate increase will be on June 7, 2010.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 01:00 - Staff report from finance director Bernard Wray
  • 06:15 - Mayor Dave Norris asks about how community water supply plan is factored in
  • 09:30 - Councilor Kristin Szakos asks questions about impact of increases on citizens
  • 12:15 - Public hearing comment from Downing Smith
  • 14:10 - Public hearing comment from Colette Hall
  • 16:00 - Public hearing comment from Dede Smith
  • 18:10 - Public hearing comment from Betty Mooney
  • 20:20 - Councilor David Brown asks Wray to address question about stabilization
  • 23:45 - Councilor Satyendra Huja asks why operating expenses are going up
  • 25:20 - Utilities Director Lauren Hildebrand answers Huja's question

May 21, 2010

City Council contributes $5.8 million to Jefferson School project

By Bridgett Lynn
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 21, 2010

The chairman of a non-profit group responsible for the redevelopment of the Jefferson School building in downtown Charlottesville said construction may start as soon as this August.

Martin Burks, with Jefferson School Community Partnership, briefed Charlottesville City Council Monday night on the next steps in the evolution of the Jefferson School property. The city transferred the property to the partnership and has agreed to contribute  $5.8 million to the project, which will be known as the Jefferson School City Center

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20100517-Jefferson-School

Jefferson-School

Source: Jefferson Community Partners

The school’s primary focus will be to recognize and celebrate its history as an African American school in a racially segregated America.

“[We are] dedicated to preserving and sustaining the Jefferson School as a vibrant and meaningful community resource, providing cultural, educational, and recreational opportunities,” said Burks. “That’s powerful. That’s what Jefferson School did in the past, and that’s what Jefferson School will do in the future.”

The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and the City’s Carver Recreation Center will be the center’s two anchor tenants. The Heritage Center will measure 9,368 square feet and will be redesigned as a museum that will document the history of the school and alumni.

The Carver Recreational Center will be renovated to offer a variety of recreational, health and fitness related activities for citizens in surrounding neighborhoods and throughout the city. It will be expanded to 20,979 square feet. The center is also expected to be home to various tenants that will compliment the school.

“We have identified approximately six non-profit organizations to occupy and lease within Jefferson School,” said Burks.

The potential uses for the tenants found on the center’s website include education, arts, health/human services, business/employment services, and possibly affordable housing groups or foundations.

The Jefferson School Community Partnership was seeking to rezone the school back in March to allow restaurants to open on the site. The application to rezone the school was submitted on Wednesday, May 19th, according to Neighborhood Planner Nick Rogers.

The City Council formed a task force back in 2002 to explore the feasibility of adapting the Jefferson School. Five years later, the partnership was formed to determine the financial feasibility of refurbishing the property.

“We had a project manager and design team to execute the planning phase,” said Burks. “We’ve established an organization structure which is the foundation to do the long term sustainability of Jefferson School.”

The partnership is responsible for the development and construction of the center as well as overseeing its operations during its first five years. Then the Jefferson School Heritage Foundation will own and operate the school and take responsibility for fundraising.

The total budget of the redevelopment of the school is estimated to be $17.3 million. The costs will be covered by a combination of loans, tax credits, private donations, and the city. Loans will pay for $6.7 million, and federal and state tax credits will pay for $4.8 million. Private supporters have pledged to support the operations of nonprofit organizations for five years and have placed $3 million toward the project. The City is expected to provide $5.8 million.

At this site in 1926, the school was built in Charlottesville to serve as an African American high school. The school’s origins can be traced to 1865. Community efforts led to the school becoming listed on both the national and state historic landmark status back in 2005 which made it eligible for grant funding. The City followed suit, allocating $5 million for its restoration.

According to Burks, the final site plan will be submitted in June. If approved by the city, construction of the City Center could start as early as August. The Carver Recreational Center will close during construction, which is expected to be complete by September 2011.

Jefferson-School-building Source: Jefferson Community Partners

Earthen dam proposed for water plan

DailyProgress By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, May 21, 2010

More than a year and a half after consultant Gannett Fleming was dismissed from work on the design of a new dam for the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority has unveiled a new approach that is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars less.

Schnabel Engineering, based in Glen Allen, has recommended that the RWSA build a massive earthen dam just downstream from the Lower Ragged Mountain dam. The new dam would raise the water level by 45 feet, allowing for storage of more than three times the amount of water held in the reservoir today.

RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. said the new dam would cost between $28.5 million and $36.6 million, which includes final design and engineering work, an environmental mitigation plan, and protection of the Interstate 64 embankment the larger reservoir would reach.

20100521-earthen-dam“When we hired Schnabel we were persistent in pushing for attaining the goals of the community, which is a fine line balance between a very safe and secure dam that provides that long-term water supply, and one at the best cost we can get,” Frederick said. “I think Schnabel has been successful at getting us there, and I commend their performance.”

Chris Webster, Schnabel’s Charlottesville project administrator, said construction costs for the major components of the dam are about $22.5 million. The RWSA says that is about $50 million cheaper than the last construction estimate by Gannett Fleming.

“We have given a range for the construction costs of about $20 [million] to $27 million,” Webster said. “The final design phase and engineering during construction would cost an additional $3.7 to $4 million.”

“We believe this is a conservative estimate and it is very possible the construction costs will come out at the low end of the range, or possibly even below that,” he said.

20100521-dam-costs-table One part of the plan

The new dam is one component of the 50-year community water supply plan that would serve Charlottesville and the urban areas of Albemarle County. Additional water storage capacity is needed to accommodate population growth and prepare for future droughts.

The 2006 plan called for a new, taller dam at Ragged Mountain and a new pipeline that would transfer water from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to fill the expanded reservoir. That plan has come under fire by opponents who favor dredging South Fork and a new study of the community’s long-term water needs.

Dede Smith, a representative of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, which favors dredging, shared her initial reactions after seeing a copy of the executive summary provided to the RWSA board Thursday.

“I can’t comment on what this means without seeing a more detailed report,” Smith said. “It is difficult to compare this to earlier estimates because it is not detailed enough. … I am concerned about the sheer size of the dam. This is 135 feet tall versus 112 feet tall, so it is 23 feet taller and has a bigger footprint.”

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris has also advocated for an alternative approach that relies on dredging, increased conservation and a smaller dam at Ragged Mountain.

“Assuming these numbers are accurate, it is strong validation for the decision by the key parties to take a step back from the original plan and recommendations,” Norris said. “I am heartened to hear that, if we do build a new dam, it would not cost nearly as much as we had feared. However, I would like to continue pushing the envelope when it comes to evaluating other options that may save us even more money.”

Design evolution


Download RWSA Executive Summary
DownloadSchnabel Cover Letter
DownloadSchnabel Summary
DownloadDesign - Overall View
DownloadDesign - Dam sections
DownloadDesign - Borrow area detail
When the RWSA questioned Gannett Fleming’s 2008 design for the new Ragged Mountain Dam, and its $70 million-$99 million price tag, Schnabel Engineering was asked to provide a second opinion. At the time, Schnabel said a modified concrete design could be built for about $56.6 million.

With the two divergent proposals, Frederick convened in 2009 an independent panel of dam experts to determine how best to proceed. With the panel’s feedback, Schnabel replaced Gannett Fleming on the project in September 2009, when it was awarded a $1.3 million contract to redesign the dam.

According to Frederick, the idea for an earthen dam was first suggested by Schnabel. Following a review of that recommendation by the panel of dam experts, the RWSA announced in March that Schnabel would assess the option for an earthen dam after underground borings revealed the presence of much less rock and more soil.


WATCH THIS VIDEO: 3D views of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir earthen dam
Support for these visualizations comes from our generous donors, the Oakwood Foundation, and the Virginia Environmental Endowment.

Schnabel’s proposal has three major elements: the earthen dam; an inlet/outlet tower and tunnel through rock that houses the pipeline and spillway drain; and an emergency spillway carved out of nearby rock and designed to handle a 500-year flood event. The earthen dam is more cost effective because it relies on material available on site.

“Based on our calculations, we determined there is a need for 850,000 cubic yards of soil to construct the earthen dam,” Webster said. “There is at least 1 million cubic yards of material available on site.”

Other studies

Charlottesville officials have said in previous meetings that no decision would be made about the dam construction until the city gathers additional information on the costs of dredging, the feasibility and costs of building on top of the existing 1908 dam, and a validation of the water demand analysis that was the basis for the 2006 plan.

“This [report on the dam] is the first piece of info we were waiting for,” Smith said. “It will be difficult to assess what the feasible options will be until we get the results from all the other studies.”

The city is selecting its own engineering firm to investigate whether the 1908 Ragged Mountain Dam can be repaired or raised by 13 feet instead of building a new dam. Five companies responded to a recent request for proposals.

“We’re in the final negotiations phase with our selected firm, and hope to finish that in the next day and so,” said Judy Mueller, the city’s public works director. She said she hopes to reveal the firm’s name and the cost estimate for the study next week.

20100601-get-involved Gary O’Connell, Charlottesville’s former city manager, is the new head of the Albemarle County Service Authority, which provides public water and sewer to county residents. After reviewing the report, he suggested the timing was good for another joint meeting of the RWSA and ACSA boards, along with the City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

“Hopefully by the end of June we will have a lot of these questions addressed,” O’Connell said. “It seems like it would be a good opportunity to have the four boards come together and discuss the next steps.”

“I am encouraged by the [dam report],” O’Connell said. “We made the right decision to stop on the concrete dam approach and rethink it completely and have come back with a more cost effective approach that puts us back in the ball park of the original cost estimates.”

The earthen dam design will be presented to the RWSA board at its meeting Tuesday. A public information session has been scheduled for 6 p.m. June 1 in CitySpace at the Market Street Parking Garage.

Former city manager takes reins of Albemarle water authority

By Sean Tubbs
Friday, May 21, 2010
Charlottesville Tomorrow

20100520-oconnell
ACSA Executive Director Gary O'Connell
Over a month after leaving Charlottesville government, Gary O'Connell is settling in as executive director of the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA).

“It’s been a good move for me,” said O’Connell, who served as city manager for 14 years before switching jobs in April.  “I think I’ve had a pretty good start.”

Jim Colbaugh, an ACSA board member since April 2008, said the authority benefits from having a leader who did not need to learn about the community.

“We don’t have to explain to him what’s going on,” Colbaugh said. “He can tell us what’s going on.”

O’Connell presided Thursday over his first regular meeting of the ACSA Board of Directors. While the board made no major decisions, O’Connell made several subtle changes in the way the meeting was run, such as including a monthly executive director’s report.  He also unveiled a map he had created that depicts all of the ACSA’s current capital projects.

“I started the map for my own knowledge to understand the areas that we serve,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell takes over at a time when the community will decide on the next steps on the implementation of the community water supply plan adopted in 2006.

“The pieces of the puzzle are starting to drop in,” O’Connell said. He recommended that his board pursue a summer meeting with City Council, the Board of Supervisors and the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) board to choose a path.

In his capacity as city manager, O’Connell served as a member of the RWSA board. He’ll continue to serve on that body, but will now represent Albemarle County along with County Executive Bob Tucker and Supervisor Ken Boyd.

“I hope I can act somewhat as a bridge to bring us together for an appropriate water plan,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell also told the board he will consider making administrative changes to the ACSA after he has been on the job for six months. He also said he wants the board to evaluate his performance halfway into his first year.

“My first six months are ‘look, learn, listen, and ask a lot of questions’,” O’Connell said. “The [authority] has been around since 1964 so there’s lots of history to learn. I’m learning how things work and will start looking for where I can help and make improvements.”