By Brian Wheeler
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The head of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has agreed to facilitate a meeting with local officials on the future of the area’s community water supply plan.
DEQ Director David K. Paylor extended the offer in a letter sent Nov. 23 to the four boards that must reconcile the different water plans favored by Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
Recent correspondence between the VA DEQ and the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority related to the water supply plan
| November 23, 2010 - David Paylor's (DEQ) letter to "four boards"
|October 28, 2010 - Tom Frederick's (RWSA) letter to Scott Kudlas (DEQ)
August 2, 2010 - Scott Kudlas' (DEQ) letter to Supervisor Mallek & Mayor Norris
“[I]t has been suggested that DEQ staff assist by facilitating a public meeting of stakeholders, where these issues could be discussed openly and constructively,” Paylor wrote. “Although the current suggestion is not a typical function for DEQ, we are happy to explore with the community whether and how such a meeting might be possible and useful.”
Paylor’s letter was written in response to an invitation from Thomas L. Frederick Jr., the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s executive director. Frederick collected questions from city and county officials about possible changes to the water plan and extended an invitation to DEQ for a face-to-face meeting in Charlottesville.
After reviewing Paylor’s letter, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris said he was pleased with the DEQ’s response.
“It’s very encouraging and one more sign that DEQ is willing to play a constructive role in bringing this issue to a good resolution,” Norris said. “I suspected all along that ... this is the path they would prefer to take rather than seeing the parties battle back and forth.”
Ann H. Mallek, chairwoman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, said her board would review the letter at its meeting Wednesday.
“We look forward to hearing from the city what the specific items are that they would like to discuss with DEQ,” Mallek said. “The Board of Supervisors has not yet discussed its response to the letter yet.”
At a joint meeting in September the city and county were unable to agree on how or whether to revise the long-range plan for the reservoir. Earlier this month the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board granted a six-month extension for continued use of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir through May 31 on the condition that construction permits be issued for the dam’s repair, renovation or replacement by that deadline.
Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors still backs the original water plan, which calls for an earthen dam to be built downstream of the existing dam, raising the reservoir pool vertically by 42 feet. The Albemarle County Service Authority is now paying for the final engineering to design that dam.
Charlottesville’s City Council favors a revised plan that would build a taller dam in two phases, with a second height increase to be built only if deemed necessary to satisfy future water needs. Phasing was contemplated in the community’s 2006 permit application as one way to address safety issues with the 1908 dam and spread out the capital costs.
The original 2006 plan carried an estimated price tag of $142 million. While the city and county have agreed on about $102 million in capital projects, Norris has estimated that the phased dam component, as part of a more modest water plan, could save about $25 million when combined with an investment in dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.
John Martin, a former member of the ACSA Board of Directors who resigned in September to lobby on behalf of the 2006 water plan, said a public meeting with DEQ was unnecessary.
“I am impressed by the DEQ’s attention to our situation … and I appreciate that they continue to support our existing permit,” Martin said. “With respect to facilitation, I don’t think it is necessary. There will not be a compromise by Albemarle County or the ACSA. We have a plan and I don’t think this meeting will serve any useful purpose.”
Paylor asked that the four boards — the Albemarle supervisors, the City Council, the ACSA and the RWSA — “independently confirm” that they want to participate in the proposed public meeting, which has not been scheduled.
City Council has asked the DEQ to weigh in on the minimum height increase of the first phase of the dam. Council’s September resolution said the first phase should be only 13 feet higher. Norris believes the city’s commitment to build a taller dam, when needed, could be part of a plan that meets DEQ approval within the existing permits.
Paylor indicated in his letter that the agency supports the 2006 water plan but is open to changes.
“The [DEQ] supports the community’s existing water supply permit,” Paylor wrote. “If, however, the community chooses to submit a new or modified permit application to DEQ, then DEQ will evaluate the application and advise the community on the extent to which the application meets DEQ’s statutory and regulatory requirements.”
Paylor met privately with Norris in late October to discuss the agency’s approach to water supply planning. That meeting was of concern to some supervisors and city councilors who were unaware of the mayor’s trip until two weeks after the fact.
“This is exactly what he told me when I met with him — the permit in hand is the one that is duly recognized with standing authority,” Norris said. “They have also been clear that if the community wants to modify it, we can seek modification and they will work with us to try and accommodate the direction we want to pursue.”
Mallek said she expected the DEQ to focus on responding to the questions outlined in Frederick’s Oct. 28 letter.
“We asked DEQ for explanations, not to have them negotiate our decision,” Mallek said. “I am skeptical the meeting will do any good because DEQ has said several times they are not negotiators and that they don’t want to get into these debates.”
Norris added that the ongoing review of the proposal by the city’s consultant, Black & Veatch, to build on top of the old dam needs to come to a resolution quickly.
“Before we have this meeting with DEQ, we need to make sure we have a viable alternative when it comes to dam design and construction. If we don’t, then it’s a moot point,” Norris said. “If [Black & Veatch] can assure us their approach is still sound, and will not have major cost implications, then we will be able to come to a decision on the best way to approach our dam.”