Albemarle warns of rising sewer costs and continues to question move of pump station
By Brian Wheeler
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Albemarle County leaders came to this week’s meeting of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority with two big things on their mind to share with the public and representatives from the city of Charlottesville.
First, they want the public to know that bigger utility bills in the future are due largely to unfunded federal mandates and new sewer infrastructure, not new water supply dams. Second, they still believe the city is flushing $13 million down the drain on plans for a new sewer pump station.
“For the five-year period for wastewater, we are looking at over a 35 percent increase for our customers,” said Gary O’Connell, executive director of the Albemarle County Service Authority. “Whereas for water in the city, it is a reduction of 10.7 percent, and 2 percent or so [reduction] in the county.”
On Tuesday, the RWSA approved a five-year capital improvement plan for fiscal years 2012-2016 with projected new expenditures of $129 million. The budget is about 9 percent less than the plan adopted last year.
Judy Mueller, the city’s director of public works, said she shared O’Connell’s concern and added that RWSA’s budget does not include other infrastructure upgrades budgeted separately by the city and ACSA, the RWSA’s two wholesale customers.
“We are looking at 35-38 percent increases on our customers, and we have not done the job that we probably should have to communicate to our customers why we are having to do that,” Mueller said. “We need to go on a massive public education campaign.”
“If you ever want to look at an unfunded mandate, this is it,” Mueller said. “It’s just unbelievable that our ratepayers, our customers, are going to have to pay this $10 million because of this new [federal] regulation.”
Thomas L. Frederick, Jr., RWSA's executive director, explained to the board that Chloramines would be used as a secondary disinfectant, a process that combines ammonia and chlorine. Frederick said the RWSA would have to store more water at treatment plants and add ammonia storage facilities.
Board members encouraged outreach to businesses, like medical and biotech facilities, who may be impacted by the changing water chemistry.
The capital budget includes some key components of the $140 million community water supply plan. It recommends $26.9 million for the new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir and $3.5 million for limited dredging at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.
While those projects have a recently adopted cost sharing agreement between the city and county, the same can’t be said for wastewater treatment.
The Rivanna Pump Station in the city’s Woolen Mills neighborhood needs to be expanded and a divided board decided in December to move the station from Riverview Park to nearby land owned by the RWSA across Moore’s Creek.
This alternative, known as Option E, includes drilling a 2,000-foot tunnel to extend an existing sewer pipe that runs along the Rivanna River. The capital budget includes a mid-range cost estimate of $40 million for the pump station project.
O’Connell reminded the board that the county preferred upgrading the station in place, a location that would reduce costs by about $13 million. Even though the board had previously voted 4-3 to move the pump station, largely to address neighborhood concerns, O’Connell asked for a separate vote on that line item in the budget.
The city representatives, including Mueller, City Manager Maurice Jones, and City Councilor Kathy Galvin all expressed their surprise and asked for O’Connell to explain his rationale for revisiting the decision.
“I think the county has consistently said that we think the Rivanna Pump Station is $13 million too expensive,” responded O’Connell. “In good conscience with the position our board has taken, I think I need to separate it out and vote on it separately.”
Jones said that taking that approach was going to put the city in a position of having to vote against the overall capital budget if the pump station was pulled out. The city said they intended to start work on a new wastewater cost sharing plan this month, and suggested that would be the time to address the county’s lingering concerns.
“When you get ready to do it, you do a cost allocation,” Mueller said. “But you don’t start nit-picking and pulling things out of the CIP. We have never done that.”
County officials stuck to their objections and, after significant discussion, the capital budget was approved by another 4-3 vote, including the pump station as previously recommended, with chairman Mike Gaffney joining the city representatives in favor.
O’Connell, Albemarle Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, and County ExecutiveThomas Foley voted against.
“If that’s what you want to start to do, that’s going down a whole different road for where we go in the future on every single new project that we do,” Mueller said.