Water authority awards dam contract to Thalle Construction
By Brian Wheeler
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Thalle Construction of Hillsborough, N.C., has been formally awarded the contract to build the new earthen dam for the Charlottesville-Albemarle County community water supply.
The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority finalized the agreement Tuesday.
“We have issued the notice of award and it was signed this morning,” said Thomas L. Frederick Jr., the RWSA’s executive director. “The notice to proceed [with construction] will be issued when all the contract documents are properly executed. Our best guess is that will take another two-three weeks.”
“We are excited for the opportunity to work with Rivanna and the residents towards the successful completion of this water supply project,” said Joseph M. Schiavone Jr., a senior project manager with Thalle. “We enjoy this type of work. It’s very challenging.”
In December, Thalle was announced as the low bidder among nine competing firms. Thalle bid about $21.5 million on the first phase of the dam. The earthen dam will be built downstream of the 1908 concrete dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
The contract executed this week is technically for the dam’s first phase, which would raise the water level by 30 feet. However, in January the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County agreed to build the dam all at once and only fill it to 42 feet as water demand requires.
Frederick said Thalle will submit a change order covering the extra work to build the dam to its full height.
“$26.9 million is our projection for the total project cost in the construction phase,” Frederick said. “It is sufficient to cover those expenses.”
In February, the RWSA board authorized Frederick to make the award even though final approvals were outstanding from VDOT, the CTB and the Federal Highways Administration regarding changes needed to an embankment where the expanded reservoir will meet Interstate 64.
“The issue is that [VDOT and FHWA] jointly maintain a map of all the interstate highways in Virginia,” Frederick said at the February RWSA board meeting. “They will have to move a couple lines on a map…. VDOT’s own internal procedures to modify that map requires action by the [CTB].”
According to Frederick, on March 14, the CTB and FHWA gave the final approvals necessary. All other required state and federal permits for the earthen dam were granted in December.
Visitors in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area can already see changes being made to prepare for construction, specifically, the lowering of the water level behind the existing 1908 dam. The area will be closed soon and remain closed throughout the 21-month construction period.
“We are over 19 feet down [in the water level] and the goal is 20 feet to get ready for construction,” Frederick said.
Randy Bass is the project manager for Schnabel Engineering, which designed the earthen dam.
“The plan is that Schnabel will be the construction manager, overseeing construction, inspection, and testing services,” Bass said, noting there would be significant soil and compaction testing for an earthen dam. “We have to make sure the contractor follows the plan as designed.”
Frederick said the city of Charlottesville would make the decision on when to close the natural area, but he anticipated that would happen in early April. Schiavone said he expected the construction efforts to commence in late April.
The RWSA had been advised by the construction team that a March start would have been optimal. However, Bass said adjustments are already being planned to address the delays.
“The contractor and others are looking at a slight modification of the sequence in work,” Bass said. “It will allow for the bottom of dam to be done in 2012. If we can build first 40-50 feet of the dam this fall, there will be no issue at all.”
The RWSA, Schnabel and Thalle also began meeting with neighbors on Reservoir Road on Tuesday to prepare for construction. In the Camp Holiday Trails dining hall, about 10 neighbors learned the first work activity is expected to include improvements to the narrow and mostly gravel road to build turnout and marshaling areas.
Tractor-trailers will not be able to navigate the road, so materials being moved in and out will be shuttled on smaller trucks led by a pilot vehicle.
The January 2012 cost sharing agreement between the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County allocates 85 percent of the earthen dam’s costs to Albemarle ratepayers. Charlottesville water users will pay the other 15 percent.
A supply pipeline connecting the expanded Ragged Mountain Reservoir to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, estimated to cost about $63 million, is a future project anticipated as part of the almost $140 million water plan.
The group leading the opposition to the dam during the past five years, Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, says it has no plans to take legal action.
“We haven’t met as a group in a while,” said Rebecca Quinn, the group’s chair. “Our purpose was a rational and sustainable water plan, and we maintain that still isn’t met by this project.”