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March 23, 2009

Citizens and officials discuss Meadowcreek sewer interceptor

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Interceptor
Click for a larger map of the interceptor's alignment

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) is about to ask for bids for the Meadowcreek Interceptor, a new 36” sewer line that will follow Meadow Creek west to east through the City of Charlottesville as part of a pipe network leading to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The project has raised the concern of some City residents who feel that the project is unnecessary. The newly-formed Alliance of Neighborhoods held a community forum to discuss the project on March 17, 2009 at the Woolen Mills Chapel.

“We carefully chose this location because we’re right on the Albemarle-City line and we wanted a neutral space,” said Bruce Odell, the Alliance’s Secretary and moderator for the forum. 

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090317-Interceptor

Tom Frederick, RWSA’s Executive Director since 2004 said he was “somewhat ashamed” that the organization had not done enough to maintain the health of all of the various interceptors in the system. In wastewater terminology, an “interceptor” is a major transmission line by which sewage is carried to the wastewater treatment plant.

Frederick said the existing Meadowcreek Interceptor, which was placed into services in the 1950’s, needs to be replaced and can carry up to five times its normal capacity after storms, which pushes the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to its capacity. Frederick claimed a new pipeline would be more environmentally friendly in part because it will allow less stormwater to get into the RWSA’s wastewater system.

The firm Greeley and Hansen has been retained to study the entire interceptor system, with an eye towards replacing Meadowcreek first. Frederick said that the plans have evolved over the past year to accommodate the concerns of property owners along the interceptor’s right of way. The work will also be done in conjunction with a project to restore Meadow Creek.

“We want to build [the replacement] in the friendliest way we can possibly can,” Frederick said. “Working with adjoining landowners, working with City parks and other facilities to make the landscaping as pleasant and pleasing as possible.”

Former City Council candidate Linda Seaman is a resident of the Greenbrier neighborhood who has represented her community in its negotiations with the RWSA. She first heard about the project when she learned of the efforts to restore Meadow Creek. When she looked at a map of the restoration, she noticed a red line that showed where the Interceptor was due to be replaced. After doing some research, Seaman helped her neighborhood association arrange a meeting of the parties involved in both projects to find out more.

“It became very evident that this was a big project and that it involved a number of City neighborhoods and some County neighborhoods,” Seaman said. In order to navigate the numerous government agencies involved (City, County, ACSA and RWSA), Seaman requested that a project team be set up to help citizens influence the project.

“We have talked with [the RWSA] a couple of times about making sure that their approach is gentle, because we’re talking about people’s property, and in many cases that property is very close to their houses,” Seaman said. She said not all of the issues have yet been resolved, and she’s particularly concerned about the relationship her neighborhood will develop with the contractor that is ultimately selected for the project.

Lauren Hildebrand, the City’s Utilities Director, described that the City and County’s role in the process is to look after the collector lines that feed into the interceptors. She said the City’s sewer lines are not designed to accommodate stormwater.

Figure1
During his presentation, Frederick said this chart depicts how the current pipe does not meet the wet-weather capacity (Source: RWSA)

“When water gets into the sewers, it takes up unnecessary capacity,” Hildebrand said. That can lead to sewage overflowing into streams. She said the City is doing a lot of rehabilitation to its sewer lines.
Gary Fern, Executive Director of the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA), said the new interceptor will be less resistant to intrusion by roots. The existing pipe is subject to blockage at times because roots have dented the pipe in some sections.

The forum was a chance for citizens to ask questions of these officials. Odell started with one of the questions that has been raised by critics of the interceptor project such as former City Councilor Kevin Lynch. Odell asked if the interceptor was only being replaced to support growth in the County, particularly at the proposed Albemarle Place development. If the pipe is being replaced for County growth, shouldn’t the sewage be pumped through Albemarle County?

Frederick responded that much of the extra capacity designed into the new Meadowcreek Interceptor is designed to handle wet-weather flows. He said that gravity-fed sewage lines last longer, use less energy and easier to maintain then systems that use electricity to pump sewage uphill. Gravity pipes follow the natural topography of the land, and Meadow Creek just happens to flow through Charlottesville’s City limits. 

Just as the City and County transportation network is interconnected, so too are the water and sewer systems, which is one reason they are managed by a joint authority in the RWSA.  In fact, Moores Creek WTP, near Woolen Mills, is the community’s primary wastewater treatment plant and it even treats the sewage from the Crozet area of Albemarle County.

Odell followed up with a question to Fern about how much of the extra capacity would be used to support undeveloped land in the County, as opposed to land in the City which he said was largely built out.
“The additional flow that will come from Albemarle Place, while it is going to be somewhat significant, is not the driving force for the overall project,” Fern said. “There’s not that much growth to warrant doing this entire project for it.”

In response to a question about how the cost of the interceptor would be shared, Lauren Hildebrand said she and Fern are trying to establish how the existing pipeline’s use is currently being split to determine who will pay for the additional capacity. Based on that, a cost-share allocation will be factored to accommodate growth in both communities. She pointed out that the University of Virginia is a City customer, and its growth must be absorbed by Charlottesville. Hildebrand also said the City is encouraging infill development and will need additional capacity in the future.

Jack Brown of the Alliance of Neighborhoods wanted to know when the project would get started, and if the entire route of the interceptor will be clear-cut right away. Frederick said the goal is to award a contract by June with construction to begin in August.

“It’s a 14 month project, and they will not be in every neighborhood at every time,” Frederick said. The contractor will have some leeway on how the project will be rolled out, but the contract will contain language that encourages each section to be completed as quickly as possible to reduce the inconvenience to property owners along the right of way. The contractor will be required to maintain a website on which a construction schedule must be posted.

Another person asked what would happen to individual trees that homeowners wished to preserve. Frederick said the contractor has the right to work within the RWSA’s easement, but exceptions could be made.

“If somebody has a tree that they want saved, we’ll look at it,” Frederick said. “But we do have to assess them critically from the standpoint if they’re likely to die, or if they’re going to be in the way of safe and quick and prompt activity, we may not always be able to [save the tree.]” Frederick added that the cost of the project goes up depending on how many trees need to be saved.

Jack Brown asked a question on the minds of many residents: What time of day can homeowners expect work to start? Melissa Simpson with the RWSA said the contract would restrict work from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. After some in the crowd expressed concern about that time, Fern said that most contractors would still only work from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM to save on over-time costs. Brown said that many in the community were frustrated because authority over the project is spread over so many governmental agencies.

Frederick said community forums such as this were a good way to get the input from citizens well before work on the project actually starts.

Sean Tubbs

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:

  • 01:00 - Bruce Odell, Secretary of the Alliance of Neighborhoods, introduces the panel
  • 05:40 - RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick describes the project
  • 15:30 - Linda Seaman describes her involvement in the project
  • 23:15 - Lauren Hildebrand of the City's Utility Department describes the City's involvement
  • 28:15 - Gary Fern of the Albemarle County Service Authority
  • 32:00 - Bruce Odell asks why a pump system through Albemarle County isn't being suggested
  • 35:40 - Odell asks a follow-up question on Albemarle Place
  • 37:30 - City Planning Commissioner Bill Emory asks if a sewage basin could be built in Greenbrier Park.
  • 42:50 - Another question about Albemarle Place
  • 45:00 - Follow-up question about the cost-share arrangement between the City and the County
  • 47:20 - Question from Jack Brown about when the project will start
  • 49:45 - Odell asks if efforts will be made to protect specimen trees along the right of way
  • 54:20 - Colette Hall asks a question about how many County neighborhoods drain into the interceptor, and a question about how the stream restoration project fits in
  • 1:03:20 - Resident of the St. Charles Court neighborhood thanks RWSA for working with her to improve the project
  • 1:04:30 - Emory asks for statistics about how infiltration is really affecting the system
  • 1:08:00 - Jack Brown asks what time of day work will commence
    1:12:00 - Question about the struggle citizens have to ask the right questions about projects\

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