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April 28, 2009

ACSA Board defers decision on dredging feasibility study; majority opposed

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By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, April 27, 2009

The Albemarle County Service Authority’s Board of Directors will send an informal letter to City Council expressing their concerns over issuing an RFP for a feasibility study for dredging the South Fork Rivanna River. The majority of the six-member ACSA Board is opposed to issuing the RFP, which was requested by City Council, out of a concern that it will jeopardize the permits granted by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for the adopted community water supply plan.

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The RFP was approved by City Council on April 6, 2009, and is now before the other three boards (ACSA, Board of Supervisors, and the RWSA Board)

The discussion took place at a special meeting of the ACSA Board on Wednesday, April 22. The ACSA usually meets once a month, but they adjourned their regular meeting the previous Thursday before discussing the RFP.

They began their conversation by trying to establish exactly how the RFP has come to this point. There are still no officially approved minutes of the March 3, 2009 meeting of the four boards  where Council decided to review and amend a previously written, but not released, RFP for a series of dredging studies.

Each of the members of the ACSA Board discussed the sequence of events that lead up to the RFP being written and endorsed by the City Council. Chair Don Wagner (Rio) said the idea of creating an RFP came out of the March 2009 four boards meeting, and that the ACSA neither endorsed or rejected the idea at the time. Liz Palmer (Samuel Miller) said the City was asked to put its idea in writing, and that she was surprised when RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick ended up writing the RFP. Executive Director Gary Fern said he recalled that it was clear that RWSA Staff was going to write it. Both Palmer and John Martin (White Hall) said they felt no obligation to approve the RFP. 

 “We did not agree to that, and we would have come out of our seats in objection had that been the suggestion,” Martin said.

Download Download the RFP

But Jim Colbaugh (Scottsville) said he could not remember any objections raised by the ACSA, RWSA or the County Board of Supervisors.

“Once you write an RFP, there’s certainly a reasonable obligation to move forward with it,” Colbaugh said. Colbaugh said that the ACSA could suggest a cap on the total amount to be spent on the survey, but that it would be “disingenuous” to stop the RFP in its tracks.

Clarence Roberts (Rivanna) said he was not prepared to vote on the RFP until the legal advice regarding the effects a dredging feasibility study might have on the federal permit authorizing the implementation of the adopted community water supply plan. That was another outcome of the March 2009 four boards meeting.

Palmer wanted to send a letter listing the concerns she and other Board members have about the impact the dredging feasibility study would have on the adopted water supply plan.

“One of the big things the City Council has articulated and has talked about several times is the idea of a smaller water supply plan, and that is not addressed in the feasibility study,” Palmer said. She added that the opponents of the water supply plan are now pointing out what they see as flaws in the May 2004 demand analysis. Palmer said City Councilors are getting bad information from the opponents of the plan.

Though he agreed with many of her arguments, Colbaugh was opposed to the tone of the letter that Palmer circulated during the meeting.

“What I heard the City say in the meeting of the four boards is they simply want some sort of an idea of what [restorative dredging] would cost,” Colbaugh said. “That’s why the four boards in that room allowed Tom [Frederick] to move forward with a feasibility study that looked at what could be done, how much capacity you could get out of the reservoir, and how much it would cost…. All City Council wants is a number that’s different from the $250 million thing that Gannet Fleming gave them.”

Wagner said there was likely going to be a study no matter what, given the desires of City Council.  Martin said the adopted community water supply plan has already gone through the planning process and should be implemented without a dredging component.

“We had an agreement, a contract, with the City for a water supply plan and based upon that agreement that we reached we submitted permit applications and we got this thing permitted,” Martin said. “And now the City is coming in unilaterally wanting a change in that agreement.”

The newest member of the ACSA, Richard Carter (Jack Jouett), said the opponents of the water supply plan will not give up and that the feasibility study should go forward because it would not automatically nullify the existing agreement between the four Boards.

The RFP will not be on the agenda for the RWSA’s Board of Directors meeting until May. Martin suggested that the ACSA defer the RFP until a special meeting can be held before the RWSA’s May 18 meeting. Palmer continued to suggest that a letter needed to be sent to give guidance to members of the other three boards. Other members of the board suggested a new letter be drafted up that would be less harsh than Palmer’s. ACSA Counsel Jim Bowling and Gary Fern are now writing up a letter conveying the sense of the ACSA Board about the RFP.


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