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October 22, 2010

ACSA will fund earthen dam design

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By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 22, 2010

The Albemarle County Service Authority has agreed to pay for the final design work on a new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

The water authority will pay up to $869,000 to Schnabel Engineering to produce a final design, which will be completed by April.

The city of Charlottesville has not agreed to construction of a new full-height earthen dam. The City Council prefers the dam to be built in phases in conjunction with dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

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RWSA executive director Tom Frederick (right) was on hand to answer questions, as was Chris Webster of Schnabel Engineering (background)

At the September meeting of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, city and county officials could not agree on whether to continue paying Schnabel for design work, given the uncertainties about the approach. Mayor Dave Norris suggested that the ACSA pay for the work, given that the city has paid for studies on dredging and the feasibility of repairing and expanding the existing dam at Ragged Mountain.

ACSA’s executive director, Gary O’Connell, said he needed a vote from his board before he could commit the funds.

“There is the risk of the work being authorized and funded, but no agreement to build,” O’Connell said.

“This seems to me to have the potential to save us millions of dollars,” O’Connell added, saying that money spent now to continue design work would allow the RWSA to take advantage of a competitive bidding environment if a decision is made to build a new dam.

In comparison, the winning bid for the North Fork Regional Pump Station, one of the ACSA’s own capital projects, came in at $4.9 million, below the estimate of $6.12 million.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction and I thought it was a positive motion for the mayor to suggest this,” said ACSA board Chairman Clarence Roberts.

With respect to whether Schnabel designs a dam that can be built all at once, or in phases, engineer Chris Webster said work will first be done on the dam’s foundation, as well as a drainage tunnel to convey water through the dam to avoid seepage. After that, blueprints for the dam itself will be designed, requiring a decision on its ultimate height within three months.

ACSA board Vice Chairwoman Liz Palmer said she is opposed to phasing the dam.

“To build the base of the dam in order to phase in the future, we would be paying basically 99 percent of what we would if we just built the dam all the way,” Palmer said.

Jim Colbaugh

ACSA board member Jim Colbaugh said he would accept limiting the size of the reservoir by not filling it up with water all the way, but wanted to avoid building the dam in a piecemeal fashion.

“It just doesn’t sound right in my mind; it would be terrible to do that,” Colbaugh said. “I just hope we can move forward in six months with actual construction.”

Colbaugh said he could support paying for the rest of the design work because the city has established a precedent of paying for the study of water supply alternatives.

“The city has spent a half-million on their own,” Colbaugh said. “I feel comfortable recognizing the work the city has done, and I feel comfortable moving forward on the next six months of dam design.”

On Tuesday, the RWSA will discuss how to proceed with the city’s wish to issue a request for proposals to dredge the South Fork. One decision that came out of a September meeting of the four boards was to follow a recommendation from HDR Engineering to pursue a first phase of dredging separate from the water supply plan.

However, Norris has indicated he would like the RWSA to pursue a much broader course of action.
O’Connell sought direction from his board on how to represent them in that discussion.

Palmer said the ACSA should only support the first phase and should indicate an unwillingness to go further.

“We’ve already said that Rivanna has paid for its five-year capital improvement program without raising wholesale rates,” Palmer said. “If we start adding other things in there … we’re concerned that there will be more price involved and it will interfere with the 50-year plan.”

However, Colbaugh said he would be OK with seeking more information

“It’s just more information that we have, and why not get it?” Colbaugh asked. “Get the RFP, have it focused on phase 1 and provide alternatives for the full dredging and see what someone comes up with.”

ACSA member Dave Thomas made a motion directing O’Connell to express the ACSA’s support for phase 1 dredging and its support for the possibility of further dredging. However, Thomas made clear in his motion that the ACSA takes no position yet on whether further dredging is “feasible, economical, or desirable.”

The motion passed 3-2 with both Palmer and Richard Carter voting against.


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