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February 26, 2011

County accepts initial 30-foot pool rise for dam


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has accepted the Charlottesville City Council’s support for building a new Ragged Mountain Dam in two phases, with an initial pool rise of 30 feet.

“I know we all have a stated preference for a dam that would be built to accommodate a 42-foot pool,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker. “But I think [councilors] are strongly stuck on not taking the dam higher than it is necessary in its first build.”

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110225-BOS-Dam-Vote


Rooker said it was time to compromise in order to move the community water supply plan forward.

“And I think part of moving forward expeditiously is to eliminate dangling issues and close those issues so that the community knows we have an agreement,” he said.

Supervisors voted 5-1 to direct staff to prepare a resolution that would both thank the council for its action and adopt the 30-foot pool rise as the board’s official position.

Supervisor Kenneth Boyd was the lone vote against the direction.

“This is the most impractical approach,” Boyd said. “It doesn’t make any sense financially, it doesn’t make sense environmentally. I don’t know what the city’s problem is with building a 42-foot dam.”

Representatives from Schnabel Engineering told the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority board in January that an earthen dam could be phased, but that 99 percent of the cost of the full-height dam would be spent on the first 30-foot increase. Cost estimates for the dam range between $24.8 million and $28.4 million. Building the second phase would result in a final cost that is 108 percent of doing the project all at once, an additional $1.45 million to $1.77 million.

The cost of the full water plan, which includes a new pipeline and other components to accompany a new dam, is estimated at some $140 million.

Rooker said he agreed and understood Boyd’s opinion, but insisting on a taller dam would jeopardize the entire plan.

“It is abundantly clear to me that they would not get three votes to build a dam to accommodate a 42-foot pool,” Rooker said.

“They don’t think that even given the county’s projected needs that the dam is going to have to be increased in the next 50 years,” Rooker said. “What they don’t want to do is build a higher dam and have a huge amount of cleared area that may never be needed.”

But Boyd said he was upset that the county had to constantly accommodate the city’s positions, which he said delayed projects like the Meadowcreek Parkway.

“Everything we do we seems to have to kowtow to what the City Council likes to do because we can’t get enough votes,” Boyd said. “Well, I’m tired of it and I think our citizens are tired of it, too.”

Rooker said the resolution should explain that the board wants objective criteria to serve as a “trigger” to proceed with the second phase.

County Executive Thomas Foley said he understood.

“You are looking for some kind of a condition that would say this is not a legislative decision to go back to the City Council about the extra 12 feet,” Foley said. “Your condition on doing the 30-foot [pool rise] is that there is some kind of guarantee [for a second phase].”

Supervisors will vote on the resolution at their meeting Wednesday.

Supervisor Duane Snow said he wanted to proceed with the full height, but was willing to compromise.

“By doing it [all] now, it would save a lot of money,” Snow said. “But if this is what it takes to move this thing forward, then so be it.”



February 25, 2011

Foley recommends “stewardship” budget for FY2012

By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 25, 2011

Albemarle County Executive Thomas C. Foley will present the Board of Supervisors this morning with a proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Thomas C. Foley, Albemarle County Executive

“This budget totals just over $301 million and is balanced on the existing tax rate of 74.2 cents, resulting in a tax decrease, because of declining real estate assessments, for the average property owner for the second year in a row,” Foley said.

“This budget is very much about transformation, and fundamentally shifting how we approach the business of providing local government services,” he added.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110224-Foley-Budget-Briefing

The proposed budget is a 3% increase over the budget adopted for the current fiscal year. The majority of the increase in revenues comes from the sale of bonds to pay for capital improvement projects.

Real estate assessments decreased 1.25% this year, the smallest decline since the downturn began according to Foley.

At a press briefing Thursday, Foley said this year’s budget was the first in several years that was not a reaction to sharp decreased in revenue.

“We’re seeing stabilization of our revenues,” Foley said. “That doesn’t mean our revenues are recovering. It just means that they’ve stopped falling. We have moved to supplementing our core services that have fallen behind over the last few years.”
For example, two police officer positions have been unfrozen by freezing three other full-time positions elsewhere in general government.

The county has a performance goal of having 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents, a goal it has not yet reached and won’t with the restored positions.

 “The current authorized strength of the force is 123 officers,” said Bryan Elliott, one of the county’s two assistant county executives.  “This will not get us any closer to the 1.5.”

Foley’s budget also recommends unfreezing a deputy director position for social services.

“The one place we’ve tried to invest and shift staffing has been to social services because the needs have been so great,” Foley said.

Positions eliminated include a records clerk in the police department and an assistant director for parks and recreation. The position of facilities development director has been eliminated now that Bill Letteri is now serving as the other assistant county executive.

That brings the total number of frozen or eliminated positions to 66 since the downturn began.

“They’re not coming back,” Foley said. “The world has changed.”

Many of the positions have come from the community development department, which is responsible for reviewing land use applications. If the economy rebounds, that could mean staff will have more work to do but fewer people to do it.

“If we get more plans to review than we’ve had for a few years and the staffing is down, we’re in a process of looking at whether we need to restructure to do that,” Foley said.

“We have a group that looks at urban areas and one that looks at rural areas. Maybe those need to become one group so they can handle the workload in a different kind of way.”

County staff will receive a 1% salary increase, the first raise since FY2008.

For the first time, the county will also put 1% of revenues into a stabilization fund. That will set aside $2.6 million in a ‘rainy-day fund.”  That’s in addition to a $744,000 contingency fund to address potential revenue short-falls.

Funds are also in the budget for the county to conduct a “target industry study” to assist with economic development efforts. The budget also includes funds to support the opening of Preddy Creek and Byrom parks.

Several programs will be eliminated, including community policing, hunting control, and   a housing down payment fund. No county funds will go toward the Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) program, though it will continue to receive some grants and other sources of revenue.

Community agencies, including the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, will receive a 1% increase in funding.

Last year’s proposed budget initially contained a 5% reduction in funds for the library and other community agencies. Supervisors agreed to level-fund the library after the Board of Trustees threatened to close the Scottsville or Crozet library.

“We hope to not have as much strife this year,” Foley said.

One remaining question is how much state funding Albemarle can expect, as the General Assembly has yet to conclude its budget process.

The first public hearing on the budget will be held on March 2, 2011. Supervisors will hold a series of work sessions in mid-March before a second public hearing on March 30. Adoption of the budget will be on April 6.


Climate committee receives public input on energy reduction strategies

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 25, 2011

Charlottesville, Albemarle County and University of Virginia officials held a workshop Thursday to collect ideas from citizens about strategies to reduce energy consumption in the area.

“We have a lot of [information], but we came to the recognition that we’ve never had a chance to initiate a two-way dialogue on the topic,” said Kristel Riddervold, the city’s environmental administrator.

For the past 18 months, a Local Climate Action Planning Process steering committee has been working on an effort to coordinate regional programs to help area residents lower their energy usage. One of the goals is to help the region attain reductions in carbon emissions over the next several decades.

Riddervold said the intent is not to mandate energy reduction choices through government edicts, but to educate the public on the many benefits that come with doing so.

“I don’t think we can be effective if this is a top-down approach,” said Riddervold. “As a community we can be a lot more effective if everyone has the chance to identify what strategy works for them. For some people, it is 100 percent for economic reasons and wanting to save money, and for others it’s a health issue.”

Potential strategies could include encouraging mass transit, raising awareness about electricity usage and education about energy efficiency in the home.

“Buildings are producing 49 percent of all the carbon dioxide that is put in the atmosphere, and of that 70 percent is by the housing sector,” said former Albemarle Planning Commissioner William A. Edgerton. Edgerton is an architect who manages an energy sustainability program that seeks to encourage energy efficiency in affordable housing projects.

“Traditional affordable housing has been built using the least expensive products, meaning cheap windows and cheap heating and cooling systems,” he said.

Jay Willer is a former official with the Blue Ridge Homebuilders Association who is on the LCAPP steering committee.

“Most new homes have a lot of energy efficient features in them,” said Willer. “Every builder in this area has adopted the practices because buyers look for them.”

However, most homes in the area are not new.

“We’ve taken many steps, but there’s much more that must be done,” Edgerton said.

“Our existing building environment uses more energy than it could or should. That means we’re paying too much to heat, cool and light them.”

That’s where the non-profit Local Energy Alliance Program could come in. City resident Wendy Roberman has already retrofitted her 1960’s-era home to reduce energy usage by taking advantage of the LEAP program.

“I’ve insulated the attic, sealed my ducts and put in new windows and a new heating system,” Roberman said. “I’ve definitely saved on the energy bills, and the house is much more comfortable to live in.”

Cynthia Adams, the director of LEAP, said the first step to use the program is to answer some questions about utility bills on the program’s website.

“Two reports will come back,” Adams said. “First, you’ll learn what improvements can be done based on what we can tell about the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems. The second is a peer report so you can see how you compare to your neightbors.”

This initial step is free, but interested homeowners can get a rebate if they then decide to have a home energy audit.

Feedback collected at the workshop will inform work to be done as part of a $999,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. Some of the money will allow the city and county to hire a temporary planner to address sustainability in this year’s review of both jurisdictions’ comprehensive plans.

Nearly 100 people attended the workshop, which featured information on current programs. Participants were asked to answer questions about what government incentives and policies would be most effective in helping individuals reduce their carbon footprint.


Water authority approves next steps for earthen dam's construction

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, February 25, 2011
Following up on the pivotal vote by Charlottesville City Council to endorse an earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, the board of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority has approved a process to secure permits which would allow dam construction to begin as early as December.

The earthen dam is the first major component to be built as part of the Charlottesville-Albemarle 50-year community water supply plan, which was first approved in 2006.

Thomas L. Frederick, Jr., the RWSA’s executive director, said at a board meeting Thursday that he will seek permit modifications that allow the new Ragged Mountain dam to hold a reservoir pool between 30 feet and 42 feet higher than current levels. The dam’s final height is a critical issue still to be negotiated between Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

“The permit conditions that have already been approved are approved for the full-height dam,” said Frederick. “What we are asking for basically are the conditions in the permit that support an initial 30 foot pool.”

According to Frederick, building that flexibility into the permits would accommodate the ongoing negotiations and alleviate the need for future state and federal permit changes.

Both localities have now agreed the new earthen dam should be built with a foundation that could support a water level up to 42 feet higher. However, Charlottesville City Council voted Jan. 18 to have the first phase of the reservoir’s enlargement limited to 30 feet. The Albemarle Board of Supervisors previously told council that they prefer the dam to be built to its full height in a single phase, even if it is only filled to 30 feet initially.

“Ultimately, the city’s made clear where we stand on the issue of the 30 foot pool height and accommodating that in the first phase,” said Maurice Jones, Charlottesville’s city manager. “We’d like to hear more from the county as to where they stand on the issue.”

Jones and Albemarle County Executive Thomas Foley discussed how their localities would be negotiating over the next month on the dam structure’s initial height, land use agreements to build the dam and triggers that could raise it in the future, if it is not built to its full height immediately.

Frederick said Schnabel Engineering is on track to complete the final design of the full-height dam by the end of April.

“Before we go out to bid for construction, we need to know exactly what we’re going to build,” said Frederick. “It would be preferable to make that decision as early as next month and go ahead and incorporate the changes in what Schnabel is doing.”

The board voted unanimously to have Frederick begin seeking the permit modifications. City Councilor David Brown, who replaced Mayor Dave Norris on the RWSA board last month, was not present.

In other business, the RWSA approved wholesale water and sewer rates to advertise for a public hearing to be held May 24.

For urban water, the RWSA is proposing to charge the city $2.443 per 1000 gallons, an increase of 0.21 percent over last year. The Albemarle County Service Authority would be charged $3.39 per 1000 gallons, an increase of 2.57 percent.

However, wastewater rates will continue to increase more dramatically because of major sewer infrastructure projects. The city would be charged $3.179 per 1000 gallons of wastewater, a 10.46 percent increase. Albemarle’s proposed rate is $3.348 per 1000 gallons, an increase of 9.84 percent.

Frederick also presented his budget proposal for next year. The overall budget for fiscal year 2012 totals $23,154,000, representing a 6.28 percent increase over the current year. That includes the proposed operational budget, which is $12,222,000, representing a 4.78 percent increase.

The board also tabled a decision regarding further work on design concepts for a major sewer pump station in Charlottesville’s Woolen Mills neighborhood. Jones asked that city council first receive a presentation on the Rivanna Pump Station at its next meeting in March.

February 24, 2011

Meadowcreek opponents file federal suit

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Opponents of the Meadowcreek Parkway have filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration to prevent construction of the road’s proposed interchange with the U.S. Route 250 bypass.

“This is a very pivotal moment in a struggle that has been going for over 30 years,” said Rich Collins, one of the members of the Coalition to Preserve McIntire Park.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110223-MCP-Lawsuit

Coalition members John Cruickshank and Daniel Bluestone at a press conference outside the federal court building

The suit, which was filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for Western Virginia, cites Section 4(f) of the 1966 Department of Transportation Act, which prohibits the FHWA from approving highways that pass through parkland if there are viable alternatives. Additionally, the National Environment Policy Act requires environmental impact statements to be developed.

Download Download the Coalition's lawsuit against the FHWA

In October the FHWA issued a “finding of no significant impact” for the parkway’s interchange with the U.S. Route 250 bypass. That gave the coalition a legal trigger to file the suit.

“We think that there are significant impacts,” said Peter Kleeman, another member of the coalition. “We have assessed our opportunity to contest this project on the basis of those federal laws.”

The suit also alleges that the parkway project was unlawfully divided into three segments in order to reduce the required level of environmental review. In addition to the interchange, the Charlottesville and Albemarle County portions of the parkway are classified as separate projects administered by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

No federal funding is being used to construct the city or county’s portion of the road, but the interchange will be paid for using a $27 million federal earmark sponsored by former Sen. John Warner.

“In 1985, Meadowcreek Parkway was one road with one name,” said Daniel Bluestone, whose home at 501 Park Hill is specifically cited as one of the historical resources that will be damaged as a result of the interchange’s construction.

“Our argument is that with major federal funding, the federal laws still apply,” Bluestone said. “They’re in place to protect parklands and historic properties.”

He added that, in addition to McIntire Park, the Covenant School, the Rock Hill gardens and his fellow Park Hill residents will all be negatively affected by the interchange.

The suit claims that the three projects are “inextricably intertwined.”

“Federal law required the FHWA to identify and evaluate the environmental harms that will foreseeably be caused by the three projects when viewed as a whole,” reads the lawsuit.

This is the group’s second lawsuit against the road. The first, which was filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court, claimed a supermajority of four out of five city councilors was required to approve a transfer of city-owned land inside the county to VDOT, which was necessary for construction of Albemarle’s section of the road. Judge Jay Swett ruled against that motion in June 2009.

The coalition is still raising money to pay for the federal lawsuit, according to Cruickshank. He said the group is also considering potential action against VDOT to prevent further work.

Stratton Salidis

The city’s portion, which is known as McIntire Road Extended, was advertised for construction in December 2009 and the lowest bidder of $3.38 million was Key Construction Company of Clarksville. However, VDOT has not awarded a bid because the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet completed its review of the project.

The county’s 2.1-mile portion is more or less complete, and was even open to traffic for a brief time last October.

Timothy Hulbert, the president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview that construction of all three projects is his organization’s highest transportation priority.

“The federal interchange project will enhance not only McIntire Road Extended and the Meadowcreek Parkway, but the entire regional transportation network,” Hulbert said. “There will be improvement not only for the bypass, but for Park Street and Hydraulic Road as well.”

Officials with Charlottesville and the Virginia Department of Transportation declined an opportunity to comment on the lawsuit.

Local TMDL planning continues despite challenges

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Local officials are preparing to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Administration mandate to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, even as challenges to the plan are mounted in both Congress and the courts.

In January, the American Farm Bureau Federation filed a suit against the EPA to stop implementation of a plan to restrict the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that enter the watershed. The federation argues the EPA overstepped its authority in establishing a “total maximum daily load” for the bay.

Download Download Farm Bureau's lawsuit against the EPA

“The EPA, with support of the Department of Justice, plans to move right ahead with the TMDL and the development of the implementation plans,” said Rick Parrish, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Parrish was one of several speakers at a League of Women Voters forum on the topic Tuesday.

Another threat to the plan is a budget amendment introduced by Virginia Congressman Robert Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, to prevent any federal funds from being used to implement the TMDL. The House of Representatives approved the measure this past weekend, which must also be passed by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.

Rick Parrish of the SELC

Parrish said the agricultural community, which feels it will bear a disproportionate share of the efforts to reduce pollution, is driving both efforts.

“In truth, the responsibility is going to be placed on all of us,” said Parrish.

The EPA approved Virginia’s watershed implementation plan in December. The next phase is the development of local plans that will spell out precisely what steps will be taken to reduce pollution.

If targets are not eventually met, the EPA could have many enforcement options, including denying permit renewals for wastewater treatment plants and municipal stormwater systems.

Many in the agricultural community have said it is not up to the government to tell them to install fences to keep livestock out of streams.

“Farmers and ranchers already are taking real, on-the-ground actions every day to improve water quality,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman in a press release issued when the suit was filed.

“Agriculture feels they’re being unfairly treated, wastewater treatment plants feel they’re being asked to do a lot,” said Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development. “I’m local government and I feel like I’m being unfairly treated.”

Graham said there are many questions that need to be answered as local plans are developed.

“For example, in Albemarle County, we have a large number of regional stormwater basins that are already treating stormwater,” Graham said. “None of that has been captured at this point and nobody’s recognized that those measures are in place.”

Leslie Middleton, the executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission, said individuals can play a role by voluntarily making choices to have a smaller footprint.

“Our choice of fertilizers, our choice of how much lawn to have, our choice of how to build our driveways, all of those kinds of things are very important,” Middleton said.

Parrish said efforts to reduce pollution have been working. In 1985, 102 million pounds of nitrogen made its way into the bay. By 2008, that number had fallen to 72.8 million pounds.

“The bad news is that we have to make almost that much of a reduction again to get to where we need to be for the bay to be restored,” Parrish said. “What we’re talking about is restoring it to an acceptable level where people can swim in the bay and not get sick, and where fish and oysters and crabs can thrive and not be threatened with elimination.”

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit and Goodlatte’s budget amendment, other steps are being taken to achieve the general goal of reducing pollution. A bill (HB1831) that outlaws the use of phosphorous in fertilizers sold for home use has passed both houses of the General Assembly.

February 23, 2011

A split city council endorses earthen dam for water supply plan

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Charlottesville City Council voted Tuesday to endorse construction of an all-new earthen dam, which will be built over the next three years to raise the Ragged Mountain Reservoir by at least 30 feet as part of the 50-year water supply plan.

The action ends the city’s investigation of salvaging the original concrete dam built in 1908. Council’s 3-2 vote also brings the city largely into agreement with Albemarle County officials who have been calling for immediate construction of an even taller earthen dam.

“I have trouble, frankly, seeing us moving towards a concrete dam doing anything other than throwing a monkey wrench into the process and derailing the city and county working together on a dam,” said Councilor David Brown.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110222-CityCouncil-dam

Implementation of the now almost $140 million water plan, first approved in 2006, has been delayed over the past several years by major changes in the dam’s design approach, and by the city’s investigations of water supply alternatives. Since 2007, a group of concerned community members has insisted that council give further consideration to dredging, water conservation, and saving the existing dam.

Dede Smith, with Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, said she had hoped council would wait for more information on dredging, a new water demand analysis, and a cost sharing arrangement with Albemarle.

“I didn’t expect them to vote at all,” said Smith. “I thought they would be a little bit more responsible in the sense that they would understand that there is a lot of more important information that is yet to come.”

“There are still more decisions to be made,” Smith added. “The county is probably not going to be satisfied with a 30-foot rise in the dam height.”

Ann H. Mallek, chairwoman of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, said she was pleased with the outcome.

“In times when citizens are so deeply divided on an issue, it can be very difficult for elected officials to choose a path to take,” said Mallek in an interview. “Studying all the available information is what you need to do, and I am pleased City Council followed that path and made what I think is a wonderful decision.”
Swing vote

By any measure, Charlottesville City Councilor Kristin Szakos knew she was going to have a difficult decision to make on the dam. However, when it became clear in the deliberations that her four colleagues were split down the middle on the two dam options, it seemed to become almost gut wrenching for Szakos, who realized she was the deciding vote.

“As city councilors we are responsible for safeguarding our assets and doing what is best for our residents, and that’s something that I am really struggling with on this issue,” Szakos said. “I see looking around me that I am a swing vote on this, and so I’d actually like the folks on both sides of this one to try and convince me.”

Mayor Dave Norris and councilor Holly Edwards made perhaps the biggest shift in position when they said they would support a concrete dam that raised the reservoir by 30 feet. Both had voted against the much larger reservoir plan on Jan 18.

Szakos said she was looking for a vote that could unite council moving forward, and while that seemed tantalizingly close to happening when Norris said he could vote for a larger dam, Brown and Satyendra Huja made it clear they continued to favor the earthen dam design.

“I support the earthen dam, basically because the team of experts that reviewed the old dam said they had serious concerns about its integrity,” Huja said. “Also I think [the concrete dam’s construction] will have significant negative environmental impact … in terms of the carbon footprint which is three times that of the earthen dam.”

After Brown made a motion to endorse the earthen dam, the first four councilors pressed their voting buttons and a 2-2 split was visible briefly on the electronic display in council chambers. After a few second pause, Szakos asked for the motion to be restated. Norris said the vote was to build an earthen dam and Szakos pressed her button in favor of that design.
A nasty debate

Betty Mooney, also with Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, told council at the end of the meeting that they were ignoring information her group and city-funded studies had previously uncovered.

“I am very disappointed,” Mooney said. “I realize it’s very difficult to change course. This plan was promoted by a lot of very powerful forces and some citizens stood up and said some of this information is incorrect. … You have gotten facts, and what I don’t understand is why you are now ignoring them.”

Prior to her vote, Szakos called out the most vocal proponents on all sides of the water plan debate. She said the tenor of the debate was now inhibiting public participation.

“I’ll have to say that I’ve been very frustrated in this whole process … largely with folks on both sides, who are so vested in their own preferred outcomes that they have really provided slanted and incomplete data throughout this whole process,” said Szakos. “I’ll admit that the nastiness that I have heard from a few of the people in this discussion has been very disheartening, and it did more than anything the other side could do to make me unsympathetic toward their cause.”

“This has been going on for month after month after month after month, without a whole lot of new information,” Szakos added. “A democracy doesn’t mean that the most vocal people get their way, or that the people in the room are necessarily representative of the majority opinion in the community, and the facts that are repeated the most often and the most loudly are not necessarily the only facts.”
Next steps

Schnabel Engineering has almost completed the final engineering on the design for the new earthen dam. The project is expected cost between $24.8 million and $28.4 million to complete. The cost sharing arrangement between the city and the Albemarle County Service Authority has yet to be finalized.

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority board meets on Thursday and will discuss the process for amending the state and federal water supply permits to accommodate the earthen dam design. It will also receive an update on the process to get bids for dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

RWSA staff have also asked for direction on the new Ragged Mountain Dam’s phasing. The city and county have agreed on an initial pool height increase of at least 30 feet, but not whether the dam should be built all at once to its full height to support an additional 12 feet of water in the future.

February 22, 2011

Council reviews environmental impacts of designs for larger dam; Late vote endorses earthen dam

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
As the community approaches the fifth anniversary of the approval of a 50-year water supply plan for Charlottesville and Albemarle County, city officials are again being asked to specify their design preference for a dam to be built at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

After polling the City Council in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, the only thing that was clear was that officials were anticipating a lively discussion and that the outcome of a potential vote remained uncertain. The council’s discussion occurred after press time.

UPDATE: After press time, Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2, with Norris and Edwards against, to endorse the all new earthen dam design with a 30' initial rise in the reservoir at Ragged Mountain. Visit cvilletomorrow.org and DailyProgress.com early Wednesday for complete coverage of the discussion and the implications for the water supply plan.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Mayor Dave Norris said.

The council has continued to review the differences between the earthen dam, favored by Albemarle, and a concrete extension of the existing dam, an approach the city has been exploring independently over the past year.

In January, Councilors Kristin Szakos, David Brown and Satyendra Huja voted to support a much larger reservoir as part of the almost $140 million water plan. Previously, after passing a resolution in September, the council had unanimously favored a phased approach to building what would have initially been a much smaller dam.

Now the dam’s first phase, however it is constructed, will make the expanded reservoir at least 30 feet higher. With the costs of the two designs now relatively close, the council has shifted its attention to a better understanding of potential environmental impacts.

“[The concrete dam] is clearly the more environmentally friendly option and the more cost-effective option,” Norris said. “Both types of dams produce the same amount of water, so why wouldn’t we choose the dam that has significantly less impact on the environment?”

Councilor Holly Edwards joined Norris in voting against the larger dam last month.

“It was my hope that we would be able to use the dam we have and just build upon that,” Edwards said. “I have no interest in building an entirely new dam.”

The council decided at its first meeting in February to give Albemarle officials one last opportunity to review the concrete dam design. In response, the Board of Supervisors wrote a letter to the council saying they continued to have concerns about the merits and cost-effectiveness of a concrete dam. The supervisors declined a presentation by the city’s engineering firm and asked the council to endorse an earthen dam.

“I can’t say I am fully there yet,” Szakos said. “Which dam we build is not a life and death thing to me. I am willing to hear arguments on both sides.”

Huja, who was previously the only councilor firmly behind the earthen dam, said he was still open to other options.

“My leaning is in that direction [toward an earthen dam], but I may change my mind tonight,” Huja said.

Brown says he has been persuaded by the advanced stage of the earthen dam design and the research by the Independent Technical Review Team that has evaluated the work of all the consultants on the dam project.

“I favor the earthen dam for a number of reasons, and while there are arguments on both sides, I like the idea of a new dam,” Brown said. “The ITRT study questioned the wisdom of building on top of [the 1908 dam] and I think we should take that seriously.”

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s executive director, has repeatedly reminded local officials about looming deadlines for the dam project set by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board. The board has directed both localities to have final engineering completed on a dam in April with construction permits issued to build it by May.

Because of safety concerns with the existing dam dating to 1978, state officials have said the community could face unspecified enforcement actions if the dam is not repaired or replaced on schedule. In a report this week, Frederick told the RWSA board that he is seeing “a significant increase in diligence by [the Virginia Dam Safety office] in recent months to review the progress of this project.”

“That’s a fear tactic,” Norris said. “We know that the state wants to see us come to a resolution with some concrete progress. … We have had 30 years of extensions on this operating permit, and I have full confidence that if the [concrete dam] approach is adopted we can get moving on the final design.”

Szakos said while the design for the concrete dam, if selected, would have to play catch-up to the earthen dam, she believes it could still be accomplished on about the same schedule.

“The construction timeline of [the concrete dam] is quicker, even if it takes a couple more months of engineering,” Szakos said. “It wouldn’t delay completion of the dam significantly.”

“If we decide on [the concrete dam], it would be because we thought it was the better option,” Szakos added. “If it was cheaper and quicker to build, and we believe less environmentally impactful, then I would think, since we are an independent elected body, that would be worth [the county] paying attention to.”

The council’s discussion came after press time Tuesday. Visit cvilletomorrow.org and DailyProgress.com for complete coverage of the discussion and the implications for the water supply plan.

February 21, 2011

Edwards will not run for second term on Charlottesville City Council

20110221-Edwards1 By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, February 21, 2011

Charlottesville Vice Mayor Holly Edwards announced Monday that she would not seek election to a second term on Charlottesville City Council.  Edwards was a newcomer to politics when first elected to council in November 2007.

Edwards said there was no single reason why she had decided not to run, but that she was looking forward to having more time to focus on her family and career.  She was joined at the announcement held at the Crescent Halls community room by her four daughters and her husband.

Edwards said the decision not to run for re-election was a difficult one which she made in consultation with her family.  Edwards, who turns 51 next month, pledged to remain active in city affairs.

“I was feeling as if I had accomplished a few things that were important on council and I was ready to move on and focus on my family and my professional life,” said Edwards in an interview.  “I want to get back to my work in the community that got me interested in running for city council in the first place.”


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Edwards is currently a nurse working with the Jefferson Area Board for Aging at the Crescent Hall and Westhaven public housing sites.

“I was working for the Public Housing Association of Residents before my term began, then I moved into an advisory role,” said Edwards.  “I would like to do more mentoring.  What I have learned from taking care of public housing residents has helped me to grow, by walking with them though their journeys and successes.”

Edwards said that over the past three years her work on council has resulted in a lot of “character-building experiences.”  She highlighted her work on the Dialogue on Race and her service on over 10 boards and commissions. 

With about 10 months remaining in her term, Edwards called on council to focus on several priorities including the redevelopment of public housing, workforce development, employment opportunities for felons, and healthcare for the medically underserved.  She also called for council to make an apology for Charlottesville’s past “urban renewal” initiatives which relocated African-American residents and business owners from neighborhoods like Vinegar Hill in the 1960s.

Edwards also mentioned that she was the first city councilor to serve on the expanded board of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority.  On January 18, Edwards joined Mayor Dave Norris in voting against having a much larger dam built at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir as part of the fifty-year community water supply plan. 

At that meeting, a majority of councilors endorsed building a larger reservoir and council will vote Tuesday on the question of whether the water plan will feature an all-new earthen dam or a concrete extension of the dam originally built in 1908.  At recent council meetings, Edwards has had little to say about the water debate.

“I haven’t given much voice to that because …it was my hope that we would be able to use the dam we have and just build upon that,” said Edwards.  “I have no interest in building an entirely new dam.”

Edwards also joined Norris in voting against the Meadowcreek Parkway road project.  Both councilors voted against the parkway at least three times on items from the interchange design, to funding appropriations, to the granting of construction easements for the portion of the road on city land in Albemarle County. 

The June 2, 2008 vote on the easement was largely responsible for an unsuccessful court case which challenged whether a supermajority vote (4 votes on a 5 member body) was required by council to convey public land to VDOT.

The water plan and the Meadowcreek Parkway have been two issues that have deeply divided city and county officials during Edwards tenure.  In her remarks, Edwards called for “building bridges” in the city-county relationship.

“I was hoping for a closer collaboration [with Albemarle], even consolidation between our police force, to develop a metropolitan police force, and the consolidation of social services,” said Edwards.  “I do look forward to seeing the future collaboration of successful services between the two [localities].”

Edwards said she has learned a lot more about the “city-county dynamic” while serving on council.

“In many ways our goals are the same…but the city and county really have two different cultures and different sets of values,” said Edwards.  “I think because the values are different we are not really able to collaborate in some areas or consolidate in others.”

“Some of the environmental issues that we embrace, the county may also agree with, but they don’t have the level of passion that’s in the city,” she said.

A democrat, Edwards was elected to her first term on council in November 2007 along with fellow party members David Brown and Satyendra Huja.  Brown announced last year he would not run for a third term.  Huja has yet to announce whether he will seek re-election to a second term in 2011.

Edwards challenged other community members to serve in local government and said she would like to see other African-Americans pursue seats on city council.

“I don’t take for granted all the work that has been done by the African-Americans in the community, both past and present,” said Edwards.  “I know that I stand on the shoulders of those that opened doors many, many years ago, but there is still much work to be done, history to be made, and there are still questions that haven’t been asked yet.  We must rise to the occasion.”

Edwards’ current term ends on December 31, 2011, but she said she should not be viewed as a lame duck.

“Lame duck?  I quack not,” said Edwards.  “My philosophy has always been you are only as good as your last day of work.”

February 19, 2011

YMCA officials hopeful for summer construction, pending lawsuit

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Saturday, February 19, 2011

Artist's rendering of the planned YMCA (Source: VMDO Architects/Piedmont Family YMCA)

Officials with the Piedmont Family YMCA are continuing to plan for a new, 77,000-square-foot aquatics and fitness center in Charlottesville’s McIntire Park, despite a pending lawsuit.

On April 1, Judge Cheryl Higgins will hear testimony in a case filed against the city by a consortium of local fitness groups. A similar suit against Albemarle County was dismissed in November, and YMCA officials are hoping the city suit will be dismissed as well.

“We want to have all of our pieces in place so that when that decision is rendered we’ll be able to move forward,” said Denny Blank, CEO of the Piedmont Family YMCA.

The lawsuit by the Charlottesville Area Fitness Club Owners’ Association claims the city violated the Virginia Public Procurement Act by not giving ACAC, Gold’s Gym and other for-profit clubs the option to respond to a request for proposals to build and operate a recreational center. The suit also alleges the city unlawfully entered into a ground lease with the YMCA.

Judge Edward Hogshire was originally scheduled to hear the city case, but recused himself because a family member does work for the city.

A spokesman for the fitness clubs said in an interview he does not think Higgins will dismiss the city case.

“We remain confident in our position and feel that the decision in the county suit does not impact the case against the city,” said Chris Craytor, ACAC’s vice president for development. “The issues at the heart of each case are different and will be decided on their respective merits.”

Earlier this week, attorneys for the fitness clubs filed an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court of the dismissal of the Albemarle County case, which was also heard by Higgins.

However, YMCA officials are preparing to proceed if the city suit is also dismissed.

Source: VMDO Architects/Piedmont Family YMCA

“We’ve hired [Davenport and Co.] to do a financial analysis of where we are to see if we can handle debt service and a mortgage so we can secure financing,” Blank said.

Blank said he hopes that ground can be broken on the facility in mid-June, after the Dogwood Festival has concluded. He estimated construction would take about 16 months and could cost as much as $16 million.

“A lot of things are coming in under construction [cost] estimates because people are hungry for work,” Blank said. “But it’s not going to stay bottomed out forever.”

Albemarle County is contributing $2.03 million toward construction of the center, and the city will pay $1.25 million. The rest of the nearly $16 million project will be raised in a capital campaign.

The city approved a ground lease for the YMCA in December 2007. Under the terms of the lease, the YMCA will occupy the space for 40 years at a cost of $1 per year.

The preliminary site plan was approved by the Planning Commission in November 2009, and city staff are currently reviewing the final site plan. That item needs no further review by the City Council or the Planning Commission.