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June 29, 2011

Colette Blount launches campaign for Charlottesville City Council

2011-election-DPx476 By Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Colette E. Blount announced Wednesday that she is entering the race for the Democratic nomination for one of three seats on Charlottesville City Council.

Blount, who turns 47 next month, was elected in 2007 to the Charlottesville School Board and has lived in the community since 1994.  Her school board term ends at the end of 2011. 

20110629-Blount1 “The message that I want to put out is that Charlottesville is a wonderful place to live, and I want it to be a wonderful place to live for everybody,” Blount said.


Listen using player above or download the podcast:
Download 20110629-Blount

Blount, an African-American, reflected on Charlottesville’s racial history, something she has been examining through the ongoing Dialogue on Race project launched by city council.

“I want to engage the community in ongoing dialogue, but also in action to move forward,” Blount said.  “With the African-American community, Charlottesville has its history, and I think part of that history has made people feel that they’re not part of the greater city.”

“I applaud the efforts and vision of Councilor Edwards and City Manager [Maurice] Jones in getting the community-based initiative the Dialogue on Race off the ground,” Blount said. “I will work to continue community dialogue such as this so that Charlottesville progresses.”

Blount said she would seek the Democratic party’s nomination at the unassembled caucus, or “firehouse primary,” being held on August 20.  Blount is the seventh Democratic candidate to announce in advance of the party’s July 8 filing deadline.

Blount’s announcement took place in front of Burley Middle School, an Albemarle County school located in the city.  Blount said she stood apart from the other candidates by being an educator who has taught for the past seventeen years in the community.  Blount will be an eighth grade civics teacher at Burley this fall.

Blount outlined three major beliefs for her campaign.  These included providing equal access to quality education for all citizens, environmental stewardship, and citizen engagement.

“It is in part through my work on the city school board that I have come to see more clearly the broader connection between Charlottesville the city and Charlottesville the people,” Blount said.

Blount said that, if elected to council, an important goal would be to help build a “sustained and engaged citizenry.”

When she ran for school board in 2007, Blount has said it was a last minute decision and that she only had three days to collect the necessary petition signatures.  Four years later, Blount is expected to be the last Democratic candidate to make a council announcement, but she was joined at her event by a host of heavy hitters in the local party.

20110629- Blout wide angle
Blount was introduced by Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris.  Other former Charlottesville Mayors standing in support of Blount included, Maurice Cox, Francis Fife, and Nancy O’Brien.

Norris, a Democrat, has now made appearances supporting three of the seven candidates running for the party’s nomination.  Besides Blount, Norris has also appeared with council candidates Dede Smith and Brevy Cannon, both of whom stood with Blount.

“Colette is somebody who has, over the years, demonstrated her commitment to the betterment of our youth,” Norris said.  “She is somebody who has a strong commitment to our natural environment and someone who has a strong commitment to community engagement and who will be an effective leader for city council for our community.”

Blount received her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College in 1986 and her Masters in Education from the College of William & Mary in 1994.

Speaking to the media after her announcement, Blount shared further details about her positions on the water plan and the Meadow Creek Parkway.

Blount said had she been on city council earlier this year that she would have supported dredging as opposed to building a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. 

In February, City Council approved, by a 3-2 vote, the construction of a new earthen dam as part of the fifty-year community water supply plan.  Blount said she would be willing to revisit that decision on the water plan if, after reviewing more data, she determined that there was a better plan.

On the Meadow Creek Parkway, Blount pointed out that she had already voted against the parkway as a member of the school board when city-owned land at Charlottesville High School and CATEC was required for construction of the county’s portion of the road. 

“I’m a strong proponent of the environment,” Blount said.  “Ultimately I weigh as many different sides as there are against what is best for people and best for the environment.  People can speak up for themselves, the environment can’t.”

“I voted against the parkway on the principle that it would go through McIntire Park,” Blount said.  “Nothing is wrong with open green space, and Charlottesville has very limited amounts of that.”

Walt Heineke, a neighbor of Blount’s, said he came to the announcement to show his support.

“I think she has done an incredibly great job on the school board,” Heineke said.  “She has the right vision for getting Charlottesville moving in the right direction for the future.”

Also in the race for the democratic nomination, besides Blount, Smith, and Cannon, are incumbent city councilor Satyendra Huja, Paul Beyer, Kathy Galvin, and James Halfaday.  The Democrats who win the nomination August 20 will face at least four independent candidates who are collecting petition signatures to get on the November ballot--Scott Bandy, Brandon Collins, Bob Fenwick, and Andrew Williams.

Watch the video below:

Colette Blount announces candidacy for Charlottesville City Council
from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

RWSA sets aside $3.5 million to dredge South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s Board of Directors agreed Tuesday to prepare a $3.5 million budget for dredging at least a portion of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

“[This] demonstrates that this board is serious about dredging,” said Maurice Jones, Charlottesville’s city manager, shortly before the board voted 6-0 on the matter. Gary O’Connell, executive director of the Albemarle County Service Authority, was absent.

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20110628-RWSA

In June 2010, the engineering firm HDR Engineering released the results of a feasibility study that recommended a two-part approach to dredging the reservoir. The first phase would dredge the upper reaches of the reservoir first because sediment there contains valuable sand.

HDR concluded the total cost of dredging the first section would range between $7.8 million and nearly $13 million. However, the report also calculated the potential revenues for the sand would range between $4.8 million and $9.5 million, leaving a gap for the RWSA to fund.

HDR also estimated that dredging only the upper portion of the reservoir would yield around 290,000 cubic yards of sediment, or 59 million gallons of water storage.

The second phase of dredging would involve dredging the middle of the reservoir. That would yield an additional 835,686 cubic yards of sediment, or 169 million gallons of water storage.

However, HDR estimated this second phase would cost between $26.3 million to $27.2 million. It also claimed the value of sediment from this section is far less valuable because it consists of clay and silt.

“Sand is very good for soil compaction in building projects, much more so than silt and clay because it doesn’t hold moisture,” said Thomas L. Frederick Jr., the RWSA’s executive director. “That value can be capitalized by a contractor who understands how to market the material.”

20110628- Rivanna

In March, the RWSA board agreed to hire HDR to prepare a request for proposals to create a public-private partnership in order to perform the work. This method, which was authorized by the 2002 Public-Private Education Facilities Act, was chosen because it gives flexibility to contractors to decide how they would accomplish the task.

“It opens up all possibilities going this way, as opposed to telling [a contractor] this is how we want them to do the job,” said Mike Gaffney, chairman of the RWSA board.
Interviewing contractors

HDR's Carey Burch briefs members of the RWSA Board

The RWSA board on Tuesday also agreed to pay HDR $15,500 to interview as many as four contactors to gauge their willingness to take on the financial risk of dredging the reservoir.

“This would invite the contractors to review the feasibility study that was done, getting them to review the [public-private] guidelines so they understand what they’re being asked to do,” said Carey Burch, a senior project manager with HDR. “This type of procurement process puts a lot of the upfront risk and cost on the contractor.”

For instance, the resale value of the sediment could be much less than anticipated when dredging occurs. One question that will be asked of contractors is whether they will assume the financial risks.

“Part of this project will involve the ability to sell some sand that’s in the upper part of the reservoir,” said Roger Solomon, another senior project manager at HDR.

“The contract will have to decide who is able to reap the benefits of that sand. Is it the developer with the dredging contract, or is it the city?” Solomon asked. “He can sell it or use it for his own benefit … but what happens if the market for the sand disappears?”

Under the draft proposal made available for the board’s review, the contractor will be required to obtain all necessary permits to proceed, including agreements with private landowners for dewatering the sediment.

The draft RFP states that proposals can include dredging farther down the reservoir, and that proposals do not necessarily need to follow the recommendations made by HDR in its study.

Rebecca Quinn of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said she supports the board’s action, but questions the need to pay HDR for more consulting work.

“We’ve been asking for what we called a performance-based or market-driven approach,” Quinn said. “It’s sort of frustrating that if you have to rely on consultants it will cost a lot more.”

Quinn said she would prefer to see the work of preparing the RFP performed by city, county and RWSA staff.

The source of the $3.5 million in funding is so far unknown. The RWSA’s current Capital Improvement Program budget does not contain any funds for dredging.

Details of how the CIP will be amended will come at a later meeting. Finance Director Lonnie Wood said the RWSA will need to use cash reserves, increase debt, or take it directly from rates.

“All of these options will have an impact on the rates,” Wood said.
Water supply hearings
In other water supply news, two public hearings will be held by the RWSA in the coming months associated with the implementation of the community water supply plan.

One will be to answer questions involving emergency response planning maps that were sent to owners of more than 2,400 properties that would be under water in the event of a break in the new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

The second, requested by the Federal Highway Administration, is to take public input on the Interstate 64 embankment that will be strengthened to accommodate a larger reservoir.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will consider final approval of a special-use permit for the new dam at its meeting July 6.




June 28, 2011

Mallek seeks increased scrutiny of biosolids; Recyc seeks to apply treated sewage on more acreage

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The chair of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will ask her colleagues in July if they will support an effort to increase scrutiny of the use of treated human waste as fertilizer in Virginia.    

“Citizens have little substantive information about the contents and or safety of those contents, thus the uproar every time a permit is activated,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow.

A tractor spreads biosolids on Jane Williamson's farm on May 31, 2011

Mallek’s request comes at a time when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is considering whether to allow Culpeper-based Recyc Systems to extend the practice of spreading biosolids to more county land.

Susan Trumbo, Recyc’s technical manager, said she and many others have worked in direct contact with biosolids for years without ill effects.

“It's a very emotional topic, but if you look at the facts, the doctors and medical experts repeatedly say there's been no health issues in regards to properly applied biosolids,” Trumbo said in an interview.

The DEQ currently allows Recyc Systems to apply biosolids on 6,438 acres of county farmland, and the company has requested permission to add an additional 545.1 acres in the county. A decision will be made by the DEQ later this year.

The DEQ is also reviewing several changes to its regulations on biosolids, but these generally concern notification procedures and not whether more research is warranted into their safety.

Mallek has been reviewing the proposed changes, but feels they do not go far enough to address potential health concerns.


“The DEQ maintains that they are watching the research to make sure they are current, but that is a long way from a complete list of components or their individual toxicity, or the way they may interact [with the environment],” Mallek said.

Trumbo said she understood the purpose of the new regulations, even if she does not think they are based in science.

“The new regulations are going to add another layer of rules, whether or not there's a need for them, in order to respond to the emotions of the public,” Trumbo said. “I don’t know if they'll protect the environment any more than we do today.”

Biosolids in Albemarle County generally come from Washington’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant. The waste is treated by a series of processes to reduce pathogens, including using lime to raise the pH levels of the soil to destroy the cell membranes of any microbes.

Greg Evanylo, a professor of soil environmental quality at Virginia Tech, said he believes the practice is reasonably safe, but he does have his doubts.

“You have to assess risk versus reward, and there are plenty of situations in everyday life that we take for granted,” Evanylo said. “Nothing is 100 percent risk-free but I am comfortable that the regulations are protective.”

Evanylo said lime stabilization will not eliminate all of the pathogens that may be present in biosolids, but that their proper application greatly reduces the risk.

“I think it's much more difficult to get ill from these microbes than some people might want to believe,” Evanylo said.

However, Jordan Peccia, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University, recently co-authored a paper that suggested current practices may not be enough to protect against norovirus, which can cause diarrhea.

Under the new regulations, companies permitted to spread biosolids will be compelled to provide more information on required signage

Peccia said when the Environmental Protection Agency studied biosolids before issuing standards in 1992, its scientists based their assessments on two potential pathogens — salmonella and enterovirus.

“We went back and did a risk analysis and added all these pathogens,” Peccia said. “We found that the risk for salmonella and enterovirus were really quite low. But when we included new pathogens such as norovirus and adenovirus we found that the risk was significantly higher.”

Peccia said his research illustrates why more study is necessary, but that doesn’t mean he advocates banning the practice.

“The next step is that we really need to have a better idea of what the pathogens are before we can say anything about the risk,” Peccia said. 

Evanylo said he believes an area that requires further study is that of emerging organic compounds, such as flame-retardants and detergents. However he said data collected to date have not indicated anything alarming to him.

Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, which analyzes government policy on behalf of the local business community, said his organization has studied the issue and believes that current regulations are sufficient to monitor the practice.

“We generally believe that biosolids regulations as they exist today are rather stringent and protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens,” Williamson said in an interview.

He said they have been safely applied for twenty years and that the DEQ requires the biosolids to be tilled into the ground within 24 hours of application, as well as keeping cattle from grazing the lands for 30 days.

“Those [regulations] are designed to mitigate perceived concerns, not scientific concerns,” Williamson said. He added there is no public notification process required for the practice of using poultry waste as fertilizer.

Mallek has requested the Board of Supervisors discuss the matter at their meeting on July 6.

June 26, 2011

ARB challenges design for Stonefield’s theater and grocery store

DailyProgressBy Tracie Cabler & Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Sunday, June 26, 2011

Approval for Stonefield’s first buildings may come later than expected, following discussions at two recent meetings of Albemarle County’s Architectural Review Board.

Architects for Edens & Avant are being challenged by the ARB to present an atypical design for a theater and nearby grocery store that will occupy prominent locations along Hydraulic Road and its intersection with U.S. 29.

20110620-Regal-corner “This would be perfectly fine down at Short Pump,” said board member Bruce Wardell. “But Short Pump’s out in this contemporary, entirely newly constructed environment.”

“I think if we approve a building with this much stucco in it, we’ll never be able to say no to anybody else with anything this size ever again,” said board member Paul Wright. “Either we’re making an enormous change in our design criteria here or we’re not.”

The new Regal Cinema, a state-of-the-art 14-screen theater with IMAX, and a Trader Joe’s grocery store are the first buildings of many that will undergo review by the ARB.

Stonefield, formerly known as Albemarle Place, is a mixed-use development that encompasses an area twice as large as the blocks surrounding Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. Stonefield will include apartments, a hotel, restaurants and a variety of retail businesses.

Originally approved in 2003, the project was delayed for a number of years, awaiting a more favorable market and necessary upgrades to the Meadow Creek sewer interceptor. There was also a change in ownership, with Edens & Avant acquiring the property in August 2007. The official groundbreaking was held earlier this month.


During work sessions this month, the ARB has not been completely satisfied with adjustments made in building materials, color choices and respect for existing architecture in the area.

“I think of these changes as minimal,” Wright said. “I’m getting the same sort of blank white building. I’m getting a building that doesn’t respond to local architecture, and you’re tinkering on the edges.”

Wright, along with other board members, has continued to take issue with the dominant use of stucco along the theater’s exterior. At 320 feet long and more than 40 feet in height, a large part of the ARB’s concern stems from the fact that most of the theater’s façade sits along the edge of Hydraulic Road, a designated entrance corridor.

Some ARB members want a style more like the brick-heavy look approved for the previous owners. When Wright suggested the current plans were based more on cost effectiveness than aesthetics, project developer Bill Caldwell agreed that was a factor.

“This absolutely is cost driven, no doubt,” Caldwell said. “There is a reason the previous design wasn’t built. I mean our site costs here are significant, they’re significantly more than most other developments in this region.”

Board member Fred Missel said he thought the plans were progressing, but that the ARB should be consistent with past decisions.

“We’re going to be consistent to the past,” Missel said. “We have to be fair to the folks that have become before us. At some point we’re just going to have to come together and have a compromise.”

20110620-Trader The Trader Joe’s, which will anchor the corner of the development at the location of the former 7-Eleven, faces similar design challenges, particularly as the back of the building is what is proposed to face Hydraulic and U.S. 29.

“It’s not a background building, it’s a foreground building,” Wright said. “It’s the sign, it’s the corner, it’s the most prominent building you have.”

The ARB members asked the architect to consider alternative materials for the Trader Joe’s and said they looked forward to what officials would bring back in July.

“It’s obvious we want you to be successful,” Missel said.

Representatives for Stonefield are scheduled to return to the ARB with revised plans on July 5. If approved, construction could begin as early as October.

Stonefield site plan - Click to enlarge to review building locations


June 24, 2011

Livable Community planners roll out draft performance management system

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, June 24, 2011

Around 60 people attended an open house at the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration on Thursday to provide input on how the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission should track progress for the Livable Communities project.

“We want good data for good planning with a good knowledge of where we are so the public and elected officials can figure out where we need to be going,” said Stephen W. Williams, executive director of the TJPDC.

City resident Pat Napoleon inspects one of the displays

Last year, the TJPDC received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in part to help Charlottesville and Albemarle County update their comprehensive plans.

As part of the grant, a committee consisting of city, county and UVa planners analyzed both jurisdictions’ comprehensive plans to identify common metrics that could be used to monitor progress.

Their work results in a “performance measure system” to track progress in various areas including “housing and the built environment”, “community and neighborhoods” and “natural resources and infrastructure.”

All of the data comes from third-party sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The TJPDC will not gather any of its own information during the project, according to Williams.

Sally Thomas, who served on the Albemarle Board of Supervisors for 16 years, said the creation of such a system was called for during work that created the writing of the Sustainability Accords in 1998.

“Most of those had a metric attached to them,” Thomas said. “It was lots of fun coming up with those things could be measured. The TJPDC has picked up some of those in this exercise, but by no means have they picked all of them.”

For instance, Thomas said she would like to track the number of birds in the community over time. The draft performance system only calls for tracking the number of endangered species sightings using data from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Lonnie Murray inspects a display depicting measurements of the area's natural resources

Lonnie Murray, chair of the county’s Natural Heritage Committee, made several suggestions by placing Post-it notes on charts displayed by the TJPDC. He said he felt the system as depicted did not do enough to explain its purpose.

“There needs to be a better narrative that ties together all the data,” Murray said. “There also seems to not be enough consideration of the connection of rural areas to the growth areas and how the rural economy plays an important part in the growth areas.”

Murray said he would like to see more data tracked about the use of natural resources, particularly as they relate to development.

“A metric I think that’s very important is how much redevelopment are we doing versus how much development of green space,” Murray said. “Are we taking places like Albemarle Square Shopping Center that have much way too much parking lot and redeveloping them to be more dense, or are we building more Hollymead Town Centers?”

Audrey Wellborn, a 41-year Albemarle County resident who has been critical of the TJPDC grant, said she attended the open house to find out what the group wants to monitor.

“The charts are very interesting to look at,” Wellborn said. “When you look at the ‘community and neighborhood’ systems, [one metric is] is the percentage of people who have lived in Albemarle County [for certain periods of time].”

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that over 60 percent of Albemarle and Charlottesville residents have only lived here since 2000, and around 20 percent have lived in their home for 20 years.

“That puts us in a very small category,” Wellborn said.

Participants were asked to mark up the displays to suggest other metrics and potential corrections

Clara Belle Wheeler, a county resident who is also opposed to the TJPDC grant, said this example points out how the data used by planners might be skewed.

“The other thing that’s not being considered is the separation of the student population versus the year-round full-time residents,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also objected to another metric captured in the survey. One chart under the “housing and built environment” system stated, “the number of occupants per room is an indicator of safe living conditions.”

“Some of the values that they’re making with the data I think are erroneous and are not germane to the question of livability or sustainability,” Wheeler said. “Many people have two children in the same room. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a good living condition. Lots of siblings grew up in the same room, but they’re portraying that as being detrimental.”

The TJPDC will continue to take feedback on the performance measurement system throughout the summer.

June 23, 2011

Business owners share different approaches to sustainability

DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 23, 2011

Local government and business leaders gathered at a workshop Thursday to share stories about how environmentally sustainable business practices are good for their bottom line and the community.

Maurice Jones, Charlottesville’s city manager, said the city initially began making different environmental choices because it was “the right thing to do.” Now it’s also recognizing the financial benefits.

Charlottesville City Manager, Maurice Jones

“Over the last seven to 10 years, we’ve started to realize we are going to save money in the end as well,” Jones said. “We know that the investment we are making … while costing us more money up front, is in the long run going to save us a ton of money.”

About 30 people attended the workshop sponsored by the city, the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center, the Better Business Challenge and the Local Energy Alliance Program. Participants represented local government, non-profit organizations and both large and small local businesses.

Some panelists observed they had taken different paths to arrive at a similar eco-friendly philosophy.

Jim Duncan, a co-founder of Nest Realty, is known for integrating blogging, social media and new technology in his real estate business. However, Duncan said he didn’t approach his business as a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist.

“I’m grudgingly ‘green’ in what I do,” Duncan said. “I found that being green saves us money.”

Duncan said Nest Realty has made the strategic decision to go paperless, uncommon in a world of home-advertising flyers and paper sales contracts.

“We are building a back-end [operation] that’s going to allow us to manage our transactions much more efficiently, which by being efficient will save us money in everything we do,” Duncan said.

Duncan routinely writes on his blog and Twitter about the best practices he adopts, like riding a bike to his home showings, in part to communicate to buyers a neighborhood’s friendliness to bikers and pedestrians, but also to be a living example of his company’s green ethic.

20110623-SeeingGreen (L to R) John Lawrence, Crystal Mario, and Jim Duncan

Other panelists, those with lifelong green streaks, said they were becoming increasingly aware they should be more outspoken about their business practices. That can be good for business too.

John Lawrence co-founded the Mudhouse Coffeehouse with his wife Lynelle.

“Lynelle and I have been ‘green’ from the very beginning,” said Lawrence. “That’s been our intent from the start when we had a coffee cart [on the Downtown Mall] in 1993. We were composting our grinds and saving those for the sous chef at the Omni.”

Lawrence said that at his five area locations the Mudhouse is always looking for opportunities to become more energy efficient, use less water and produce less waste. He said upcoming renovations of the Downtown Mall Mudhouse would include a new roof, more insulation and solar panels.

Crystal Mario founded her business, Rivanna Natural Designs, after retiring as a globetrotting technology executive. In 2001, Mario said her goal was to create job opportunities in Charlottesville for recently arrived international refugees.

Early meetings with the International Rescue Committee led Mario to target light manufacturing jobs. Today, 100 percent of her business revolves around those refugees making eco-friendly plaques and awards from recycled wood and glass materials.

Rivanna Natural Designs also has a commitment to sustainable manufacturing processes with its vendors, and at its Allied Street facility.

“We just try and never throw anything away, we just try and find someone else in the community … who wants the stuff that we don’t want,” Mario said. “Invariably we find people who want it so it works out really well.”

Cynthia Adams, executive director of the Local Energy Alliance Program, said these individual business choices had an additive effect contributing to global sustainability.

“Sustainability is unique to each business,” Adams said. “It’s not a one-size fits all with sustainability, it’s completely customized to your business and that gives you a lot of room to maneuver.”

“There are growing expectations on business to help solve environmental and social issues,” said Adams. “Businesses need to be part of the solution, and just a part of ‘the problem.’”

Amtrak policy change means new challenges for regional service


By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 23, 2011

Virginia transportation officials are negotiating with Amtrak to gain a greater share of revenue from passenger fares before new federal rules are implemented two and a half years from now.

As proposed, the financial success of passenger trains recently added in Charlottesville would be undercut because only a portion of a passenger’s fare would be counted as Virginia travel. The changes will mean less revenue to help the state to pay for the service.

“We remain critically concerned about this,” said Kevin Page, chief of rail transportation for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Slide from Kevin Page's presentation to the CTB showing how Amtrak lines across the nation will be affected

In 2008, Congress passed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which devolved funding responsibility for regional service to state governments.

“This is the federal government wanting to get the burden of Amtrak off of their back,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton at a meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board earlier this month.

The DRPT is in the middle of a three-year experiment to fund capital and operating costs for passenger rail that begins in Lynchburg and travels through Charlottesville to New York City. The DRPT also funded another new train that travels from Richmond to New York.

Under the new rules, the state will be responsible by October 2013 for paying for those trains as well as four existing routes that originate in Virginia that Amtrak has been fully funding.

“After that, absent an infusion of new revenue into the passenger rail operating and capital fund, there will be no money either to sustain the new services or to pick up the costs of the existing services,” said Meredith Richards, a former Charlottesville city councilor and chair of Cville Rail.

Page called the legislation a game-changer because it will dismantle a national transportation system. He said the law also created a new commission to coordinate service in the northeast corridor, but noted that Virginia is not a member.

“We still have a national transportation system providing rail passenger service, but now it has been disjointed to the point where you have long-distance trains, regional trains, and northeast corridor trains which all work co-mingled, especially in Virginia,” Page said.

A slide from Kevin Page's presentation depicting how Virginia routes will be affected (Click to enlarge)

Under Virginia’s current contract with Amtrak, the state gets 79 percent of the total fare of a passenger who embarks on a trip to a destination in the northeast corridor, according to Page. He added that the formula has enabled the Lynchburg service to have a positive balance of $1.8 million over the past 12 months.

“It has been the outstanding performance of the Lynchburg train that has led us to not need money in fiscal year 2012,” Page said. “It has continued to out-perform any other train in the regional system of Amtrak.”  

By comparison, the Richmond train funded by the DRPT is running at a $1.9 million deficit. The situation will get worse when the state assumes payment to operate four more trains that currently serve Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News.

Under the proposed changes, Virginia would only receive the portion of the fare that covers the cost of running the train through Virginia.

“If a patron gets on in Lynchburg, we [would] only get the revenue to Washington, D.C.,” Page said. He objects to the possibility that the rest of the fare would be shared with Amtrak and states in the northeast corridor.

Page said he and DRPT Director Thelma Drake are continuing negotiations to try to obtain a greater share of the revenue of the trains that head north of Washington.

Meanwhile, the state is continuing to study new revenue sources to pay for operations.

This year, the General Assembly passed legislation establishing a fund to pay for intercity rail operations, but no permanent funding source was identified.

“We have to get a funding source in this coming General Assembly session,” said Steve Pittard of the Virginia Department of Rail and Transportation.

The DRPT’s six-year plan currently shows a $110 million deficit in part because no permanent source of operating funds has been selected.

Connaughton said the state is weighing its options and will make recommendations to the General Assembly.

June 22, 2011

Brevy Cannon launches campaign for Charlottesville City Council

DailyProgressBy Graham Moomaw
The Daily Progress
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

University of Virginia media-relations writer Brevy Cannon publicly announced his candidacy for Charlottesville City Council Wednesday, launching his campaign as a “pragmatic progressive Democrat.”

The 36-year-old has worked in the UVa Media Relations office for the last five years. Cannon said his job involves taking big ideas from faculty and visitors, and distilling them down into pragmatic concepts.

“That requires carefully studying complicated issues, digging into details, listening to a wide diversity of people, asking incisive questions and getting to the heart of the matter at hand, all valuable skills I would bring to City Council,” Cannon said during a speech to about 75 people on the Downtown Mall.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20110622-Cannon

20110622- Brevy head shot Cannon, a resident of Ridge Street, officially announced his campaign in a Monday email, but he held a kickoff event Wednesday in the café space of Eppie’s restaurant.

“I believe our city deserves bold, creative, visionary leaders, who are willing to think big, but balance that with pragmatism,” Cannon said. “We need to be bold but pragmatic about jobs, schools and trails.”

Job creation should be a top priority for City Council, Cannon said, adding that the city has the “key ingredients of a biotechnology hub.” He pointed specifically to Indoor Biotechnologies’ plan to build a biotech campus at the old Coca-Cola bottling plant on Preston Avenue as a development that would create more high-quality, middle-class jobs.

“That’s exactly the sort of project that we need to be doing more of, and if I’m elected to council I’m going to make that a priority,” Cannon said.

He offered a specific plan to reinvigorate the Rivanna Trail system, saying more investment is needed to develop the trail in a fashion similar to what has been done at Riverside Park in Woolen Mills.

“Our trail system should extend eventually from Biscuit Run in the south, to Downtown, to Forest Lakes in the north, to Crozet in the west and beyond,” Cannon said.

Cannon closed his remarks by offering what he called an example of a “creative, out-of-the-box solution” related to the replacement of the aging Belmont Bridge.

“I’ve got a vision for the Belmont Bridge that we can leave the west half of the bridge in place,” Cannon said. “And we can plant grass on it, trails, trees, make it a walkway and a bikeway that connects the east end of the Downtown Mall with Belmont.”

Cannon said he understands that building a new bridge while leaving part of the old one standing would pose some engineering questions, but it’s a vision that deserves to be on the table for further study and discussion.

20110622- Brevy announcing
Cannon first came to Charlottesville in 1997 to attend UVa, where he studied economics, history and religion. He said he’s also worked more than 1,000 hours as a volunteer firefighter and served as a leader of Left of Center, a local group of young progressives and Democrats.

At his speech, he was introduced by former councilor Kevin Lynch and Mayor Dave Norris.

“Brevy is a guy with big ideas,” Norris said. “He’s going to move the city forward in a way that I’m really excited about.”

Cannon joins incumbent councilor Satyendra Huja, homebuilder and developer Paul Beyer, city School Board member Kathy Galvin, fitness-club owner James Halfaday and former city School Board chairwoman Dede Smith in seeking one of three nominations by the Democratic Party.

Retired attorney Peter McIntosh withdrew from the Democratic race.

Independents Bob Fenwick, Brandon Collins, Andrew Williams and Scott Bandy also have announced campaigns.

Councilors Holly Edwards and David Brown have announced they will not seek re-election this year. Mayor Dave Norris and Councilor Kristin Szakos are not up for re-election until 2013.

The Democratic Party’s “firehouse primary” is 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at Burley Middle School. The general election is Nov. 8.

Watch the video below:

Brevy Cannon announces candidacy for Charlottesville City Council
from Charlottesville Tomorrow on Vimeo.

This story appears on Charlottesville Tomorrow's website through a partnership with The Daily Progress.  Photos, podcast, and video produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Belmont Bridge design coming into focus

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Design work continues on the replacement of Charlottesville’s deteriorating Belmont Bridge, despite an uncertain funding future.

“We want to carefully consider our options with this new bridge,” said Jeannette Janiczek, manager of the city’s urban construction initiative.

Janiczek briefed the City Council on Monday night on the ongoing design of the bridge’s replacement. She wanted the council to weigh in on several design choices that have been made regarding the bridge.

“One of these is that this bridge is a community asset, that it needs to be multi-modal, that it’s a gateway, and that it needs to be safe and attractive,” Janiczek said.

Other design goals include keeping it within the existing right of way and phasing construction so the roadway does not close while the bridge is replaced.

A cross-section of the bridge depicts two bike lanes, two sidewalks, and three vehicular lanes

Those choices have led planners to design the bridge with bike lanes in both directions of traffic. There will also be a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the eastern side and an 8-foot-wide sidewalk on the western side.

Councilors were generally supportive of the design’s direction.

“It is an entrance to the downtown area and we want to make sure that it is attractive and welcoming,” Councilor Satyendra Huja said.

Councilor Kristin Szakos asked if there was a way to use the bridge to help shield the Belmont and Carlton neighborhoods from noise from the nTelos Wireless Pavilion.

“We’re not going to do anything to make the sound worse in Belmont, but I don’t think that a sound barrier for that very purpose would be allowed in the funding for the project,” Janiczek said.

The bridge was built in 1961. A study in 2003 determined the bridge’s deck was deteriorating and recommended replacement as a more cost-effective solution than repairing it. The new bridge will be built with an anticipated lifespan of 75 years.

In May, the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board approved an amendment to its transportation improvement plan that increased the cost estimate for the bridge from $9.2 million to $14.5 million.

In an email sent to Charlottesville Tomorrow earlier this month, Janiczek said the city has so far accrued $4.1 million toward the project.

Last week, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $1 million in revenue-sharing funds for the project over the next two years, requiring a $1 million match from the city. However, no other funds from the state are expected until at least 2018 unless the Virginia Department of Transportation’s six-year improvement plan is amended by the CTB.

However, the city recently agreed to transfer to VDOT control of a project to add additional lanes at the interchange of U.S. 29 and U.S. 250. Officials have said it is possible that money saved for that project could be transferred to the Belmont Bridge.

The council will receive another update on the bridge in a few months.


June 21, 2011

Uncertainty remains over public process for bypass action

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization said Tuesday that he expects to hold two public hearings on the Western Bypass, but did not rule out the possibility of taking some action at the first of the two hearings.

Rodney Thomas at the January 2011 meeting of the MPO

A decision on July 14 could put the decades-old bypass of U.S. 29 in line to receive funding from the Commonwealth Transportation Board by the end of next month.

“I want the public hearing, and people to be heard that want to talk,” Albemarle County Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas said in an interview.

Late in a meeting on June 8, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 to direct its two MPO representatives to remove language from the local transportation improvement program opposing the bypass. The unannounced vote reversed an almost 15-year-old policy position of county opposition to the bypass.

“The action, the way I understand it, is to change the language,” said Thomas, chairman of the MPO. “It gets the whole machine in gear.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s regional administrator and the director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission recently have disagreed on the number of public hearings that will be required before the MPO takes a vote on removing the language and a second vote to amend the MPO’s long-range transportation plan.

James S. Utterback at the January 2011 meeting of the MPO

“A single public hearing, to be held on July 14, 2011, is all that will be required for the [MPO Policy] Board to decide if they want to add this project to the plans,” wrote James S. Utterback last Friday in an email to the TJPDC’s executive director, Stephen W. Williams.

Utterback is administrator of VDOT’s Culpeper district and a voting member of the MPO.

In emails obtained by Charlottesville Tomorrow, Williams informed Utterback his preference is to proceed with two public hearings.

“I hope you understand it is my responsibility as MPO executive director to protect the MPO’s interests,” Williams wrote in response.

Both the long-range plan and the TIP must be changed before federal funding can be allocated to the project, which is estimated to cost between $250 million and $300 million.

The MPO’s long-range transportation plan is being updated as part of the Livable Communities project being managed by the TJPDC. That work is expected to be completed by the spring of 2014.

Federal law also requires that the long-range plan be “constrained,” which means it can only include projects that have a reasonable chance of being funded within the timeline of the plan.

Stephen Williams at the June 8, 2011 meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors

“Our interpretation is that before the MPO is able to take the vote on the long-range transportation plan and TIP amendments on July 27, we must have evidence from VDOT that provides a reasonable assurance of project funding,” Williams said in an interview.

Last week, the CTB adopted a six-year improvement program that does not include any additional funding for the Western Bypass.

Its next meeting is July 20, and if two public hearings are held on the bypass, it would delay the CTB’s anticipated action.

Williams said he believes that both planning documents need to be updated, not amended, because of the scope of the Western Bypass. He has requested that the board proceed with updates, which would allow for public hearings on July 14 and July 27, per MPO policy guidelines, with action to be taken at the latter meeting.

Utterback said he thought a public hearing and action could be taken together on July 14 if the matter is handled as an amendment rather than as an update. With Charlottesville City Council’s decision Monday to not endorse the bypass if it is brought up for a vote at that specific meeting, Utterback holds the fifth and potentially deciding vote with Albemarle’s two votes in favor and Charlottesville’s likely two votes against.

“The decision to treat these additions as plan updates as opposed to amendments seems excessive in light of the fact that only one project is being added to the documents,” Utterback wrote.

Williams disagrees and told Utterback he is going to proceed as if the addition of the bypass is an update, though he would take input from MPO members until later this week before setting the next meeting agenda.

“In my opinion, there is ample justification for treating it as an update due to the fact that it is a very complex project with extensive impacts, and will represent a reversal of previous policy,” Williams wrote in a response.

If you have downloaded Google Earth, you can use this overlay map compiled by Charlottesville Tomorrow to fly the bypass route detailed in VDOT's 2003 supplemental environmental impact statement

In an interview Monday, Utterback said he would accept Williams’ direction if it had the support of Supervisor Thomas.

“[Williams] is the director and if he and the chairman are on the same page, than it’s fine,” Utterback said.

Thomas said he did not anticipate taking action on the 14th, but he did not rule out the possibility.

“It seems to me that an action has to be made on the language [in the TIP] so the Commonwealth Transportation Board can meet on [July] 20th if they decide to put money [toward the bypass],” Thomas said.

Thomas also said he had not seen anything in writing yet from Connaughton detailing where the money for the project would come from.