After more than two years of negotiations, the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Service Authority now have an agreement to determine how to share the costs of sewer projects, including a $33.3 million relocation of the Rivanna Pump Station.
“This agreement is for all capital wastewater projects, including those completed in the recent past where the debt is still being paid, as well as those planned in the future,” said Lauren Hildebrand, the city’s utilities director.
The City Council approved the agreement Monday on a 3-2 vote, with Councilors Dede Smith and Bob Fenwick voting against it.
The vote came after a lengthy discussion at the council’s March 17 meeting when Councilors Kathy Galvin, Satyendra Huja and Kristin Szakos all said they favored the agreement. Smith asked for the vote to be delayed to allow for more public input.
The need for the agreement was sparked after the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority entered into a consent decree with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in 2011. That required the pump station facility to be upgraded to allow it to handle up to 53 million gallons of wastewater a day to eliminate the possibility of raw sewage entering the watershed after heavy rainstorms.
A divided RWSA board selected the relocation option in December 2011. Albemarle’s three representatives on the board voted against the project because at the time the cost estimate was $13 million higher than building in place.
However, nearby residents campaigned for it to be moved. One of them urged councilors Monday to accept the agreement so the project could move forward.
“Payment for the pump station has been discussed for years now and there’s been a lot of hostility between the county and the city,” said Chris Hays, whose Woolen Mills home is next door to the existing facility. “Until this agreement was proposed, the county’s position clearly stated they expected the city to pay for the difference of the cost.”
The cost of the station, as well as future projects that increase the amount of wastewater the system can handle, will now be split based on projected flows of sewage that come from each locality. The RWSA will install new meters to more accurately measure the flows.
As soon as Hildrebrand concluded her presentation, Galvin made a motion to adopt the agreement.
However, Smith made several motions to amend the agreement. The first regarded a clause that states which locality should pay in the future if a sewer treatment facility needs to be expanded.
Galvin said it would be based on the most recent data collected by the flow meters.
“I think this is actually an attempt to cause a lot of confusion,” Galvin said, referring to Smith’s questions.
Szakos asked Smith if there was a specific change to the clause that would garner her support. Smith responded she wanted to remove it entirely. Szakos asked if that would even get Smith’s support.
“I’m trying to protect the city,” Smith said.
Smith then made a motion to remove the clause, but it failed on a 2-3 vote with Fenwick supporting her. Not daunted, Smith proposed several other amendments but they all failed.
These included restricting the agreement only to the pump station, using the city’s stormwater utility fee to pay for any rate increase caused by the new agreement, and tying the agreement to odor control measures at the wastewater treatment plant.
However, supporters of the agreement ultimately prevailed.
“This has been a mediated negotiation and there have been exchanges on both sides, and we’re getting a partnership in paying for the Rivanna Pump Station and the tunnel that is moving it out of the neighborhood, and we are not going to be engaged in these endless negotiations henceforward,” Galvin said.
Kerin Yates, president of the League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area, also urged councilors to support the agreement.
“The League has often urged Charlottesville and Albemarle to work together as a single community,” Yates said. “But we also recognize that local government’s budgets are not fungible and the most difficult city-county decisions involve how to fairly divide the expenses of government services.”
Yates said the agreement can be recalibrated as conditions change and as both jurisdictions work to reduce infiltration, stormwater that then has to be treated in the sewer system.
The ACSA approved the agreement at its meeting March 20.
The project is in the second month of a 40-month construction phase, according to the head of the RWSA.
“The contractor is mobilized on the wastewater treatment plant site and engaged in relocating some plant equipment to vacate the site of the future pump station,” Thomas L. Frederick Jr., the RWSA’s executive director, said in an email. “In the coming weeks we expect excavation to begin at the future pump station site to build the entrance shaft for the tunnel.”