By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, June 18, 2010

Next week the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

(RWSA) will discuss whether to direct Schnabel Engineering to proceed with further design work for a proposed

earthen dam

at the

Ragged Mountain Reservoir

.

If the RWSA opts to wait for additional studies to be completed, the

Albemarle County Service Authority

said Thursday that it may choose to use its own resources to help move the project forward.

“We want to keep moving,” said ACSA board member

Liz Palmer

.



Some studies on various elements of the community’s long term water supply plan are nearing completion and officials are raising questions about the timing of next steps. In addition to the recent cost estimates for the

earthen dam

and

dredging

of the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

, a review of the water supply demand analysis will be completed this summer.

However, a decision on the earthen dam could hinge on the results of another study recently requested by Charlottesville’s City Council. The city has

hired Black & Veatch

to conduct a two-phase study of the existing Ragged Mountain Dam, which was built in 1908.

The second phase of that study would provide a cost estimate for expanding the dam by 13 feet. However, ACSA Executive Director

Gary O’Connell

said that work may not proceed if the first phase reveals the dam could not support the addition.

‘It’s sort of a ‘go, no-go’ point,” O’Connell said. He added that this first phase is expected to be completed by the middle of August.

By then, O’Connell said there should be enough information for all four decision making bodies to decide how to proceed with implementing the water supply plan.

In the meantime, Schnabel is seeking permission and funding to conduct additional geotechnical work at the Ragged Mountain site to detail precise locations from where dirt might come to build the new dam.

A report from RWSA Executive Director

Thomas L. Frederick

said Schnabel will charge $1.194 million for final design work on the dam, but that it is willing perform the geotechnical work separately for $325,000. The item is on the RWSA’s agenda for discussion on Tuesday.

“This is an effort to stay in parallel with all the studies that are going on to keep the dam study work moving forward,” O’Connell said. “Otherwise Schnabel Engineering will be pretty much stopping work for a period of time.”

All members of the ACSA board present at Thursday’s meeting expressed a willingness to keep design of the earthen dam moving forward.  They unanimously adopted a resolution encouraging the RWSA to direct Schnabel to proceed with the geotechnical work.

If the RWSA declines to act, board member

Jim Colbaugh

suggested that the ACSA invite Frederick to a work session in July to discuss the earthen dam.

“I don’t want to get anything stuck in the mud,” Colbaugh said. “If there’s anything we can do, perhaps Tom can have some ideas that he can recommend to us that we can do individually that would support moving him forward with certain studies.”

Colbaugh also suggested the ACSA may spend its own money to pay Schnabel to conduct the work, citing the city’s decision to go outside of the RWSA to conduct its own study of the existing dam.  O’Connell acknowledged in an interview that might be an option.

“It’s not a decision for the design of the dam, but it will help keep moving everything in parallel,” O’Connell said.

Earlier this month, the county Board of Supervisors called for another meeting of the four boards to discuss the results of the studies that were put in motion after the last meeting in March 2009. This week, the City Council wrote the other boards to say it did not want to hold that meeting until mid-August.

The studies and debate have been ongoing since local elected officials signed off on a water supply plan in 2006 that is intended to meet water needs for the next 50 years.

The original plan would construct a higher dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir and build a new pipeline to transfer water from South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to Ragged Mountain.

The plan has met continued delays as critics contend its original pricetag of about $142 million was too expensive, while some also contend dredging at South Fork should play a larger role and could save money. Others suggest a less ambitious water plan might be needed if demand projections are lower than once projected and conservation is emphasized.

In other news, the ACSA board voted to proceed with a court-ordered taking of easements required for the construction of the North Fork Regional Pump Station. The landowners have so far refused to sell the property at market-rate after several months of negotiation. O’Connell said it may be necessary to take more easements in July.

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