Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, December 2, 2011

An agreement on how Charlottesville and Albemarle County will divide costs for new water infrastructure is not yet in place despite months of negotiations.

Active talks on who should pay for the current iteration of the community water supply plan have been going on since April, according to the executive director of the Albemarle County Service Authority.

“I think we have more points of agreement than we’ve ever had before, but we’re still working on a couple of issues,” said Gary O’Connell on Thursday shortly after the ACSA’s latest closed meeting on the topic.

O’Connell would not elaborate further on what issues remain.

City Manager Maurice Jones could not be reached for comment.

The cost-share allocation will determine how much each community will contribute towards the new earthen dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir and a pipeline to connect the reservoir with the South Fork Reservoir, as well as other several other projects to both expand capacity and replace aging infrastructure.

The earthen dam has a cost estimate of between $18.3 million and $22.3 million if it is built in one phase, according to officials at Schnabel Engineering. The estimate for the 9-mile pipeline is around $63 million, but the date of its construction is uncertain.

The RWSA has been operating the existing lower Ragged dam under a conditional permit due to safety concerns raised in 1978 inspections. An agreement between the RWSA and the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board requires a contract to be awarded by Dec. 31 in order for the permit to remain valid.

“Time is running out,” O’Connell said.

In early November the RWSA issued a request for proposals for companies to build the new dam.

“The bid opening is Dec. 8 and unless there are circumstances beyond our control we intend to recommend to our Board on Dec. 28 that authorization be given to award a construction contract,” said RWSA executive director Thomas L. Frederick Jr. in an email.

The city of Charlottesville owns the land at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area and the RWSA will need to enter into a property use agreement with the city before construction can begin. City officials have said they will not sign one until the cost-share agreement is in place.

The agreement is not the only barrier to the RWSA’s ability to award a contract. The Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration must approve plans for an improved embankment where the reservoir flows under Interstate 64. The RWSA must also either purchase or acquire an easement on two parcels of land.

“We will make a decision at the end of December on what actions are appropriate based upon what is completed,” Frederick said.

Another issue to be addressed in the agreement is whether the county can convince the city to proceed with building the new dam in one phase that would raise the reservoir by 42 feet. So far, the City Council has only agreed to an initial pool height increase of 30 feet.

The agreement is also expected to cover who will pay for some dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. The RWSA is preparing a request for companies to propose for dredging in a limited area in an upstream portion of the reservoir.

The city has agreed to pay HDR Engineering the upfront costs for the proposal, but it remains to be seen how the $3.5 million the RWSA has budgeted for dredging will be divided between the localities. Albemarle officials have maintained dredging alone is not sufficient for generating adequate new water supply and that it is unnecessary for supply needs if the dam and pipeline are built. Companies are expected to sell dredged material to offset costs.

The cost-share allocation does not extend to sewer infrastructure projects such as the replacement of the Rivanna Regional Pump Station.

The City Council will discuss the matter in closed session during their meeting Monday. The Albemarle County Service Authority’s next meeting will be on Dec. 15.


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