By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Saturday. August 27, 2011

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has released a draft of a modified permit that must be approved before construction of an earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir can begin.

“It’s another milestone,” said Gary O’Connell, executive director of the

Albemarle County Service Authority

.




Download cover letter from DEQ to RWSA Director Tom Frederick




Download cover page for permit modification




Download general conditions under which permit modification would be issued




Download special conditions under which permit modification would be issued


The original permit,

issued in February 2008

, would have allowed the

Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority

to build a concrete dam downstream of the existing

Lower Ragged Mountain Dam

in order to raise the reservoir by 45 feet to create 2.19 billion gallons of water storage.

The expanded reservoir is one of two key components of a community water supply plan approved by the Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors in the summer of 2006. The other is a supply pipeline to fill the enlarged Ragged Mountain Reservoir from the South Fork Reservoir.

The permit also lists specific amounts of water that must be released from the reservoirs in order to improve natural stream flows.

However, the RWSA changed the plan after

the cost estimate for the concrete dam more than doubled

. The original engineering firm was fired and

Schnabel Engineering was hired

to find an alternative that would keep costs down.

The

Albemarle County Service Authority agreed to pay Schnabel

for the design of a new earthen dam that would raise the reservoir by 42 feet.

However,

the City Council voted 3-2 in February

to accept the plan but only with an initial rise of 30 feet and 1.55 billion gallons of water storage. The foundation of the dam will be built to support a second phase of construction.

The RWSA submitted a request to change the permit in March. The DEQ classified the modification as “major,” requiring a public hearing, and requested more information from the RWSA, which was submitted in late July.

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the RWSA, said the permit modification includes two primary changes.

“It adjusts the expected environmental impacts of the earthen dam,” Frederick said. “It [also] provides stream flow requirements for the initial phase of raising the pool 30 feet. The original permit only specified stream flow requirements for the fully raised pool condition.”

A public hearing on the permit modification will be held Sept. 29 at the Albemarle County Office Building. Written public comments will be accepted by the DEQ through Oct. 14.

The permit must be approved by the State Water Control Board, which only meets quarterly. DEQ staff will compile public comments and modify the permit if necessary.

“We are hoping they will be able to get their work done and make the December agenda for the State Water Control Board,” Frederick said.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Dam Safety Division

issued a construction permit for the new earthen dam in late July

. The permit

issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project

must also be modified.

“The biggest issue that remains to be resolved is the cost share agreement between the city and the Albemarle County Service Authority on how the cost of this project should be paid through wholesale rates,” Frederick said. “We understand they are meeting in an effort to work this out and hope it will be completed very soon.”

“We are having continuing conversations and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to find agreement,” O’Connell said.

The RWSA’s capital improvement program adopted in October 2010 set aside $32.5 million for construction of the dam, including embankment improvements where the expanded reservoir meets Interstate 64.

In April, Schnabel engineers estimated construction of the dam would cost between $18.8 million and $22.3 million.

“If we can get it out to bid in the fall we still feel like we can get good prices,” O’Connell said.

The permit does not have to be issued before the RWSA can advertise for construction bids.

“However, in fairness to contractors, we need to believe we have a very good chance of receiving permits within 60 days before deciding to advertise for bids,” Frederick said.

Under the permit, the Sugar Hollow pipeline would be retired after the dam is fully expanded and the new pipeline is built. Frederick said there is no firm date for construction of the new pipeline.

Rebecca Quinn, of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, said Friday that she had not fully reviewed the permit modifications in order to make a comment.

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