Albemarle County has told the Department of Environmental Quality that it won’t meet with state officials to discuss alternatives to the 50-year community water supply plan. The letter from Ann H. Mallek, chairwoman of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, tells DEQ director David K. Paylor that it sees no room for compromise with the city of Charlottesville.
“We support no compromise of the approved and permitted water supply plan in the belief that to do so, would compromise the county’s future,” Mallek wrote in the Dec 8 letter. “[I]t would be disingenuous for the county to agree to a DEQ ‘facilitated’ joint public meeting, the mere organization of which would suggest to you, and to the public, that there is room for compromise …. There is none.”
Paylor extended the offer to facilitate a joint meeting in a letter he sent Nov. 23 to the four boards who must reconcile the different water plans favored by Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
City representatives were unavailable for comment Thursday.
Dede Smith, a representative of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, a group that opposes the new earthen dam for the Ragged Mountain Reservoir that is part of the approved 2006 water plan, said she was surprised at the county’s uncompromising position.
“My first impression is that it’s really ironic that the county would use DEQ as a threat when it serves their purposes,” Smith said. “Now they are pushing DEQ away when they are willing to facilitate a solution.”
At a joint meeting in September the city and county were unable to agree on how or whether to revise the long-range plan for the reservoir. At that meeting, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris insisted on a face-to-face meeting with DEQ officials to get the agency’s input on technical matters including any larger dam’s minimum initial height increase.
In the letter declining to participate in the meeting with DEQ, Albemarle reiterated its preference for a new earthen dam. It also for the first time officially indicated a willingness to only partially fill the enlarged reservoir, an approach suggested by some city councilors in September.
“We insist on the full height earthen dam constructed at the initial phase, with an initial pool of at least 30 feet [higher], if it is not to be filled to 42 feet [higher] in the first phase,” Mallek wrote.
The city’s plan would build a taller dam in two phases, with a second height increase to be built only if it is deemed necessary to satisfy future water needs. Norris persuaded the City Council to include in its revised water plan only a 13-foot increase for the first phase
The phased approach, according to Norris, only makes sense if the first phase, plus the cost of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, comes in at a cost lower than the $40.7 million earthen dam. The specific costs for the city’s approach are currently unknown.
County officials prefer to have the full reservoir capacity available immediately and they have argued the final cost of the earthen dam is likely to be significantly cheaper if the community takes advantage of the current construction market.
The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s executive director, Thomas L. Frederick Jr., said Albemarle was the first to respond to the DEQ’s invitation for a meeting.
“I see consistency with the message the county has been sending,” Frederick said. “My job is to help facilitate a resolution to this issue. If the county doesn’t think it is wise to accept an invitation, then respecting that, there are other ways we can try and facilitate a resolution.”
Mallek said in an interview that a joint meeting also didn’t make sense to Albemarle officials because the city has not completed its review of the Black & Veatch study of adding onto the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam.
“At this point, to schedule a meeting when City Council hasn’t had a chance to figure out what it’s going to do, that seems premature,” Mallek said.
In recent interviews, Norris has also said the meeting with DEQ should only come after the city completes its investigation of remediating and enlarging the 1908 dam in phases. The city expects to receive revised cost estimates later this month.
“Before we have this meeting with DEQ, we need to make sure we have a viable alternative when it comes to dam design and construction. If we don’t, then it’s a moot point,” Norris said in late November.
Asked to identify next steps for the community’s decision on the water plan, Frederick said he saw no single clear path, but he said that delaying a decision has cost implications.
“Continued dialogue is very important and continuing to move information forward is important,” Frederick said. “The Albemarle County Service Authority is paying for final design of the earthen dam and the city is paying for further work with Black & Veatch. If we continue on multiple tracks, then we will spend more money than we need to be spending.”
Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan believes a meeting with DEQ would help to resolve questions the city has about the permits and the group is urging both localities to resolve a cost-sharing arrangement before finalizing a water plan.
“My expectation is that the city will continue to put its citizens’ best interests at the forefront,” Smith said. “I find it really disturbing that the county, or the city, would not understand first what the full cost implications are … as there is not yet a cost-sharing arrangement.”