Council approves less detailed dredging feasibility study; Supervisors briefed on implications

By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, October 9, 2009

City Council

has approved a scaled-back series of feasibility studies designed to answer how much it would cost to dredge the

South Fork Rivanna Reservoir

. In May,

Council agreed to pay for studies

that would provide a better cost estimate for restoring the original water capacity of the reservoir. The

Albemarle County Service Authority

refused to contribute financially to what

some of its members considered unnecessary work

that would not create permanent water storage capacity.  Dredging is not a component of   the community water supply plan adopted in 2006.

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A committee of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority selected

HDR Consulting to oversee the studies

, but their

cost estimate was more than double what the City had expected to pay

. In the proposal before City Council Monday, the City’s share to do the entire suite of studies requested in the RFP was $561,684.  In the course of their discussion, Council whittled that amount down to about $300,000.

One item that was eliminated was a study on whether forebays would help reduce the amount of silt that enters the reservoir. Mueller said that HDR concluded that was not necessary if the community only seeks answers on dredging.

HDR suggested a “standard feasibility assessment” which would provide a wetlands assessment, a bathymetric study, a pre-dredge survey and a sediment analysis to determine the composition of the silt on the reservoir bottom.  However, the level of data collected in those studies would be less then that called for in the original scope of work. Judy Mueller, the City’s Public Works Director, said that meant the study would rely more on HDR’s analysts to draw conclusions from the data.

“Experienced  judgment can be very effective if you’re comfortable with that,” Mueller said.

Council also reduced the analysis of sediment dewatering sites from four to two locations. Another cost savings was the elimination of a public meeting where HDR officials could explain to the public what they found out about the reservoir.


Satyendra Huja

agreed that HDR’s standard study would be sufficient. But, Mayor

Dave Norris

said the price could be further reduced by $45,000 by eliminating the beneficial re-use study which would assess the sediment’s marketability and by eliminating the public meeting where HDR would explain the study results. Council agreed to drop the beneficial re-use study, over the objections of Councilor

Holly Edwards,

and then Norris explained his opposition to paying for a public meeting..

“We want technical information, and we’re going to have our own public meetings to review this information,” Norris said.

RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick

But Tom Frederick, the Executive Director of the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

, urged Norris to retain the public meeting component so citizens could directly ask questions of HDR analysts.  He also said he felt the community would be more confident in the study if it relied on more science and less on analysis.

Norris said he didn’t understand why it would cost $19,000 to hold a public meeting when the City could hold a meeting “for the cost of soda and chips.” Frederick explained that the creation of visuals to convey scientific information to the public would cost money.

“People like visuals. That takes time and preparation,” Frederick said. “It’s not going to be done for the cost of soda and chips. I’ve been in this community now long enough that people are going to ask a lot of questions. They are going to be very irritated if they can’t get answers. The most reliable way to get that information is to involve the consultants in your public meeting.”

Norris suggested that the two citizen representatives appointed by the City to the study selection committee be involved to help provide a liaison with the public. In the end, Council agreed to pay for the public meeting.


David Brown

said he mainly wants to know how much water storage capacity would be restored by dredging as much as can be physically dredged. He said he doubted the original capacity could be restored due to the difficulty of getting to certain portions of the reservoir.

Supervisors briefed Wednesday on City Council’s modifications

Two days later, Frederick appeared before the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

. After telling the Board what actions Council made, Frederick said HDR could not develop a full cost estimate without the beneficial re-use study because disposal of the sediment is the largest variable in terms of coming up with a more definitive cost estimate. At issue is whether or not a land owner with a disposal site would be willing to take on the risk of selling or holding the material. Frederick said HDR could only give a range of estimates for dredging, just as

Gannett Fleming

had done previously.

Frederick also repeated his preference to have  the study to be as detailed possible.  “I believe the study is an attempt to build bridges, and to answer some questions that were not answered in [Gannett Fleming’s original study].  With all the publicity and the interest, I did express the concern that taking short-cuts could lead to an inability to [make a decision,” Frederick said.


David Slutzky

(Rio) asked if the dredging feasibility study should even begin given that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is currently modeling water supply plan alternatives to determine if the federal and state permits could be modified to accommodate the “Norris Plan.”

In July, Slutzky and Norris asked regulators to model use of a smaller dam at Ragged Mountain combined with dredging at South Fork

.  They are expecting a verdict from DEQ before the end of November.  An unfavorable decision would make the reliance on dredging as a key component of the water supply plan a remote possibility.

Frederick said he was concerned that the DEQ’s model might not provide an apples-to-apples comparison given that it may not make the same assumptions used in The Nature Conservancy model on which the water supply plan is based.


Dennis Rooker

(Jack Jouett) expressed frustration that the study was turning into a mockery.

“Unfortunately, [the RWSA] has been put into a position of having to chase after things and spend time and money on them that don’t have a realistic return,” Rooker said.


01:00 – Report from Judy Mueller, City’s Public Works Director

07:50 – Huja asks for clarification of the City’s share

08:05 – Norris asks for details on what the beneficial use is

16:30 – Councilor David Brown explains what he wants out of a study

20:30 – Norris negotiates with Councilors on what to include in the scope

26:00 – Frederick briefs Board of Supervisors on Council’s actions

30:20 – Slutzky asks question about feasibility of using quarry as dewatering site

34:00 – Thomas asked question about role “opportunistic dredging” might play

35:30 – Rooker addresses abou

37:00 – Slutzky addresses stream-flows and his recent trip to the DEQ

43:20 – Thomas expresses concern about Slutzky’s request to DEQ