The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority is in negotiations with a Houston-based company to partially dredge the South Fork Rivanna River, but one of the owners of the property identified as the dewatering site has not yet given permission.
“We’re talking about changing the geography of up to 100 acres of Panorama Farms and that’s a huge consideration for us,” said Steve Murray, one of the shareholders of the family-run farm.
Earlier this year, the RWSA issued a request for proposals for firms to dredge a portion of the reservoir. Of the three proposals received, only one from Orion Marine Construction
Incorporated met all of the requirements.
One section of the Orion proposal describes the “project approach” for dredging the reservoir.
“Panorama Pay-Dirt has expressed interest in keeping all of the dredged material for their use,” it reads.
Orion’s operation would involve pumping the dredged material to a dewatering site on Panorama property. Water would then flow back into the reservoir.
Murray said in a phone interview that a supermajority of Panorama shareholders is required for all land-use decisions. He said the farm has previously allowed engineers from both HDR Consulting and Orion engineers on the property to evaluate its suitability for a disposal site.
“That’s the only thing we’ve agreed to,” Murray said. “For Rivanna or Orion to assume that we are the disposal site is taken from erroneous information.”
Thomas L. Frederick, executive director of the RWSA, said no contract has been signed with Orion.
“We are at the stage of reviewing Orion’s conceptual proposal,” Frederick said. “It is not unusual at this stage that Orion would not yet be under contract with Panorama or other vendors with whom it may later select to subcontract.”
Frederick said Orion will be responsible for disposing the dredged sediment and finding an adequate site.
“It is not a requirement that its subcontractors be confirmed until the contract stage, which may occur later in the process,” Frederick said. “RWSA would not contract with Panorama or determine the terms of its relationship with Orion.”
However, Murray said his family wants answers to important questions.
“We haven’t talked to anybody about anything about compensation, ownership of material, and particularly the sand,” Murray said.
The request for proposals was conducted under Virginia’s Public-Private Education, Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA) in order to allow for more flexibility in accepting proposals. The RWSA Board of Directors set aside $3.5 million in its capital improvement program to pay for maintenance dredging of the reservoir. Companies were allowed to propose selling the dredged material.
The Orion proposal envisions the removal of 300,000 cubic yards of sediment from the reservoir, but the company does not plan on selling the material.
Murray said Panorama would not allow any of the dredged spoils to leave the property.
“We’ve always told them that once it hits the ground, it’s ours,” Murray said. “We are not going to jeopardize our neighbors with that kind of traffic and trucking activity.”
Murray said Panorama is open to negotiations.
“Who owns the material? How long is the operation going to take? What kind of impact is it going to have on the people who live here?” Murray asked. “We have to see a plan before we can even consider compensation.”
Frederick said it would be inappropriate for him to speculate about what might happen should the Orion proposal not make it to contract.
“All of RWSA’s RFPs reserve the right for RWSA to award a contract, to reject a proposal, to cancel a project or to issue a new RFP, as is determined in each situation as in the best interest of RWSA and the public,” Frederick said.
A proposal from Blue Ridge Sand was rejected because it did not contain an audited financial statement. The company is appealing the case.
“Requiring an audited financial statement at the conceptual stage of proposal preparation unnecessarily and unfairly favors large, publicly-traded corporations that have a regulatory obligation to routinely contract with outside auditors,” wrote Mark Fendig, a vice president with Blue Ridge Sand, in a July 24 appeal letter.
Fendig said that his company’s proposal should have been evaluated on its merits.
Frederick said no date has been set for the Orion proposal to come back before the RWSA board.