By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The current and future dams at the

Ragged Mountain Reservoir

were the subject of decisions made Tuesday by state and local officials.

In Richmond, regulators approved another extension of the operating permit allowing the existing dams built in 1885 and 1908 to continue to be used amid decades-old safety concerns.

Tom Frederick, RWSA Executive Director and Judy Mueller, Charlottesville’s Director of Public Works

Locally, the Albemarle County Planning Commission recommended approval of a special use permit to allow the construction of a new earthen dam that would replace the older structures and significantly expand the reservoir.

“[The Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board] did approve a six-month extension to the conditional operating certificates for upper and lower Ragged Mountain, that’s the existing dams,” said

Thomas L. Frederick Jr.

, executive director of the

Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority

. “The [board] is interested in seeing continued progress on remedying the situation that has been on the public record for many years.”

Virginia dam safety engineers have said

the dams must be repaired or replaced and that their concerns have been raised repeatedly for the past 30 years. In February, the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County both agreed to replace the existing dams with a taller earthen dam built downstream that would raise the reservoir by 30 feet.

Frederick told the RWSA board on Tuesday that the extension would allow continued use of the reservoir through November. The previous extension specified that the replacement dam’s final design had to be completed in April, with the construction permits issued by the end of May.

Jennifer Whitaker, RWSA’s chief engineer, attended Tuesday’s meeting in Richmond and said in an interview that no questions were raised by the board members when they authorized the latest extension. The RWSA has completed the dam’s design and the construction permits are under review by Albemarle County.

Frederick also told the RWSA board Tuesday that other state and federal reviews of the earthen dam project were still ongoing. He also said negotiations are continuing on the cost sharing for the almost $140-million water plan.

“We understand that the cost-share agreement negotiations are taking place between the [Albemarle County Service Authority] and the city,” wrote Frederick in a recent report. “[And] we are aware that the land-use agreement between the RWSA and the city is being actively reviewed by the attorneys.”

Dede Smith

, representing

Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan

, asked the RWSA to produce a new budget that considered the full costs of the water plan beyond the five years included in its capital budget.

“Transparency is what I am here today to request,” said Smith. “Specifically that you provide both the short term and the long term impact of the capital projects that have already been approved, not just for the five years but for the full term of those projects.”

“While the community water plan has changed, the financing of it actually hasn’t changed that much,” Smith said. “I am asking that you do this [debt financing analysis] again, that you rework this not only for the current community water plan but also for the other water and the sewer projects before you.”

During the review of RWSA’s fiscal year 2012 budget, Albemarle Supervisor

Kenneth C. Boyd

said the proposed budget helped the community play “catch up” on its water and sewer infrastructure.

“[T]here’s always going to be ongoing projects that we’re going to have that will be dictated by regulations and by need for upgrading our infrastructure,” said Boyd. “We wouldn’t be so far behind the eight ball right now if we had paid attention to this … and dealt with some of these infrastructure problems in the past.”

The RWSA board unanimously approved its fiscal year 2012 operating budget of $12.2 million, representing a 4.78 percent increase over the prior year. Debt service includes an additional $10.9 million, an increase of 8.01 percent over last year.


RWSA Staff and representatives from Schnabel Engineering who addressed the Albemarle County Planning Commission

Later Tuesday, the Albemarle County Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend approval of a

special use permit

facilitating the construction of the new earthen dam.

Ednam resident Sam Freilich was one of two speakers at the public hearing. He asked the county to delay a decision on the dam until the impacts related to Interstate 64 could be further studied, a supply pipeline route is selected and construction noise impacts are assessed.

Jody Lahendro spoke as a member of the Camp Holiday Trails Board of Directors. Lahendro explained to the commission how the camp, adjacent to the construction site, would be impacted, particularly in its program offerings and road access.

“We are working through these issues,” Lahendro said. “I am looking forward to coming up with … an agreement with the [RWSA] in the next few weeks.”

The permit notes that public access will be prohibited to the Ragged Mountain Natural Area during the two years of the dam’s construction. If approved in June by the Albemarle supervisors, the permit also allows the dam to be raised in a second phase to elevate the pool by up to an additional 12 feet.


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