Engineering firm with local ties hired to design new Ragged Mountain Dam

By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The board of the

Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

(RWSA) on Tuesday unanimously selected

Schnabel Engineering Associates

to replace

Gannett Fleming

as the lead firm designing the new dam proposed for the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.

Schnabel, based in Glen Allen, Virginia, was awarded a $1.3 million contract for preliminary engineering. The goal is to secure a new design and a new cost estimate for construction of the dam by late spring of 2010.

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Chris Webster

, Schnabel’s Charlottesville project administrator, said his firm’s local connections would be a real strength in the design process.

“We are excited about the project,” Webster said after the vote. “Our reputation has to stand on this, and we are not just walking away after we are done. We know there is strong interest in the community and we want to be good stewards and seek the public’s input.”

Dede Smith

, a member of

Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan

, told the board no more money should be spent designing the dam until other studies are completed. Smith asked the board to wait, in part, for information on a dredging feasibility study related to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

“I am disappointed that they are going ahead with the design before they have sufficient information,” Smith said. “Before the city allocates money for their share of the dam design, it needs to be very clear on what the benefits of this dam are, because the city doesn’t need it.”

(L to R) Tom Frederick, Judith Mueller & Holly Edwards

Smith’s feedback appeared to get the attention of

City Councilor Holly Edwards

, who said initially that she would prefer to delay a vote in order to first get questions raised by the public addressed.

Thomas L. Frederick Jr.

, Rivanna’s executive director, explained that multiple studies related to the water supply were under way simultaneously in order to collect all the data needed for a final decision.

Mike Gaffney

, the Rivanna board chairman, said that he remembered Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris previously stating that the design of the dam should continue while additional studies were completed and before any final decision was made to start building the dam.

“Nothing should be done to start construction,” Gaffney said. “Design is not the start of construction.”

Edwards voted in favor of the contract and said afterwards that she was not trying to block the dam’s design.  “I don’t want to obstruct things, I want to move cautiously,” Edwards said. “Even if you move slowly, you’ll still get there.”

Frederick suggested to the board that a window of opportunity in a favorable construction market could close in 12 to 18 months. He had recommended a $2.1 million project that would have included the final design work.

Schnabel Engineering’s Chris Webster stands to address RWSA Board

The board, however, asked that the contract be conducted in two phases and authorized up to $1.3 million, plus a 10 percent contingency, to see the project through the preliminary design phase only. Frederick will need board approval to execute the other phase of the contract for a final design.

The new dam is one key element of the community water supply plan, which was approved in 2006. Gannett Fleming received $1.7 million for design work on the Ragged Mountain Dam before the project stopped in August 2008. At that time, Rivanna concluded it needed a panel of experts to review its design approach and cost estimates.

In an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow, Frederick said most of that previous work will be useful to Schnabel.

“[Gannett Fleming was] collecting data and running routine calculations that are still very useful, and they were only beginning the work of making engineering interpretations and judgments … when their work stopped,” Frederick wrote. “It is the interpretations and judgment for which [we are] seeking a ‘fresh look,’ not the collected data itself.”

Schnabel will first review Gannett Fleming’s existing geotechnical data detailing the underground conditions before conducting additional field testing of its own. Another aspect of its project will be to identify potential areas adjacent to the reservoir that can provide rock aggregate for the dam’s construction.

The final vote to hire Schnabel was 6-0 with City Manager Gary O’Connell not present at the meeting.


01:10 – Call to order by RWSA Chairman Mike Gaffney

02:26 — RWSA Executive Director, Tom Frederick, gives monthly report

02:40 – Frederick reports that Wiley|Wilson (Lynchburg) has begun study to complete a “conceptual review” of the pipeline proposed for connecting the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.  Study agreement was signed in August 2009 and work will be completed by end of 2009.

04:35 – Frederick discusses Camelot Wastewater Treatment Plant.  Plant will be decommissioned before April 2013.

06:55 – Public comment

07:13 – City resident Dede Smith provides feedback on expenditures related to design of new Ragged Mountain Dam and cost allocations between City and County.

09:05 – City resident Betty Mooney

13:37 — County resident Hawes Spencer speaks as editor of The Hook

15:00 – Responses to matters from the public

15:40 – RWSA Board begins discussion of consent agenda

22:30 — RWSA Board begins discussion of consent agenda item D, Ragged Mountain Dam Design services

22:40 – Comments by Judy Muller, Director of Public Works, City of Charlottesville.  Muller suggests contract with Schnabel Engineering Associates be split into two phases separating work related to preliminary design vs. construction and final design.

23:55 – Frederick responds to Muller’s proposal to split contract into two phases.  Frederick explains work that will be done as part of preliminary design and what data is need to get to a revised cost estimate for the new Ragged Mountain Dam.

31:22 – Frederick describes favorable construction market expected for next 12-18 months.

32:21 — City Councilor Holly Edwards suggests a vote on the design contract should wait until questions from public are addressed.

33:32 — Gaffney comments on the “four boards” agreement and consensus on studies.  Gaffney states that restarting the preliminary design process is not starting construction.

36:18 — Frederick compares the risk management issues in studying dredging vs. dam construction.

40:14 – Albemarle Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) asks about how much of the geotechnical work performed by Gannett Fleming will have to be repeated

42:28 — Chris Webster, principal and project administrator with Schnabel Engineering, responds to board’s discussion.

45:20 – Gary Fern, Executive Director of the Albemarle County Service Authority, makes motion to approve design contract.

46:03 – Edwards says she would rather have answers to public’s questions before voting on design contract.

46:51 – Frederick responds to what he thinks are the major questions being raised.  States that advancing the Ragged Mountain Dam design to the point of getting a revised cost estimate is the appropriate next step.

49:06 – RWSA Attorney Kurt Krueger asks for clarification on motion and authority being provided to Frederick.

50:20 – Fern clarifies the motion is to authorize work on the first phase of the master contract (which covers multiple phases and additional expenditures).

51:10 – Edwards describes public feedback she has received during previous 24 hours and public concern about perception that this would authorize construction of dam.

52:52 – Frederick describes feedback from Schnabel related to potential reorientation of dam which may reduce costs.  This would be part of the preliminary design work.

55:25 – Edwards asks about impact on I-64 embankment with an enlarged reservoir.

55:27 — Frederick says the I-64 embankment issue is being evaluated separately by other consultants.  Responses to an RFP for this study are due October 15, 2009.

58:14 – RWSA Board votes unanimously (6-0; O’Connell absent) to approve first phase of work for preliminary design of Ragged Mountain Dam.

59:33 – RWSA Board discusses South Fork Rivanna Reservoir dredging feasibility study.

1:11:19 – Frederick describes how dredging study can provide a “good answer” to the question of whether the new Ragged Mountain Dam height can be lowered.

1:20:48 – Muller announces that the HDR dredging study scope of services has been provided to City Council for review at their first meeting in October.  At that meeting, Council is expected to indicate what level of funding they are willing to provide.

1:22:29 — Adjournment