The South Fork Reservoir Stewardship Task Force spent the second half of their meeting on September 29, 2008 discussing how the group should collect public comments on the future of the reservoir. After establishing the parameters for how public input will be collected at the next two meetings, task force members rigorously debated whether the group should be looking at dredging as an option to add capacity to the water supply.
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Albemarle County Community Relations Manager Lee Catlin is coordinating the development of a survey that will assess the public’s thoughts on the reservoir. The task force spent about 30 minutes discussing the finer points of what data should be collected.
Christopher Lee of the Chamber of Commerce asked if the task force should give the public more information on what will happen if nothing is done to address siltation.
“Does the public have the information that they need to provide meaningful and valuable input?” Lee added that the task force itself might not have a good answer to that question. Ridge Schuyler of the Nature Conservancy said his vision of the survey was to find out how people are using the reservoir, and to gauge their expectations of its future.
“If the community expectation is fishing, and we’ve learned from expert testimony that all of the habitat will be gone if we do nothing, then we would say community wants to fish, fishing is not going to be possible, therefore we should do something.”
Over the course of the discussion, the word “expectation” was changed to “opinion.” Lee Catlin said that it would be difficult to use the survey as an educational tool as well as a instrument to gather public input.
said that the public input approach needed to be holistic, and repeated her desire to take public comments at every meeting. Dede Smith of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan agreed. After more discussion, the task force agreed to set aside 30 minutes of public comment at the beginning of their October 13 meeting, and also agreed to spend the entire October 27 meeting taking public comment. A location and format for that meeting has yet to be determined.
Opponents of the adopted 50 year Community Water Supply Plan have criticized task force Chair Sally Thomas for not allowing public comments at previous meetings. At the very end of the September 29 meeting, Thomas allowed them to speak.
Betty Mooney of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply Plan urged the task force to view the presentation given by dredging firm Gahagan and Bryant. Tom Olivier of the Sierra Club recommends dredging to restore the full capacity of the South Fork Reservoir. Albemarle County resident Richard Lloyd said that the task force should be answering the logistical questions raised by Gahagan and Bryant about how to proceed with dredging, such as establishing a de-watering site. He said Thomas was disingenuous when she opened the
initial task force meeting by asking why the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir should be dredged
In response, Thomas said she met with members of Gahagan and Bryant, and said that answering the question “why dredge” was the first step in the process. She said she asked the question at the first meeting, even though dredging as an alteration to the current water plan is not part of the task force’s charge. “Our charge is pretty explicit that we proceed given the Ragged Mountain water supply plan,” Thomas said.
Tom Jones, who represents property owners around the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, said his interpretation of the task force’s charge does not preclude consideration of the water supply plan. “The current water supply plan does have a number of questions that have been highlighted in the last week or so, and so it puts dredging as a possibility, or other forms of maintenance, in a different light,” Jones said. “I’d like to get off the table the idea that we’re not allowed to talk about dredging as a part of the water supply plan. I think it could be an enhancement, it could be an alternative.”
Jones was referring to the recent increase in the cost estimate of the Ragged Mountain Dam from $37 million to a high end price with contingency funds at almost $99 million (in 2010 dollars). Thomas pointed out that Gannett Fleming’s cost estimate also suggested the possibility of revisiting a pipeline to the James River, and that consideration of the water supply plan is not within the charge of the task force. Jones said that he did not want to go back to the James River, but that dredging could yield additional capacity.
Rooker said the task force could not ignore the fact that any dredging would restore some capacity, and that many of the reasons to maintain the reservoir could be achieved by dredging. He said the best way to eliminate the rampant hydrilla plants, for instance, would be to dredge.
Liz Palmer of the Albemarle County Service Authority said the negotiations for cost allocations of the adopted water supply plan do not include dredging, and that if the task force recommends dredging, it will have to be very specific about how, why and when.
“If we’re doing it for a 70 year plan, is it more effective to do it in three years from now? It gets very complicated trying to put [dredging] in the water supply plan,” Palmer said.
Rooker agreed, and added that the various variables involved in dredging led to a wide range of estimates, and that the task force does not have enough technical data on which to base an accurate one. Dede Smith of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said that was why City Council requested a study of dredging. She said Gahagan and Bryant provided many of those answers at a May 5, 2008 briefing.
Rooker disagreed and said their cost figures were very broad.
Ridge Schuyler of the Nature Conservancy disagreed with Smith’s interpretation of the City Council resolution, and referred to this passage:
Schuyler said if dredging is done, it will not be done for capacity because the supply plan takes care of the community’s needs. “We’re going to expand the other reservoir that we have to expand,” Schuyler said. “In light of that, what would be the benefits of maintaining the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir? That’s what we’re supposed to determine.”
In response, Rooker repeated that any dredging for other purposes would add capacity, and that said that if the cost of the water supply plan “explodes” it would be wise to have alternatives.
Mark Fletcher, representing the recreational interests of the University of Virginia, suggested putting out a broad RFP to get cost estimates for a variety of reasons to dredge, and said that the RWSA did not necessarily have to accept any of them. Schuyler, Rooker and others asked Fletcher what the scope of work should be. Sally Thomas closed the meeting by saying that the task force’s recommendations will provide guidance to the four chairs as they write the RFP for a potential dredging study. Fletcher said if he was one of the four chairs, he would want to have as much information as possible.