Dredging supporters optimistic U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will consider new information on water plan
Thursday, November 17, 2011
UPDATED 9:39 AM
The 50-year community water supply plan for Charlottesville-Albemarle has the support of the majority of local officials today. The recent elections, which will change the makeup of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council come January, indicate that support should persist in 2012.
However, no plan for a new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir can move forward without the blessing of state and federal officials and a cost-sharing arrangement between the two localities.
Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
a letter sent to the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
, the federal regulators the group has lobbied to suspend or revoke previously approved permits so a new water plan can be developed.
“Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan has for years questioned many of the assumptions on which the dam and pipeline project are based,” said the group’s Rebecca Quinn. “The evidence is now clear with new studies, one on water demand and another on dredging, that every assumption has been invalidated. We do believe a re-evaluation is warranted.”
The state permits were discussed at a September public hearing and a decision about whether to approve permit modifications is expected by the State Water Control Board next month.
Regarding the federal permits, the Corps of Engineers
asked the RWSA in October
for updated information on the water plan’s stream impacts, the feasibility of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, the merits of a smaller dam at Ragged Mountain, and for more information on the pipeline proposed to connect the two reservoirs.
“I think it’s important that we respect that the Corps of Engineers has a right to ask questions,” said the RWSA’s executive director,
Thomas L. Frederick Jr
. “But we should not read between the lines as to what their questions mean in terms of what they are thinking.”
Quinn says the Corps of Engineers is asking important questions because her group has been providing them with the latest water plan studies. She questioned why local elected officials were so willing to base decisions on information she said was outdated.
“We would have expected the U.S. Army to have been notified of this new information,” Quinn said. “As these new studies have come forward, the RWSA has not provided this information to the regulators; we have provided it to them. Applicants also have a responsibility.”
Frederick said the RWSA’s position is that the new studies have not resulted in “material or substantial” information that would change the conditions of the federal permit. The RWSA responded to the information request with
a four-page letter of its own on Nov. 11
“We are in communication with the regulatory agencies on a regular basis and we respond to any questions that they have,” Frederick said. “All of our studies have been posted on our website …. The idea that we have not shared information is completely false.”
Vinny Pero, an environmental scientist with the Charlottesville office of the Corps of Engineers, said in an interview that both the RWSA and the citizens’ group had been providing him with information. As to the charge the RWSA had been holding back new studies, Pero disagreed.
“They have been very open with me, and anything that I have asked for they have given me very quickly,” said Pero. “They have never hidden anything.”
Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
issued a news release
on Wednesday suggesting that the Corps of Engineers’ inquiry could indicate a willingness to reconsider dredging at South Fork. The group said dredging cost estimates from 2010 were around $29 million as compared with earlier estimates by Gannett Fleming of between $145 million and $223 million in 2004 and 2008.
“The numbers they used in the early planning process were the basis for the regulators to say dredging was not a practicable alternative,” said Quinn, who favors dredging before construction of a new dam. “The number we are using comes from HDR.”
Quinn was asked in an interview to consider the difference between the two firms’ estimates. She acknowledged HDR had only estimated a one-time dredging project, a point reiterated by the RWSA’s Frederick.
“The studies performed by Gannett Fleming and HDR were not of the same order of magnitude,” Frederick said. “Gannett Fleming looked at continuous dredging of the entire South Fork Reservoir for 50 years, not only to dredge sediment that is in the reservoir now, but sediment that is expected to settle in over the next 50 years.”
“HDR simply looked at dredging one time what is in the reservoir now, what is practical to do after setting aside no dredge zones for things like wetlands, pipelines, and bridges,” Frederick added.
Frederick said the RWSA’s letter to the Corps of Engineers made “strong arguments” about why the current water plan should be supported. The RWSA is preparing to award a construction bid for the earthen dam, and 15 firms have applied to be pre-qualified for the process.
“We need to let the Corps of Engineers interpret that information and make their own judgment and not try and speculate publicly,” said Frederick. “I don’t think that kind of speculation is helpful and we should refrain from doing that and let them do their job.”