By Brian Wheeler

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The community water supply plan will be the subject of a joint meeting Tuesday between Charlottesville’s City Council and Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors.

With planning for a new dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir approaching a critical decision point, county supervisors called for the meeting earlier this month. Observers following the debate closely say the only thing that is clear is that neither locality will get a new water plan unless both can agree on how to proceed.

“We hope this meeting helps to bring both parties a little closer to settling on a solution,” Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones wrote in an e-mail.

Councilor David Brown said he hoped the joint meeting would produce results.

“I am always an optimist. I would like to see us move forward with a water plan that meets our needs and doesn’t break the bank,” Brown said. “I really hope this is the meeting that allows the city and county to move forward.”

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said he thought both bodies were close to reaching an agreement.

“There are some specific issues to be put on the table and discussed, and there are others that need to be put to rest,” Rooker said. “Is it an earthen dam or do you build on the existing dam, and how high do you go? Do you consider dredging and, if so, is it for maintenance or for [water supply] capacity?”

“If no one is interested in pursuing a plan that would have additional permitting requirements … then some things being discussed need to be taken off the table because they would drag this out for one to two more years,” Rooker said.

Albemarle officials fear the city’s investigation of alternatives to the $142 million water plan approved in 2006 will actually cost ratepayers money because it will delay the construction of the earthen dam which they contend is the most cost-effective and environmentally responsible approach. The county wants to jump on a competitive bidding climate for the new dam’s construction.

The City Council had hoped to vote at its meeting Tuesday evening on whether to proceed with more engineering on a phased concrete extension of the existing dam. That action was to be informed by more information from the Department of Environmental Quality evaluating the dam’s initial height and corresponding effects on area stream flows.

According to Jones, DEQ had not responded as of Friday to the city’s request.

“Unfortunately I haven’t received a document from DEQ just yet,” Jones wrote via e-mail. “I was told on Monday that we would receive something early in the week but the letter hasn’t made it to City Hall.”

The City Council has been guided by the belief that the existing reservoirs, which are city-owned assets managed by the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority, deserve careful scrutiny as infrastructure that can be improved in phases while providing adequate water for decades to come. City officials have said the cost of their alternative water plan will be less than the county’s and, with a smaller dam initially, have less effect on the forest ecosystem at Ragged Mountain.

Councilor Kristin Szakos said she still wants a definitive response from DEQ about the necessary height of the first phase of a larger dam at Ragged Mountain. Even without that information, Szakos said she hoped the joint meeting would produce results.

“If we can agree to talk to each other with the goal of reaching a solution, then I think we can make some progress,” Szakos said. “If we are able to come to a solution, we need to understand it is not going to look exactly like what either body would have done on its own.”

Rooker said one solution he didn’t want was an effort that looked like past water plan failures.

“This community has been seeking to expand its water supply for 30 years,” Rooker said. “This started in 1980, when we decided to build the dam at Buck Mountain [in Free Union]. Ultimately, after acquiring the property, the permit was not allowed for that dam.”

“Thirty years later, we finally have a plan approved by the regulators and we need to look for a way to move forward with that plan,” Rooker said. “The past examples are a roadmap that reminds us anything you go to the regulators with may not necessarily be approved. … Experience shows you may not figure that out without significant investment of more time and money.”

The joint meeting will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Room 241 of the Albemarle County Office Building.


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