City Council Makes Move to Set Dredging Study into Motion

By: Justin West,  Charlottesville Field Officer Intern

In the late stages of Charlottesville City Council’s Monday May 18th meeting was what proved to be seemingly decisive discussion on the potential for a dredging feasibility study on the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) is now willing to submit a request for proposals (RFP) for dredging feasibility studies, contingent on the city’s willingness to foot much of the bill. The regions long-term water supply has long been a divisive political issue, with the county and city butting heads at seemingly every turn.

The city has been pushing for the dredging study to see if the reservoir at South Fork can be restored to a capacity that, in conjunction with conservation efforts that have already begun, will satisfy the areas water supply needs in the future.

The Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) has been of the position that dredging will not provide enough water, making it pointless to study. The county’s assertion led to the ACSA’s refusal to pay for any part of the dredging study that is not strictly maintenance dredging. As it stands now the RWSA will pay for a bathymetric study and an examination of the practicality and cost of a forebay which would reduce sedimentation from filling the reservoir, all of which are considered part of South Fork’s maintenance. The rest of what would be a complete dredging study, including sediment analysis, volume analysis, and a study of potential disposal sites will be left for the city to finance.

City Manager Gary O’Connell said that the full study would likely cost $300,000 with the amount that the city is obligated to pay still to be determined, but it will certainly dwarf the county’s contribution. O’Connell was also pointed out that if dredging becomes part of the long-term water plan the city gets some kind of a refund. Council’s response to the plan was mixed as some, including RWSA board members Councilor Holly Edwards and O’Connell advocated the plan as an appropriate compromise between parties. Edwards pointing out that a compromise was needed and a plan, like this one, was necessary to promote community “oneness”.

O’Connell focused on the lack of adequate votes on the board to promote a plan the city would be more pleased with, presenting a ‘something is better than nothing’ approach.

On the other hand Councilors Satyendra Huja and Julian Taliaferro expressed their frustration with the RPF, “I am extremely disappointed that the county didn’t want to participate” commented Huja. Taliaferro highlighted what “appears to be a lack of cooperation on their [the county’s] part” adding that it seems to him that “they don’t want to know what the study will show”. Councilor David Brown took a bit of a different approach saying “I’m not disappointed because I’m not surprised at the stand that the Service Authority has taken” adding that “whether dredging should be considered is controversial in our community”. Brown did indicate that he may side with the county on the value of dredging.

Despite competing views Council moved to support the action of the RWSA by a 4-1 vote, with Councilor Taliaferro as the lone dissenting vote.

2010 Utility Rates to Take a Modest Jump

The RWSA was also newsworthy at the beginning of the meeting with the first of two readings of the proposed utility rates for 2010 being discussed. Overall the average rate payer in the city will see a 1.43% increase in water, 4.49% increase in wastewater, and a 1.13% decrease in gas under the plan. The increases on the water side were blamed almost entirely on a rate increase by the RWSA for its product, which according to staff accounted for over 80% of the rate increase in both instances. The rate increases were presented as victory by O’Connell and staff as they are just a fraction of the increases that Albemarle residents will have to manage.

Most of the discussion on the issue was focused around the money the city is using from a rate stabilization fund and concerns over what RSWA is doing with its reserve fund. Many citizens joined Councilor Brown in his concern over the usage of a rate stabilization fund in a year where increases are modest. Brown was vocal in wanting to avoid “subsidizing” rates, which puts the city in a situation where it must either continue doing so on into the future, or subject the public to a sharp rate increase whenever they stop using the fund.

The public also questioned why RWSA chose to sit on its reserves despite a sizable rate increase from them, a choice Mayor Dave Norris defended saying “it’s good budgeting for Rivanna to put money away” especially with the long-term water supply plan and its extraordinary cost looming.

However, no amount of convincing from staff and Council could keep some members of the public, like Betty Mooney from fearing the worst, “I’m concerned we are heading for a train wreck” the worried citizen said about the regions water supply future.

Council took no significant action on the rate plan on Monday as it was moved forward to a future meeting.

Other Items on the Agenda

Other items discussed were a failed appeal of a Board of Architectural Review (BAR) decision to not allow the demolition of a historical building on Riverdale Avenue, a report on how Stimulus Package money is being used in the area, a petition to rezone parts of Longwood Drive from R-2 to PUD for a development that was moved forward to a future meeting for decision, the removal of a grade separated interchange at Hydraulic Road and Route 29 from the city’s long-term transportation plan, and the allocation of housing funds.

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