Tag Archives: Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority

Chloramines Controversy Could Cost Millions

By. Neil Williamson, President

water supplyWhat’s the cost of changing a Water Board decision?

How about 25% – 35% increase in your monthly water bill.  How will that impact those on a fixed budget? 

Should economic impacts have equal standing with scientific data in the discussion?

Please let me explain.

Let’s start with a given that everyone wants a sufficient, clean safe, drinking water supply.

To that end, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates requirements for disinfection of drinking water as well as limits on the presence of byproducts.  The EPA first developed these regulations in 1979 and has regularly been updating (and tightening the regulations).  The most recent change in the EPA requirements caused the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to approve the use of chloramines as a secondary disinfectant.  While the RWSA Board has approved the use of chloramines, with no public comment, the implementation of this action has not yet occurred.

The Free Enterprise Forum has been troubled by several individuals who have suggested that our water is just fine as is and we do not have to do anything.  An independent analysis by Hazen Sawyer conducted in July 2011 found:

Sampling sites for the Stage 2 DBP Rule were selected through the Initial Distribution System Evaluation process as required by the DBPR. The Initial Distribution System Evaluation (IDSE) found that compliance with the Stage 2 DBPR would be a challenge without water treatment plant (WTP) modifications to reduce DBP formation.

Beyond the knowing violation of federal law, the EPA also reserves the right to fine violators up to $25,000 per day of violation.

While one may not agree with the specific numbers in the federal requirement, the place to argue this is at the federal rather than local level.  So doing nothing is NOT an option.

Interestingly, neither the EPA nor the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) dictate specifically how a municipal water authority disinfects their water.  They simply provide guidance regarding approved options. 

Prior to selecting chloramines as a solution, the RWSA considered several of the EPA/VDH approved options.  In his March 9th Memo to the RWSA Board Executive Director Tom Frederick laid out the capital facility options as:

  1. Granular activated carbon filtration
  2. Magnetic Ion exchange
  3. Chloramines
  4. Membrane nanofiltration
  5. Ultraviolet light

The least costly (about $5 million dollars capital and $102,000 annual operating) was chloramines.  The next least costly option, granular activated carbon, capital costs are $18.3 million dollars and annual operating cost is $980,000.

Not surprisingly, the RWSA Board of Directors supported the staff recommendation to use chloramines to attain the unfunded federal mandate regarding disinfectant.

It is important to note, many municipal water systems nationwide have been successfully using chloramines as a disinfectant.  In fact,  76% of all Virginians today are drinking water disinfected by chloramines; including drinking water in Fairfax County, Norfolk and Richmond.  In fact, Richmond water works has been using chloramines for over fifty years. 

Our research has resulted in uncovering many heart breaking stories regarding potential chloramine impacted skin rashes and diseases. While we feel for those impacted negatively, we have not seen any  statistical evidence linking increases of such diseases between those communities using chloramines and those not.

If a change is made today to reverse course and move to granular activated carbon filtration, sources have indicated that the wholesale rate for water may increase by 25% to 35%.  This fact is under reported and must be a part of the public discussion.

Choices have economic consequences.  

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org


Refreshingly Clear Water Answers

By. Neil Williamson, President

In the wonkish water demand analysis world of “per capita consumption” and “historic rain fall data” and “demand trend curves”, it is most refreshing to have a consultant explain in clear terms the rationale behind the numbers.

While the Demand Forecast Report may be dry (pun intended) the associated memorandum is filled to the rim with examples of consumer decisions greatly impacting this community’s water demand.

Please let me explain.

As Brian Wheeler of Charlottesville Tomorrow reported in today’s (8/30) Daily Progress article:

A 50-year water demand forecast for Charlottesville-Albemarle has been updated in advance of a public hearing to be held in September.  AECOM Technology Corp.’s projections now show slightly less water consumption, but greater projected population growth.

Download Download AECOM’s August 2011 water demand forecast

Late last week, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority released AECOM’s final forecast updating a July draft. The state is requiring localities to submit a comprehensive water supply plan by Nov. 2.

Last week (8/24), Kim Shorter, a water supply specialist with AECOM,  wrote a memo to Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority Executive Director Tom Frederick responding to the public’s questions about the Draft Water Demand Forecasts.

The memo provided direct answers to the public questions in an unusually candid manner.

Charlottesville Tomorrow covered the July public input session and highlighted a question from Rebecca Quinn, chair of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan:

“I do not believe conservation has been adequately accounted for,” said Quinn. “We have got to include the savings with faucets and showerheads. You may think it’s negligible, but it may make a difference to us.”

multiple showerheadsIn her memo, Shorter explains that despite the requirements in the National Energy Policy Act, a number of fixtures are still available that exceed the 2.5 gallon a minute standard.

She also highlighted the  trend for multiple showerheads in a single stall is becoming popular and is not illegal.

The most telling remark about the showerhead discussion was:

Without the inspection and testing of a representative and random sampling of shower fixtures in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, the impacts of non-conforming and non-compliant fixtures on current and future water demand reductions cannot be reasonably estimated. [Emphasis added-nw]

Many of the same consumer driven concerns regarding showers were true in conservation assessment of faucets as well.  hands free faucetShorter wrote:

For most faucets, it is as easy to alter the flow rate as it is to open a plastic bottle; simply turn the aerator until it is removed.  Similar to the multiple spray showerheads, the automated shut-off faucets have become very popular but result in higher water use.  Multiple studies have shown that the infrared automatic shut-off faucets use more water than the traditional fixtures.

In addition to answering questions about low water use clothes washers as well as the population numbers used, Shorter’s memo clearly addressed most, if not all, of the concerns raised in the public input session.

The public is well served by the clear answers in the report as well as in the memo.

One can anticipate many of the same voices raising these issues (and others) when this report is presented at the September 13th meeting of the four Boards (Charlottesville City Council, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and Albemarle County Service Authority) for public hearing.

It is important to note, the reason this report is required by the state is to mandate community planning for an adequate future water supply.  If, as a community, we conserve more water than we project, our community water supply will serve us longer than we project.  If the population grows more slowly than anticipated the community water supply will serve us longer than anticipated.

But we remain concerned, as Charlottesville Tomorrow reported our comments from the July meeting:

Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, said he worried about water supply planning that depended too heavily on future conservation efforts.

“I hope as a community we embrace conservation, but we shouldn’t count our chickens before they are hatched,” Williamson said.

The question remains, how much of our future water supply can we comfortably “bet” on voluntary consumer conservation efforts?

And if we bet wrong, what level of mandated conservation efforts are we willing to accept?

And, at that point, will we have a choice?

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

New Ragged Mountain Dam 2/3 full or 1/3 Empty?

By. Neil Williamson, President

In action earlier today, (3/2) Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors100_0360 endorsed a resolution to build the proposed earthen dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir in two phases.  The first phase, a dam to allow a 30 foot increase in pool height would begin “immediately” with a second phase, 12 foot addition, to be constructed almost automatically when certain demand triggers are met.

One supervisor described the resolution as a necessary compromise to work with their Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) partner [the City of Charlottesville].  The resolution itself clearly expresses the Board of Supervisors desire to build the project in one phase, but recognizes the politics of the possible:

WHEREAS, the Board of Supervisors has preferred and continues to prefer that the new earthen dam be constructed in one phase to accommodate an increase in pool height of 42 feet, but acknowledges and recognizes that both the City and County need to agree upon the phasing issue in order to cooperatively and expeditiously move forward with the project; and

WHEREAS, time is of the essence to take advantage of the current cost savings in the construction market and to meet the Commonwealth of Virginia dam safety requirements.

The vote to approve the resolution was 5-1 (Boyd-No) and perhaps spoke to the Board’s desire to move something forward. 

Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna) indicated that he was opposed because he did not believe this was the most economical choice.  He also raised concerns regarding the ecological impacts of building in two phases rather than one.  Finally, he questioned whether Albemarle had a true “partner” in Charlottesville.  He recalled Charlottesville’s five year refusal to pay into the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority back in the early 2000’s [The city was upset about a previously signed cost sharing agreement]. 

With this Board of Supervisors resolution, and the motion approved by Charlottesville City Council last week, the new, shorter, earthen Ragged Mountain Dam is one step closer to fruition.

The Free Enterprise Forum appreciates the project’s new momentum and wants to see the reservoir as 2/3 full — but firmly believes until the second phase is constructed  (an uncertainty if ever there was one) Ragged Mountain Reservoir will always be 1/3 empty. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org


Mayor Wants DEQ to Quiet ‘Squabbling Children’


By. Neil Williamson, President

Earlier this week (10/26)  Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) meeting, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris suggested the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should step in and “mediate” the dispute between Charlottesville and Albemarle County regarding the community water supply.  Mayor Norris described the two localities as “squabbling children” and suggested rather than having the DEQ answer written questions perhaps they would want to sit down in a meeting and help the two localities work the issues out.  Later in discussion, Mayor Norris accepted the term “facilitate” might be a better description than “mediate”.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that asking the DEQ, a state regulatory agency,  to mediate (or “facilitate”) the water supply dispute is as sensible as asking the IRS to help you build your household budget.  

In his written Responses to Public Comment, RWSA Tom Frederick expressed his frustration with the RWSA Board failing to provide clear direction:

With respect to the state water plan, it’s time to get the horse in front of the cart. Our public officials need to agree, hopefully before the end of this year, on what the local plan is in time for the RWSA staff to be able to write the state water plan submittal. The deadline for the state plan submittal should not become an excuse to “do another study” while board officials postpone making decisions. Our state plan is suppose to be a regional one, shared by the City and County as well as the Town of Scottsville. How can the RWSA staff possibly write one regional plan for the Urban Water System unless the two local governments first agree on what plan each will accept? In the context of trying to meet a November 2011 deadline, RWSA staff disagrees with the idea that the most important question should be when is the staff going to do the work? The first and most important question, without which failure is guaranteed above and beyond RWSA staff’s control, is when are the officials on the public boards going to agree on the plan? [emphasis added – nw]

The Free Enterprise Forum is quickly losing patience with our friend, the Mayor.  It was clear in the RWSA meeting the proposal of DEQ mediation was not a sense of City Council but was yet one more unvetted mayoral independent initiatives.  From the outside, it seems that the mayor’s tactics (which may or may not accurately reflect City Council) are designed to delay implementation of any plan.   

Perhaps that is the plan.

Respectfully submitted,

 Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Albemarle County Service Authority Antes Up

By. Neil Williamson, President

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) Board of Directors meeting yesterday (9/28) played out more like high stakes poker game than a cooperative utility assembly.  Charlottesville Tomorrow has the story in this morning’s Daily Progress

A motion was made by Ken Boyd from Albemarle County to have the RWSA fund the design of a new 42 foot Ragged Mountain dam ($869,000).  The board, made up of 3 Charlottesville representatives, 3 Albemarle representatives and 1 citizen representative, was deadlocked 3-3 (Albemarle for, Charlottesville opposed) on the motion.  Rather than casting the deciding vote, the citizen representative, Mike Gaffney, asked for additional discussion. 

In the additional discussion, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris suggested that he would be hard pressed to vote in opposition to the motion if City ratepayers were not paying for it.  Then the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) Executive Director Gary O’Connell indicated that he could authorize paying the full cost of the design work for the first 30 days (up to $50,000) and would ask his Board of Directors if they would approve paying the balance of the contract in their next regular meeting October 21st.  Based on the nods from the ACSA Board members present at the meeting and their previous public statements, it is assumed the ASCA Board will approve the request.

The original motion was retracted and the ACSA proposal passed unanimously.

The Free Enterprise Forum estimates that had the proposal gone forward under RWSA funding, the cost share for the dam design would have been 85% County, 15% City.  Thus, if approved by the ACSA Board of Directors the additional cost to ACSA would be $138,850.

While 138 thousand dollars is a good amount of money, it seems like this “upping the ante” provides the Ragged Mountain Dam project with momentum to continue forward on an aggressive schedule.

But in a larger sense, when should we start to question the construct of the RWSA? 

The City of Charlottesville, unhappy with the direction the approved community water supply plan funded additional studies to support a different approach, now Albemarle County (through the ACSA) is funding the design of a the approved water supply plan dam that the City has most recently only conditionally approved.

If the RWSA was created to coordinate local expenditures on water and wastewater and to accomplish this task the City and County find it necessary to use taxpayer/ratepayer dollars to fund studies and designs in an expensive game of poker, has the cooperative nature of the RWSA evaporated? 

If so, how should we proceed from here?  Should Albemarle County buy a reservoir from the City and build their own water treatment plant?  Should the City Public Works take on dredging as a core government function?

If RWSA is worth saving, who will stand up as its champion?


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

FOIA Required to Gain Release of DEQ Water Plan Analysis?

By. Neil Williamson, President

The front page banner headline in this morning (7/25) Daily Progress reads “DEQ: Norris plan fails to meet needs” .  The well written article by Brian Wheeler outlines the analysis of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding a proposal to dredge the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and increase the height of the existing Ragged Mountain Dam.  The “Norris Plan” a it as been dubbed was first formally presented to DEQ a year ago this week by Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris and then Chairman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors David Slutzky.

Relatively late in the article it is mentioned:

The draft results were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Charlottesville Tomorrow. DEQ officials said in an interview that Norris had not contacted them in the past year, but that they were actively preparing to submit the study to local officials and could do so as early as this week.

According to George Washington University’s National Security Archive:

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law ensuring public access to U.S. government records. FOIA carries a presumption of disclosure; the burden is on the government – not the public – to substantiate why information may not be released. Upon written request, agencies of the United States government are required to disclose those records, unless they can be lawfully withheld from disclosure under one of nine specific exemptions in the FOIA. This right of access is ultimately enforceable in federal court.

Charlottesville Tomorrow deserves credit for filing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  The Free Enterprise Forum questions the failure of the DEQ to release this information previously.  Refusing to believe in coincidences, we find it highly suspect that the DEQ just happened to be “actively preparing to submit the study to local officials”.

Regarding the delayed response this morning’s Daily Progress article quotes Scott Kudlas, a DEQ director responsible for surface and groundwater planning:

“Frankly, one of the primary reasons there was a delay to providing this information to the localities was that we were really hoping that they would work this out and we wouldn’t have to comment on it,” Kudlas said.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this approach is indicative of the political nature of regulatory agencies.  The Mayor and The Chairman of the Board of Supervisors ask DEQ a specific question and a year later the answer is revealed ONLY thanks to a FOIA request.  Regulatory agencies should see those that are regulated as customers and answer their questions promptly and professionally regardless of how the political chips may fall.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality is set up to protect the environment not political harmony between localities.  This report should have been released when it was completed not delayed to let the localities “work this out”.


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Ragged Mountain Dam Expert Panel Report Released

By. Neil Williamson

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA) posted the report of the Ragged Mountain Dam Expert Panel to its website today.  The expert panel report is very well organized and discusses:

  • The Dam Designer’s role
  • Contractor procurement Process and Contract Organization
  • Site Assessment during Excavation and Treatment
  • Technical Issues
  • Logistical Issues
  • Overall Construction Schedule
  • Risk Management and Potential for Cost Reductions

In the media release, RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick said, “We have now had this project reviewed by three of the most knowledgeable experts on dam design in the entire world.  They have given us significant feedback, they have reassured us that our decision last August to stop design work was justified and wise, and they have given us direction to take this project forward in a way that optimizes safety, performance, and cost.”

The Free Enterprise Forum applauds the RWSA for taking immediate action last August.  In addition, we favor the order of Mr. Frederick’s priorities “safety, performance, and cost.” 

By depoliticizing the discussion with three outside expert, the RWSA was able to focus on the facts of the engineering challenges of a new dam at Ragged Mountain.  

For those who express concern at the changing design (and resulting cost figures), a full review of the expert report indicates many critical variables remain unsure.  The report states:

The RCC (Roller Compacted Concrete) design is in the very early stages of development and subject to change as part of the natural evolution of the engineering process.   

The report provides seven recommendations for changes to procurement processes and contractor responsibility that may result in significant cost savings:

  • Revise the current conceptual design for foundation excavation, surface preparation and seepage cutoff construction
  • Investigate potential advantages in lowering the reservoir during construction.
  • Conduct further site investigation, but focused heavily on delineating rockhead elevations suitable for foundations
  • Create contract documents which allocate equably the risk of excavation and foundation treatment
  • Fundamentally reassess the location, shape, and composition of the dam, with due consideration for the sourcing RCC components
  • Consider making the I-64 highway embankment issue a separate parallel track project in terms of design and construction
  • The overriding goal of the contractor procurement should be to best match the contractor capabilities to the major work items and risk areas

The process of seating the expert panel, scheduling the panel meetings, and delivery of the report ate up almost a year. 

The fact that true deliverables resulted out of this small study group is encouraging.  The fact the expert panel is contracted to meet again shows promise that we may well be headed toward building the approved community water supply.  If this is the end result, the nine month delay was well worth it.

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.

Looking Ahead

Today is the first business day of the new year.  Rather than a look back on where we have been, The Free Enterprise Forum chooses to look forward. 

We are in the midst of an economic crisis.  How will this impact the Charlottesville region?  How will this impact the long range planning in the region?  What issues will be at the forefront in 2009?


Over the holiday, I took great interest at the large number of communities (and States for that matter) that have created infrastructure spending projects for the new Obama Administration.  Just as the Virginia Department of Transportation(VDOT)  is cutting road construction funds and eliminating staff in order to have enough money for road maintenance, new federal funds may be available.  The cynic in me would argue that the bridges on the aging interstate highway system are a higher national priority than Hillsdale Extended but I could be wrong.  Much of the early part of 2008 will be spent watching the passage and implementation of an infrastructure stimulus bill.  I anticipate the major federal dollars in Virginia will go to the population (and traffic) centers of Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

By March 31, Virginia’s General Assembly will give Charlottesville and Albemarle the right to create a Regional Transportation Authority but will not provide any new taxing authority to pay for such a system.

Albemarle County’s Land Use/Transportation planning boondoggle named Places 29  might actually complete at some point in 2009.

In November 2009, the aforementioned cash strapped VDOT will produce their Route 29 Corridor Study regarding the 219 miles of US 29 from Gainesville to the North Carolina border.  You may not have heard too much about this yet as the consultant team is in the midst of their “listening tour”.

Prior to dirt moving on the long debated Meadowcreek Parkway, the Free Enterprise Forum anticipates at least one, if not, two lawsuits will be filed, probably before the Dogwood Festival. 


A perennial on our issues list.  As Greene County works toward a new water impoundment, Fluvanna and Louisa’s water partnership will be tested as the cost estimates for their pipeline project come in. 

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) will evaluate the two conflicting enginering designsregarding the New Ragged Mountain Dam Construction.  Opponents of the Ragged Mountain Solution will continue to provide the media with great soundbites as the complex process slowly moves forward.  The Free Enterprise Forum predicts the project will continue to move forward albeit very slowly.

The Free Enterprise Forum anticipates a change in the make up of the RWSA Board of Directors will be considered in 2009 but no action will occur until the Spring of 2010 when two elected officials (1 City and 1 County) will be added to the Board.

Economic Development

The downturn in the economy has significantly impacted the Central Virginia region.  Perhaps the pinch has been seen the most in the real estate related industries.  The Free Enterprise Forum sees continued stress in this sector at least through the third quarter of 2009.  Based on our conversations with business owners, we are projecting increased business consolidation and unfortunately an increase in the unemployment rate for the region through the second quarter. 

Not unlike a forest fire, the creative destruction this economic downturn has created will be painful and many may not be standing at the end, but those businesses that are able to survive will emerge stronger and more competitive. 

There are positive signs.  Early in January, the  Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will likely enact a Comprehensive Plan Amendment that recognizes the significant benefits a strong business base provides to the community.  As the weather warms and downward rent pressures mount on landlords, the shuttered doorfronts on the Downtown Mall will likely be repopulated with new businesses striving to succeed.

Comprehensive Planning

By the end of 2009, Greene County and Fluvanna County will likely complete their updates to their comprehensive plans with he assistance of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.  How much of the TJPDC agenda  finds its way into each of these documents remains to be seen.  The meetings and drafts we have seen seem to indicate such an organizational bias. 

Meanwhile, Albemarle County will be updating the Crozet Master Plan.  The Albemarle County BOS has indicated it wanted the review to include consideration of the Yancey Business Park concept.  By the time the county’s beaches open up we will likely know if the Crozet community will be receptive to such consideration or not.

 Population Control

In 2008, The City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County invested $36,000 in a study conducted by Advocates for A Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) regarding Optimal Sustainable Population Size (OSPS) project.   The scope of the project is to determine the proper population number to preserve the current ecological balance.  The results of the first phase of this study are due in the first half of this year.  

If the study indicates the community should be smaller than we are, whom will we vote off the island?   

The Way Forward

While we have only scratched the surface on some of the issues we will be working in 2009, one thing can be assured, the Free Enterprise Forum will be there.  Now entering our sixth year, the Free Enterprise Forum is proud to continue our service as an information resource and advocate. 

If you find our updates helpful, please consider giving a gift.  You can donate via the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org or via snail mail Free Enterprise Forum, 550 Hillsdale Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22901.

RWSA Evaluates Two Dam Cost Estimates

The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) yesterday released two conflicting sets of cost estimates for the engineering and construction of the expanded Ragged Mountain Dam.   While the Free Enterprise Forum has not endorsed any specific community water supply option, we applaud the very public process the RWSA is pursuing.

Both cost estimates were increases from the concept costs provided during the 2004 community water supply meetings.  In response to these competing estimates Tom Frederick, Executive Director of RWSA ask for Board approval to seat a professional panel of national experts to evaluate the differences between the two estimates.  In addition, Frederick indicated that RWSA would cease work on the dam project until this panel had been seated and made its recommendation to the RWSA board.  Brandon Shulleeta has the story in this morning’s Daily Progress.

In his memo to the RWSA Board, Frederick identified the drivers that resulted in the most recent cost adjustments:

The largest engineering challenge in designing a dam is to capture geophysical data regarding the location and integrity of hidden, underground rock formation, and to interpret this data to define the extent of excavations and size of the underground foundation.  Given this challenge, adjustments to conceptual design assumptions are very common at this stage of the dam design process.  To date, much of the Ragged Mountain preliminary design has been focused on obtaining and interpreting this geophysical data.  This information is expensive to collect, yet extremely important, as the decisions regarding the design of the dam foundation can have a major effect on the overall quality and cost of the project.

Faced with an new estimated cost from Gannett Flemming of over $70 Million,the RWSA staff believed a second opinion was needed.  On August 12th RWSA staff directed Gannett Fleming to stop work, and RWSA reached out to Schnabel Engineering to conduct a very limited review of Gannet Fleming’s work interpreting the geophysical data and the cost estimates related to this data.

The Schnabel report highlights one of the challenges with the 2004 estimate:

Starting in 2004 and continuing into 2007, there has been an appreciable rise in the cost of construction materials, especially diesel fuel.  The project costs of many high profile dam projects had bid prices well above the estimates made by engineers during this period because of these rapidly increasing costs.

Schnabel’s report goes on to identify 15 different downward adjustments to Gannett Flemming’s design and cost estimate.  In addition, the firm interviewed two different dam contractors to gauge the current market receptivity to bidding out such a project:

The contractors interviewed indicated that present conditions (i.e. 4th quarter 2008) facilitate a good bid environment for owners with this favorable condition likely extending into 2009, if not 2010.  With the economy depressed, material prices are not likely to see large increases in the near future.  Cement sales are predicted to decline by more than 10% this year and 5% in 2009.

While opponents of the Ragged Mountain Dam have taken this opportunity to call for resignations of the RWSA Board, The Free Enterprise Forum believes the opposite is true. 

The RWSA Board (and the staff led by Executive Director Tom Frederick) should be commended for their commitment to public engagement.  The detailed reports prepared by the consultants were made readily available.  Since the inception of the community water supply planning meetings, given the choice, RWSA has routinely opted for transparency and sunlight on the water supply decision making process. 

While individual citizens may disagree about the direction of the community water supply initative, the fact that these conflicting engineering reports are open to the public is helpful to building the community understanding of the process.