Brian Wheeler

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

RICHMOND — The Virginia State Water Control Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to support changes to a permit needed for the Charlottesville-Albemarle community water supply plan.

The action is a major victory for supporters of the plan to build a new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain reservoir. Opponents said they were not surprised by the outcome, but that they would take their concerns next to federal officials.

W. Shelton Miles (second from right), Chairman,

Virginia State Water Control Board

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality staff made a presentation to the board that was followed by a public hearing. More than 20 residents and officials from the Charlottesville area were in attendance, and 16 people spoke to the board.

“I feel gratified that the board has carefully considered the comments that were made today,” said Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority. “They continue to concur with the idea that this is the least environmentally damaging and practicable alternative, that this does comply with the regulations, and that this project should move forward to secure the future of our community.”

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W. Shelton Miles, the water control board chairman, said he thought the DEQ staff “covered all the pertinent issues.”

“I hope the city, county and the Albemarle County Service Authority are now all ready to move forward with their citizens,” Miles said.

Dede Smith, Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan

Dede Smith, who was elected to the Charlottesville City Council last month, spoke to the board as a citizen and co-founder of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan.

“It was a long shot,” said Smith after the vote. “The DEQ has supported Rivanna’s efforts all along, so their recommendations were likely to be adopted.”

“We continue to feel our position is strong, and valid, and will be validated,” said Smith.

The RWSA is reviewing 9 bids for the construction of the first phase of the earthen dam. The lowest bid came from Thalle Construction Company based in Hilsborough, N.C. for $21.5 million. Construction of the dam still requires the blessing of federal officials.

Permits for the dam were first issued in 2008, but those were for a concrete dam design that was later abandoned because of its high cost. The RWSA requested permit modifications to accommodate the cheaper earthen dam designed by Schnabel Engineering.

Rebecca Quinn, chair of the Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, said she was disappointed by the outcome, but pleased at least one board member was asking questions.

“We were disappointed that the answers [from staff to the board] were only partial answers and perpetuated obfuscation of the facts as we know them,” Quinn said.

Quinn added that she planned to meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday in Norfolk. Federal officials are reviewing a separate permit modification request.

Quinn’s group has argued for a dredging-first approach to meet water needs for the next 40 years. She said the dam’s first phase alone, without a new pipeline, will not help prepare for future droughts.

“If we draw down Ragged Mountain [in a drought] and there isn’t enough water to refill it…and they continue to allow South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to silt in, we will have less water than we do today,” Quinn said.

Frederick shared data with the board that confirmed that point, but he also said the RWSA was committed to the pipeline and the option of raising the reservoir another 12 feet in a second phase of construction for the earthen dam.

The RWSA capital budget includes funding for the earthen dam. The supply pipeline connecting the Ragged Mountain Reservoir to the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, estimated to cost about $63 million, is an additional project anticipated as part of the almost $140 million water plan.

The timing of the pipeline, the exact route and the efficiencies that may result if it is built along the path of the U.S. 29 Western Bypass project are all uncertain. The RWSA has been focusing on getting this first project, the dam that was first approved in 2006, underway.

“We believe this plan represents the community’s wishes at large — to secure our future needs and to protect our environment — and I think this does it better than anything else that has been presented,” Frederick said.

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