Anyone anxiously waiting for one last epic showdown between pro-dredging advocates and new dam supporters got their wish last Monday when, with a 3-2 vote, City Council ultimately approved the 50-year community water supply plan, which included a much-debated cost sharing agreement.
City Council approved the controversial community water supply plan despite push back from residents and Councilors Dede Smith and Dave Norris. Under the plan, construction of a new earthen dam at Ragged Mountain could begin soon.
The vote was predictable. Everyone knew going in where members of the Council stood, but the ferocity of the last debate was notable, as Councilors Dede Smith and Dave Norris, supported by more than a dozen members of the public, made their last push to change the vote.
“I did not come here today to actually argue the plan. I am wearing a different hat,” Smith told Council. “I am here to defend the city’s interests and our financial position in this plan. This is my social justice hat.”
Perhaps the most visible opponent of the water plan, Smith used Monday’s meeting to illustrate the many ways she thought it would endanger the city’s financial future, flat-out calling the cost share agreement “anything but fair.”
According to the agreement, the city will pay 15 percent of the cost of the Ragged Mountain Dam, or $8.8 million of the estimated $59 million price tag, and the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) will pick up the remaining 85 percent, or $51.1 million. The cost share for the pipeline that will deliver the water was set to 20 percent for the city and 80 percent for ACSA.
“The cost share agreement was really about the financial impact of these decisions and the decision to walk away from our most valuable water resource is worth $100 million,” Smith told C-VILLE in an interview. “It’s a $100 million decision. I made that very clear.”
But Councilor Kathy Galvin, along with Mayor Satyendra Huja and Kristin Szakos, disagreed.
“The cost allocating agreement is giving us a good deal,” Galvin said and emphasized that the city was “not getting gypped, we are getting a heck of a deal.”
Norris, who alongside Smith unsuccessfully moved to amend the plan more than a dozen times, suggested to Council that a plan that was previously approved already existed.
“We had a plan that this Council approved unanimously that provided water for 50-plus years for this region that would have cost this region many, many millions of dollars less than the plan we are about to adopt,” Norris said, referring to a plan that was adopted in September 2010, which included a phased construction of the Lower Ragged Mountain Dam and maintenance dredging of the South Fork reservoir. “It was a solid plan and tonight we are about to officially drive a stake through its heart.”
Huja, Szakos and Galvin ultimately crushed the hopes of many vocal supporters who attended the meeting, when they approved an amendment to increase the height of the earthen dam at Ragged to 42′, (an increase from the previously approved 30′).
Huja, who was focused on making sure the meeting went smoothly, made his position crystal clear: “We have an excellent water plan."