Divided City Council votes 3-2 in favor of new earthen dam at Ragged Mountain

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One month after three City Councilors voted to increase an initial Ragged Mountain Reservoir raise to 30′ from 13′, the same three—David Brown, Satyendra Huja and Kristin Szakos—voted to back a new earthen dam at the site. The Lower Ragged Mountain Dam was arguably the most contested component of the $143 million community water supply plan. (Background here. And here.)

The earthen dam, designed by Schnabel Engineering and favored by Albemarle County water officials, carries an estimated construction cost between $15.9 million and $19.5 million. The Albemarle County Service Authority authorized Schnabel’s final design for $869,000. County supervisors recently declined a meeting with Black & Veatch, the engineering firm behind the competing concrete dam and renovations to the existing structure.

Mayor Dave Norris spoke in favor of the concrete dam, and said an earthen dam "will result in substantially greater tree loss." A chart (see below) puts the number of permanently disturbed acres, including the reservoir itself, at 95 acres for a concrete dam and 108 acres for a new earthen dam.

Councilor David Brown, recently appointed to the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA) Board of Directors, previously told C-VILLE that Albemarle County is "paying a significant majority of the costs of a dam, so they should have more say" on the design. Last night, Brown said that endorsing a concrete dam could "[throw] a monkey wrench into the process and perhaps [derail] city and county working together on a dam."

Ultimately caught in a 2-2 tie, Szakos asked Councilor Holly Edwards to elaborate on the brief words of support she voiced for Black & Veatch’s concrete dam design. Edwards responded that she doubted her opinion could change Szakos’ mind in favor of one design or the other.

"The only reason I would support a 30′ concrete dam is if it would help unify council going forward," said Szakos, who referred to herself as the swing vote on the issue. "I think it won’t." The motion to support a new earthen dam carried 3-2, with Norris and Edwards against. Next up? A cost-sharing agreement for the water supply plan.

Lower Ragged Mountain Dam design comparison: 

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