Despite an unexpected power outage that threatened to postpone the debate, seven Democratic City Council candidates defended their visions for the future of Charlottesville before a sizable crowd at Jackson P. Burley Middle School on July 20.
Questions about the Meadow Creek Parkway and Western Bypass split the candidates, but the community water supply plan emerged as the evening’s most contentious topic. The debate was hosted by Charlottesville Tomorrow and the Daily Progress.
During a quick “Yes or No” answer session, the candidates—dredging supporter Dede Smith, City School Board members Colette Blount and Kathy Galvin, incumbent Satyendra Huja, UVA writer Brevy Cannon, local developer Paul Beyer and James Halfaday—were asked whether they favored dredging as the primary approach to meet future water demands, as opposed to the construction of a new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Smith, Cannon, Halfaday, and Blount answered “yes.”
The water discussion followed a recently released demand analysis that suggested long-term dredging would put the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir’s “safe yield” at 10.3 million gallons per day (mgd). Smith is a member of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan, which previously published a letter stating that dredging “would provide a safe yield of 15.5 mgd.” The current City Council voted 3-2 in February to support a new dam at Ragged Mountain to meet increased demands projected through 2055.
Galvin, who opposes a dredge-only approach, hammered Smith on her statement that stream flow requirements in the current water plan should be rewritten.
“Aren’t you just claiming that the facts about the environmental needs should be ignored just because those facts show that a dredging-only water plan won’t work?” asked Galvin. Smith, unfazed, said that flow requirements “would have to be rewritten” for a dredge-first plan.
Huja, one of three City Councilors who voted in February to construct a 30′ earthen dam at Ragged Mountain, asked Cannon if he would support what he called the “Dede Smith plan.”
“I have never said that I only support dredging,” Cannon said. “I just want us to get to the bottom of dredging before we start building a new dam.” Questioned by a moderator, Cannon said that he would “absolutely” seek another vote on the community water supply plan if elected. Asked the same question, both Huja and Beyer said they would not.
“How much time have we spent talking about this plan, and not focusing on workforce housing, not focusing on economic vitality in the region?” asked Beyer. “What conversations have not occurred because we have continued talking about the water supply?”
Although candidates had the opportunity to present their vision via opening statements and questions, the debate centered on two of the most controversial and long-standing issues affecting the region.
Every candidate but Smith and Blount supports the construction of the Meadow Creek Parkway through McIntire Park. Asked whether they would support the newly resurrected Western Bypass if the state funds other local transportation projects such as the Belmont Bridge replacement, Cannon, Beyer and Halfaday answered yes; Smith, Blount and Galvin said no; and Huja said maybe. For more on both roads, see page 10.