Scents and sensibility

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Since 2003, the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority (RWSA) has spent an estimated $1.8 million to moderate the smell of the Rivanna Pump Station and the Moore’s Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. Add that to the $480,000 in annual expenses for “operation and maintenance costs associated with odor control,” and one might expect residents of the nearby Woolen Mills neighborhood to smell a few improvements in their part of town.

A report created by Woolen Mills residents, available at historicwoolenmills.org, shows the projected size of an expanded Rivanna Pump Station (upper left, in red) in the smell-plagued city neighborhood.

Not so. “Just the other week, our neighborhood reeked of cabbage and baby diapers,” Victoria Dunham, president of the Woolen Mills Neighborhood Association, told the RWSA Board of Directors last week.

As the real estate value of Woolen Mills rose during the last decade, so too did the neighborhood’s concern for the pump station stench. Combined, real estate assessments in Woolen Mills total more than $89 million—more than double the sum assessment circa 2003, when the RWSA began treating the stench. If the city preserves a tax rate of $0.95 per $100 assessed value, Woolen Mills property taxes will total $849,464.35 in 2011. The $480,000 in RWSA odor expenses equals 57 percent of the total property taxes paid by Woolen Mills residents.

Joined last week by architects Chris Hays and Allison Ewing, attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence and former planning commissioner Bill Emory—all fellow Woolies—Dunham followed her nose to RWSA, which plans to expand the 30-year-old pump station. The expansion would boost the station’s maximum capacity to 53 million gallons per day (MGD) from roughly 25 MGD, to guard against sewer overflows.

The RWSA previously considered four expansion options but two were quickly eliminated, leaving the so-called Option A and Option D. Option A would expand the existing pump station on its current site at a cost of $25 million. Option D would relocate the station across the Rivanna River and more than 500′ from Woolen Mills residences, currently 30′ from the station at the closest point, at a cost of $34 million.

City Councilor David Brown, who recently replaced Mayor Dave Norris on the RWSA board, said Charlottesville City Council supported the Woolen Mills residents. “I would like to see us take Option A off the table,” Brown told the board.

However, Option A raised questions among Albemarle County officials about cost allocation, and the RWSA postponed a decision until April. And according to an RWSA report, “complaints regarding odor have also decreased dramatically as a result of [odor control] efforts.”

“People get worn down by the process,” countered Dunham. “That’s why you don’t see as many calls as you used to.”

The process yielded a few past victories. In 2008, RWSA began shipping biosolids to Richmond rather than composting them on-site. According to materials provided by Woolen Mills residents, the cost difference between Option A and Option D is less than $3.60 annually—or, as Allison Ewing puts it, the cost of a cappucino or a Big Mac. Of course, that cost will be shared by the city and county, which means Albemarle and Charlottesville officials will need to compromise on a pricier plan to avoid shitting where they eat. 

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