Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority briefed on future of Buck Mountain land, FY22 operating budget

 the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority met and got a presentation on plans to continue owning and managing hundreds of acres of land in the White Hall district. 

“It’s up in the northern part of the county near Earlysville and Free Union,” said Andrea Bowles, the water resources manager for the RWSA      . 

The property was purchased in the 80’s for the proposed Buck Mountain Reservoir, but that project was abandoned when the presence of the endangered James River spinymussel was detected. That would have made permitting extremely difficult if not impossible.

“There’s a total of 1,314 acres and it cost the Authority $6.95 million,” Bowles said.

Some of the land is currently being used to satisfy the terms of an Army Corps of Engineers permit that allowed for the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. 

“Back in 2012, we started working on our mitigation plan for the impacts that we had at Ragged Mountain Reservoir and we impacted a lot of streams and we impacted of wetlands so we used the Buck Mountain property as the stream restoration area or the stream mitigation area,” Bowles said.

This meant planting of trees along Buck Mountain Creek and other waterways for a total of about 80,000 linear feet of new riparian buffers. 

“We planted over 40,500 trees and we placed 600 of those acres into deed restrictions,” Bowles said. 

In 2019, a landowner came forward to ask to buy some of the land back, and the RWSA Board directed staff to come up with a master plan for how the property should be managed. 

 “Whatever we’re doing up there, we want to address it through our mission and our values and our strategic plan goals,” Terry said. “So environmental stewardship, we would like to have water quality protection, operational optimization. We’d like to be efficient in how we use those properties and sustainable with the use of resources.”

There are 484 acres that are leased for others for agricultural use generating about $1,900 a year in revenue and one recommendation in the plan is to increase the rents to market value. None of the deed restricted lands are leased. 

“And the other thing we would like to do is evaluate additional parcels for leases,” 

Staff has also reviewed the possibility of selling some of the land and what the development potential might be. They’re recommending demolishing one structure known as the Buck Mountain House and selling off lots, potentially netting the RWSA between $243,000 and $325,000. There’s also the issue of a bridge over a creek on RWSA land that is failing and many have liability issues. Staff is recommending removing the bridge after 2024, which is when the time RWSA will no longer need to use the bridge.

Supervisor Liz Palmer said she needed to hear more voices on that last issue.

“I’m just going to put out there that I think we definitely need to know what the neighbors thinks about this before we do anything and hear from them,” Palmer said. 

Palmer also said that other members of the Board of Supervisors have expressed concerns about selling the lots for development.

“Can these be put into conservation easement to remove those development rights so we don’t have clusters of homes?” Palmer asked. 

No decisions were made and the plan will come back to the RWSA Board in the future.

The RWSA Board was also presented with a $38.95 million budget for the next fiscal year, split between $20.533 million for operating expenses and $18,418 million in debt service. The public hearing for the budget will be held on May 25. Last year, the RWSA drew about a million from its reserves in order to prevent rate increases. Bill Mawyer is the executive director of the RWSA.

“As we move forward into the next year we have reduced that contribution from our reserve  funds,” Mawyer said. 

The charges to the Charlottesville Department of Utilities will be increased by 7.6 percent and the charges to the Albemarle County Services Authority will increase by 14.3 percent. The RWSA sells water to the city and the ACSA on a wholesale basis, and those two entities retail rates for individual customers. 

The RWSA budget has more than doubled since 2007 due to capital projects to expand capacity and to make upgrades to becoming compliant with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality mandates. According to a cost-share allocation, Albemarle can expect larger increases in rates to cover the cost of increased capacity and redundancy. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 29, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: