Cobbs Creek Update

Published 3:06 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2011

CUMBERLAND – Cumberland met with representatives from Henrico County's Department of Utilities and their consulting engineer on the reservoir last week, according to Community Development Director Greg Baka. The update was given to the Board of Supervisors later that same week during the Board's rescheduled monthly meeting. The meeting was rescheduled to Wednesday, November 9 due to the General Election.

During that joint working meeting, Cumberland's staff, which included the Planning and Zoning Department, Baka, and Jill Matthews, assistant county administrator, “tried to follow-up from the memorandum of understanding, the MOU, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors back in August 2010…” said Baka, “and take that brief document and try to understand what this really entails.”

According to Baka, these items, as he understands from the meeting, will also be discussed by the Henrico County Department of Utilities during the public information session on Thursday, in more detail, with those interested in the project and with nearby landowners.

“The timeline might be of interest to everyone,” he offered to the Board about the reservoir project. “The appraisal process would start as early as Friday, November 18, the day after the Cartersville meeting, in that Henrico utilities would begin the process of selecting an appraiser and actual appraisals would go from December until April 2012.”

Then, since Henrico will be constructing, operating, and owning the reservoir, property acquisition is scheduled for April through December of 2012 and the realignment of Colonial Pipeline and Dominion Virginia Power gas and electrical lines will have to be moved from the project area, currently they run through the designated reservoir area, noted Baka.

“Construction might begin in 2015,” he added. “With that taking about four years to construct. The bulk of that time would be to create a large 150-foot tall earthen dam that will be about 3,800 feet in length according to Henrico on the northern edge of the property closer to the James River.”

A few other facts, he said, are that the height of the elevation is proposed to be about 340 feet above sea level and there would be about a seven-foot wide intake pipe, Baka continued.

The reservoir is set to be located near Routes 690 and 686 in the Cartersville area, or northwest Cumberland County, and is the result of an earlier partnership between Henrico, Cumberland, and Powhatan Counties.

Cumberland ultimately agreed to a memorandum of understanding with Henrico in the summer of 2010.

According to past information, the augmentation reservoir will be a 1,100-acre body of water captured from the James River when the river flows are appropriate and then during times of drought or other periods of river flow, controlled releases of water will be delivered back to the James River from the reservoir's supply.

The pumped storage facility will have the capacity to store approximately 15 billion gallons of water with a yield of approximately 47 million gallons per day once completed.

Henrico is facilitating a public information meeting in Cartersville on Thursday. The meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Cartersville Volunteer Rescue Squad building.

The buffer zone that is detailed in the MOU between Cumberland and Henrico was also discussed when Cumberland met with Henrico's staff last week, Baka noted.

“Henrico utilities asserted that they would own the 150-foot buffer around the entire reservoir,” suggested Baka to the Board about the updated information. “And what they stated is that that would be essentially a 'no trespassing zone' where no one would be able to go in and out of the private property and Henrico also asserted that the 150-foot natural buffer would be required by DEQ permit and by the Army Corp of Engineers…A slight correction is that no activity would be permitted in this 'no trespassing' zone, including no building, no construction, no private docks, no clearing per Henrico County's assertion of how they perceive or how they read the MOU…Henrico utilities also said they want to write the vegetative management plan and the MOU states that Cumberland would do that.”

Board Chairman Van H. Petty, District Three, responded to the update saying, “One of the original concerns that we had, I know it was expressed in some of those meetings, was if they put a buffer all the way around the reservoir.

“I know some of the citizens were thinking they were going to have access to that water. With that 150-foot buffer it's saying that none of those property owners would have direct access to that water.”

According to Baka, there would only be public access “and furthermore only public area access if Cumberland incurs the cost of it to do so. So as you can see it's important to bring this up.”

“Some of us definitely had differences of opinions when this MOU was drafted,” added Petty referring back to when the MOU was approved by the Board in 2010.

But Henrico did explain during the meeting, according to Baka's comments to the Board, that areas could be designated along the reservoir for recreation opportunities.

“We discussed one large area perhaps somewhere in the north, like in the northeast corner,” he said, “of that proposed reservoir…You could have public access down to the water and perhaps even a public access path to connect the docks through the 150-foot buffer owned by Henrico to connect the areas…It was undecided as a result of the meeting about who would bear the costs. It is our anticipation, as Henrico asserts and as they read that MOU, that they are looking back to Cumberland-that we would have to bear those costs. But, again, I think it's important to pass along this information to the Board for informative purposes…so you all as Board members… are aware of these types of assertions so that you all are aware even before a public meeting comes up.”

Baka went back to the anticipated “no trespassing zone” and the 150-foot buffer and said, “The 'no trespassing zone' around the perimeter, again, would mean no private docks, no private waterfront ownership so basically private landownership would effectively come no closer with their scenario than 150 feet to the edge of the water…”

In the future, Cumberland's Planning and Zoning Department would need to complete four tasks, according to Baka's report to the Board. They include the buffer vegetative management plan, which is outlined in the MOU, the water protection plan, the comprehensive plan amendment to allow for a reservoir in that area of the County, and a zoning ordinance amendment to allow for the reservoir.

One other difference of opinion, according to Baka, is who writes the vegetative management plan-Henrico or Cumberland?

“The thing you need to think about with the buffer management plan is that it would be a cost to us,” expressed Supervisor Bill Osl, District One. “That we'll have to pay for, plus whatever restrictions that will be put on that to the citizens and the elected officials of Cumberland County. I'm just concerned that they want to have control and I understand that and that is one of the ways they can get control….”

Baka stated that Henrico wants to do this task and the MOU clearly states that Cumberland would complete this plan.

Petty later asked about the possibility of mud flats.

Baka responded that the earthen dam is proposed for the area closest to the James River.

“In that area of the proposed reservoir it would be likely that most of the excavation that would come from that northern area would be trucked in for the dam and it would be less likely for mud flats on the northern and maybe even the eastern sides but the further you get away from that dam the more likely you would have shallower, less steep water and possibly mud flats,” he said about that possibility when water has to be returned to the James River.

“Our concern during the meeting was to put Cumberland's best foot forward on this,” he added.

Osl later noted that the 150-foot buffer around the reservoir isn't new news but the addition of it being proposed as a 'no trespassing zone' is a “Henrico control issue.”

“That's just up in the air and it isn't required by permit…,” he continued. “There are uses that are restricted from being in that area but it didn't have to be a 'no trespassing zone'…. We've given it to them and they are going to have as much control as they can, that isn't surprising at all…

“They have essentially destroyed our ability to do any economic development around that reservoir in the future,” added Osl. “Absolutely. That destroys our ability to do any economic development. Who is going to buy land with a 150-foot buffer that they can't cross without going through a public access area to get to the water? I'm not presuming that anything would be there but if you wanted anything there…if you don't have access to the lake it's going to destroy that capability.”