Henrico Addresses Cobbs Creek

Published 4:04 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2011

CARTERSVILLE – The reserved meeting space in the Cartersville Rescue Squad Building was full last Thursday evening as people from the soon-to-be impacted Cobbs Creek Regional Reservoir project area and even some from outside the area came to hear what Henrico County had to say about the regional project that is starting to take shape in the northern edge of Cumberland County near Columbia Road.

As part of a memorandum of understanding that was approved by Cumberland County in August of 2010, Henrico now has ownership to operate, construct, and facilitate a flow augmentation reservoir in Cumberland near Cobbs Creek.

The original partnership began years ago as a regional project, with Cumberland being the lead locality, and obtaining the necessary permits.

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Now that Henrico is at the helm of the ship, necessary parts of the project are starting to proceed and a public meeting was held in Cartersville as a way to provide updated information to the residents that will be impacted by the reservoir project.

Bill Mawyer, assistant director of public utilities for Henrico, was the first to address the crowd about the reservoir project.

To begin, he gave a project overview and noted that the reservoir project is expected to cost Henrico $280 million.

He also described to those present, based on a question that was asked about Henrico's current budget situation, that the Department of Utilities operates as an 'enterprise fund.'

“We do not receive any tax money,” said Mawyer. All of the money to pay our bills…comes from money we collect from our water and sewer customers that maintain their monthly water and sewer bill and connection fees… All of the funding for this project through Henrico County is coming through the 'enterprise fund' not through any general tax money. So in some sense the $70 million deficit has nothing to do with this project because this project is being funded through a different pot of money.”

Later Mawyer noted, “We have three counties that are intended to be partners in this project-Henrico, Powhatan County and Cumberland County…It's a 50-year reservoir to supplement, to make sure that we have enough water in Henrico, Powhatan, for the next 50 years. Henrico also sells water to Goochland and Hanover in small amounts so now you have five counties that will benefit from having an additional water supply.”

The reservoir is intended to hold just over 15 billion gallons of water and the “pool” would be over 1,100 acres, he added.

Mawyer also noted that the reservoir would be filled with a maximum of pumping of 150 million gallons per day-this is what the pump station's capacity would be to pump out of the James River.

Henrico must also mitigate all of the land that will be flooded with water, or compensate for those losses of habitat.

“One of the first big projects that we have to do, as many of you know, there is an overhead Dominion Power electric line and two underground Colonial Pipeline gas lines that run right underground of the site and we are working with those companies to work to relocate both of those utilities and we want to get those moved before we start construction on the reservoir,” noted Mawyer.

This utility alignment, he said, isn't cheap. It has been estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars.

Reservoir Schedule

The general schedule for the reservoir project to be operational is 10 years.

As of right now, Henrico is in negotiations with Colonial Pipeline and Dominion Power about the utility realignments needed.

“We are talking to them right now about moving those lines,” said Mawyer. “The intent is that they, with their forces, are going to move those lines for us but we have to pay the bill and that's an expense that is included in the $280 million to move the electric line and the underground fuel lines. We are starting discussions with them right now and we hope that by about 2013 that they will start work and…and they will be finished by 2015…”

This activity should be the first construction activity at the site, if everything goes as planned, according to Paul Peterson, engineering team project manager for ARCADIS.

Then in 2015, Henrico would begin advertising for construction bids for the construction of the reservoir.

In 2019, Henrico hopes construction is finished and it should take two years (2021) to fill the reservoir, depending on the weather and when water can be pumped into the facility.

The intake facility, with screens, will be placed in the James River and a pump station will be located on a “knoll” nearby where the water is pumped up into the reservoir through the dam, described Mawyer about the process.

The waterline of the reservoir is projected to be at elevation 345 feet (normal pool).

There will be a dam located on the James River end of the reservoir that is set to be approximately 4,000 feet long and would be constructed out of material gathered from the site (an earth dam).

“That's a lot of what we've been doing for the last few months is to see if we can find enough suitable soil in the property to build the dam,” said Mawyer.

There will also be a much smaller dam (saddle dam) on the west side of the reservoir that could be approximately 30 feet tall.

Right now, Henrico envisions access to the reservoir through Columbia Road and Cedar Plains Road.

Concerning how the reservoir level could fluctuate due to having to put water back into the James River at certain periods of time, Peterson, project manager for ARCADIS, noted that 96.6 percent of the time the pool's level would be at 330-feet based on design conditions and the rules that have been worked on with the DEQ and Army Corps of Engineers.

Buffer Zone And Recreation

Henrico is also required by permit to have a 150-foot buffer area around the perimeter of the reservoir, Mawyer noted.

“To protect the reservoir from development, erosion, and maintain the water quality within the reservoir,” said Mawyer about the buffer zone.

At this point someone from the audience asked, “Who's going to own the buffer zone?”

“We expect to own the buffer zone,” said Mawyer. “We intend to provide full-access to the reservoir for recreation and uses of the reservoir and we have met with Greg (Baka) and will continue to meet with Cumberland to determine the recreational uses.

“In fact, Cumberland County is in charge of the recreational uses on the reservoir,” added Mawyer in response to the question. “We are going to make that available to Cumberland and we have to work out kind of the rules and the terms somewhat with our regulators on how access is provided and the uses of the reservoir. But, clearly, it's going to be available to the public and to the private property owners who adjoin it across the buffer.”

When asked by another area property owner about the recent statement of a 'no trespassing zone,' that was printed in this paper last week, Mawyer said, “That may have been said but we're going to make-it's not going to be open to the public to come across the buffer but we intend that the private property owner that is adjacent to it-we would allow them access to the water. But we have environmental conditions in our permit… Those are some of the things we have to work out with Cumberland County. Those are some of the things that we have to work out with Cumberland. There will also be some 'no trespassing zones' around our dams, I'm sure, and around our pump station-areas like that.”

Baka, Cumberland's community development director, noted to The Herald on Monday that Henrico and Cumberland had been in discussions before the public information meeting on Thursday after the reported on staff meeting where a 'no trespassing zone' had been originally eyed by Henrico.

“We reported exactly what they told us at the staff meeting,” said Baka about the original meeting. “There were four people from Cumberland there and we reported what we heard in the staff meeting and then they changed-we had a lot of concerns over the 'no trespassing zone' and we told them so. We told Henrico so. Fortunately, for the sake of Cumberland residents, they changed their mind before the meeting and said, 'Oh no there won't be an entire no trespassing zone around the entire perimeter. We'll just limit it just to the areas that are just absolutely necessary.'

“We feel that there were some improvements made as part of the negotiations and The Farmville Herald article actually helped, incidentally helped, in those negotiations,” added Baka.

In other recreation news, Peterson noted that at the two entrance points there would be “a couple of different options here based on the kind of deep water.”

“We think that would make good boat access,” noted the project engineer, “to develop a boat ramp and then over here off of Cedar Plains Road you could do likewise something over there.”

He also noted the idea of a “utility access trail” that would track the perimeter of the reservoir.

“That's a long ways,” he said. “That is 19.2 miles around… I think the primary intent of that trail would be to provide utility access but pedestrian traffic wouldn't compromise it.”

Henrico's Mawyer added, “We're talking about this trail. It's not a done deal area and then again it's in the buffer area and a buffer is to protect the reservoir from erosion and fertilizer and other pollutants from getting in the reservoir. So if we were to have a reservoir in there it would be a natural mulch-type trail only for walking-maybe biking-maybe horseback. But it would be no ATVs or trucks allowed on that trail. That's our concept. Again, it's 20 miles and we're not sure that we've got it in the budget to do that but we're going to take a look at it…”

Land Acquisition

Since the beginning of this project, landowners in the area have questioned how much land would be needed for the completion of this project and how and when land acquisition would begin.

The reservoir project area currently includes portions of 58 Cumberland landowner properties.

“Some of them, if you are right here (while pointing to a map), are in the water, we've got to buy the whole property. If you are right here on the edge, on the fringe, we intend to look at each parcel and work with each property owner to see what it is we have to buy…that's why we are out there surveying and then look at what is left. Do you want to keep it? Do you want to sell it? But we would work with each property owner to see what works best for us,” stated Mawyer. “…That's our intent.”

At this point, there is one house that will be “in the water,” according to Mawyer's information.

“At this point we can say that we will clearly have to purchase that house and that property,” he added. “There are a couple of other houses that are close and we're having to work with our surveying to see how close we are going to be to their house and are we going to impact their septic system-those types of issues to answer the question of 'Are we going to buy that property in full' or 'Are they going to sell it in full?'”

The process in the memorandum of understanding with Cumberland is that the County will conduct all eminent domain proceedings if proceedings have to go that far.

“Hopefully, we can have a friendly negotiation to come up with an acceptable price,” noted Mawyer about the land acquisition process and appraisal prices. “If not, Cumberland County has agreed to condemn any property that is necessary for the reservoir and that's the way the process would work.”

Henrico's general intent, said Mawyer, is to buy no more land than the County needs to construct and operate the reservoir.

“We don't want to spend any more money than we have to,” said Mawyer. “Because our rate payers have to pay that back…so we don't want to have any more expense than we need. That's our general approach. We just want to identify what we need.”

Jon Tracy, director of real property for Henrico County, was also present to address property and easement acquisitions related to the reservoir project.

“There's a lot of flexibility around what the County actually needs right now and what they'll be acquiring and it's all based on the engineering…,” noted Tracy. “A lot of what is going to be acquired is going to be based on the engineering and the construction of the dam itself, of the utility lines that are going to need to be built and if there is anything in between that there is the safety issues. Or is the amount of residue that you may own…so small that it's considered an uneconomic remnant…They serve no purpose being landlocked and surrounded by other facilities.”

The first question that came from the audience for Tracy was, “How much of the land is of the same nature? In another words how much is farm, rural or timberland? Is it a large percentage?”

According to Mawyer, it is all “agricultural-rural land.”

“That's part of the reason this site was selected is because we didn't have to move a subdivision or a Walmart or anything out of the way. The utilities that are there are problematic because they are going to cost tens of millions of dollars to get them moved but otherwise there is very little wetland and very little development that we are going to impact.”

The project manager for ARCADIS added that the land is mainly “rural-agricultural or forested.”

“There is only one structure that is inhabited that is under the normal pool elevation,” he added.

The landowner then asked, “If any given acre is worth more than the other?”

“That is an interesting question…but each parcel will be appraised individually as a separate parcel…,” noted Tracy about the independent appraisal process.

Another person raised an additional question and noted that he did not have any stake in the reservoir project.

“I don't have any stake in any of this because I'm not a landowner here but I have a question that probably impacts everybody here,” he said. “If there is a worst time for a landowner in recent memory to go ahead and have a property condemned as far as the value goes or to try to have it acquired as a project like this-what happens and how will it be addressed…but it will be something that will be very important to go ahead and address. What happens if you come up with someone, say I own 100 acres and the entire acreage will be impacted by this acquisition and I bought this property in 2005 for $4,000 an acre and the appraisal comes in…and the appraiser said it's worth $1,000 an acres and I say 'I can't give it to you for that because I owe more than that to the bank.' How are you going to address that sort'a situation?”

This speaker went on to say to Henrico that this timing is maybe “best for the municipality that is acquiring the property but the worst for the landowners. What sort of compensation is going to be added into the value figures to compensate them for the poor timing?”

Tracy noted that this is the “toughest question” for any government agency that has the power to use eminent domain when working with a landowner.

“We are required to make an offer to you at the fair market value,” noted Tracy about the acquisition process. “Now to determine that fair market value there are people who are professional appraisers who will evaluate what that value is and real property is a commodity and its value goes up and down like oil… It's a supply and demand situation.”

Tracy explained to those present for the informational meeting that Henrico will provide a fair market value appraisal and that “we'll take a look at what the situation is…”

“That's an issue and I can't give you an exact answer at this time. That will be something that we'll have to look at on an individual basis when that occurs but it's an excellent question,” said Tracy.

He then also noted that Henrico, during the appraisal process, gets one independent appraisal and then has it reviewed by another licensed appraiser to validate and certify that it meets the rules and regulations and that it “makes sense.”

For properties over $1 million or more, Henrico's standard is to receive two independent appraisals and then to have those also reviewed.

He later answered a question about who would be conducting the appraisals for the reservoir project.

Tracy noted that Henrico would be, because of the size of the project, floating an RFP and solicit information from the national title companies to respond to the County for title services and appraisal services for those experienced in dealing with this type of property that would be appraised.

“There are appraisers who have more experience in dealing with the situation that we are involved in versus the mortgage appraiser who is simply trying to satisfy the lenders requirement to see if the land is a minimum value to provide a loan…,” Tracy stated about the differences.

Mawyer noted that as soon as this week the advertisements would start for firms to make proposals for title services and they would then be reviewed and then in a couple of weeks the advertisements would begin for appraisers.

“It is a huge project…so we are going to have outside appraisers that we hire…,” said Mawyer.

“The County's employees do not do the appraisals,” added Tracy. “We hire independent appraisers to do that work.”

Melvin Slough, Henrico's community liaison for public utilities, was introduced to those present. He's the one area residents should contact with questions or concerns, noted Melvin Slough.

His number is (804) 501-7540.

“He'll be the contact for people in Cumberland as the project moves forward,” he noted.