Saturday, January 22, 2011

Councilor Huja defends 30-foot dam

“People before us planned for our water supply we are benefiting from. We need to do likewise for future generations.” – Councilor Satyendra Huja.

Charlottesville, Va. – Following Tuesday’s City Council vote, Councilman Satyendra Huja explained Friday the shift away from the 13-foot dam height increase, the Mayor Dave Norris plan.

On Wednesday Norris claimed he didn’t know about the vote ahead of time. But Huja said Councilor Kristin Szakos had told Norris prior to the meeting. During the actual meeting, Norris did not seem surprised as the vote unfolded.

Appearing on Coy Barefoot’s “Charlottesville Right Now” radio talk show Friday on WINA AM-1070 (Podcast 16m 50s), Huja was treated with disrespect by the host and two callers: Richard Lloyd, a civil engineer, and Dede Smith, a former school board member.

Barefoot poisoned the well by setting up his own view before Huja spoke. Barefoot ganged up on Huja and repeated the questions from Lloyd and Smith. “Who told you” this or that? – they cross-examined repeatedly. Is Huja not able to look at a situation and draw his own conclusions?

Huja is the only councilor born outside the USA. He is a Sikh Indian. Now an American citizen, Huja received in 1968 his degree in urban planning from Michigan State University.

Huja was Charlottesville’s official chief urban planner 1973 to 2004, during which time much has changed. Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority formed 1973; negotiations began March 1972. Huja was city planner in 1977 for the city and county’s first mandatory drought restrictions. He was city planner when the Buck Mountain Reservoir was acquired in the early ‘80s. Guess what: Huja was city planner in the 2002 drought.

Huja is the only person of political power in the city or county with enough local historical knowledge of water issues to plan 50 years into the future. The water supply is not an engineering problem. It’s a political question.

Caller Frank reminded us there is an upcoming election. He and caller George applauded Huja, Szakos, and Brown for taking a stand. Huja’s campaign slogan was “Think outside the box.”

On Friday Huja got a taste of the demonizing the critics Citizens for a Sustainable Water Supply have used against RWSA director Tom Frederick and Chairman Mike Gaffney at public board meetings. This contempt and incivility are headed for city council and a broader audience.

On previous shows just this past week, critics have stated that those in disagreement are either stupid or dishonest, misinformed or being manipulated. In a spectacle at a recent Council meeting, a fourth grader said basically – if you disagree, you’re dumber than a fourth grader. This is the level of discourse.

Angel in the details

As to why the majority of Council split from the mayor, Huja explained what has changed since the September unanimous vote for 13-feet.

(A) We now know the Department of Environmental Quality would not approve the 13 feet because it does not provide enough water.
(B) We now know the University will double their water use from 1.5 to 3.1 million gallons per day (MGD), a hundred percent jump.

Huja said most of the plan is still the same: dredging and conservation. But now the dam is to be “at least” 30 feet high for water supply and if needed go to 42 feet. The taller dam would also provide normal stream flows for the Moormans and Rivanna rivers.

Richard Lloyd called and said the DEQ was misinformed in its letter to Mayor Norris and Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Ann Mallek. Lloyd asked “who had told him [Huja]” the Norris plan would not work.

Huja responded, “I don’t quite agree with you. I think DEQ did say very clearly that, with the current assumptions, we need more water than we could employ with 13 feet.” Lloyd claimed the letter was based on a 45-foot dam.

Barefoot rephrased the question. Huja said, “You can change the plan anytime you want to change the plan. But you need to meet certain basic water requirements…People before us planned for our water supply we are benefiting from. We need to do likewise for future generations.”

Barefoot kept asking questions based on the spin from Mayor Norris. Where does this change put dredging and does it obviate the need for dredging?

Huja: “I don’t agree at all.” He said we need to perform two types of dredging: restorative to regain the 22% volume lost to siltation in the last 50 years and maintenance dredging to maintain the supply. “We hope there will be a market for the silt.”

Dede Smith called in and started with this line: “Hello, hello Huja. How are you?” She asked, “I would like to know who told you the DEQ letter said we could not, they would not permit 13 feet plus dredging? Because it has been refuted many times and I’m just curious where you are getting that information?”

Smith tried to muddy the water with numbers in an effort to say UVA is not a major consumer of municipal water. Barefoot repeated the question: Who told you that?

Huja: “First of all the letter itself says that.” Smith repeated the question several times more and then answered herself. “DEQ never said that…In fact Dave Norris has made this point many, many times and Dave Norris has talked to the DEQ [in secret meetings]…UVA is being used as a tool but in fact it’s just not a big player in this projection of adequate growth.”

Huja: “UVA is a big player, not a small player.” Smith’s opposition to the latest plan has led her to claim the University of Virginia is a “small player” in the community’s water needs.

Barefoot followed up with another biased question. You clearly knew Tuesday’s vote was coming because you had a “prepared statement” and Norris said he had no idea the vote was coming. “When did you know…?”

Huja said the dam change had been discussed at a couple meetings. “We wanted to take some kind of action. We don’t want to talk about this for the rest of our lives…Szakos did talk to Mr. Norris.”

Barefoot: “Before that meeting?” Huja: “Yes…I’m not sure how the mayor is surprised because at the last meeting before that, we indicated we are going to discuss this matter again on January 18.”

Barefoot conducted the toughest interview of his career. The Council Agenda did not call for a vote. Huja said Council can vote anytime they want and Barefoot was forced to agree. Barefoot asked: Who else knew? Did the Board of Supervisors know? – implying that Huja now represents the county and not the city. Is Huja part of a conspiracy?

Huja didn’t know how the Board of Supervisors could have known. Council doesn’t typically get approval from the county on anything. But again, since Huja is in disagreement, innocent things are called into suspicion, like being prepared for a Council meeting.

Barefoot eased up and let Huja make a final statement before the last call. Huja said the plan is for 50 years, not one or two years. The latest plan is for 109 gallons of water per person per day.

The Norris Spin Machine

The interview made clear which side has the misinformation. As you would expect, the ones crying Misinformation! the loudest are the ones disseminating the false and misleading information. How many untruths can the mayor speak until no one pays him any mind?

It was clear Barefoot doesn’t follow local politics except for what his favorite politicians tell him. This anti-water, anti-growth campaign has relied on smear and grandstanding. The critics accuse dissenters as anti-intellectual, not wanting more information. But it is the critics who are locked into a position.

The Citizens group have worked themselves in to a frenzy. It’s now a power struggle. Any plan other than theirs is a personal attack against them – just as they turned their disagreement into personal attacks. Don’t expect the alternative compromise – the Brown-Szakos-Huja dam – to be treated fairly on “Charlottesville Right Now” as we have seen.

Maybe there are other media outlets where diverse views can be discussed on their own merits, and not through the lens of a mendacious mayor or misleading activist group.

Council wants 30-foot dam, nixes Norris plan, Jan. 18, 2011.


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