Supervisors can resolve water dispute, Monacans say

The elected leaders of Louisa and Fluvanna counties should step in to resolve the dispute over the James River water permit, the attorney for the Monacan Indian Nation said this week.

Speaking at a Louisa Democratic Committee meeting on Oct. 2, Marion Werkheiser said the supervisors should choose an alternative location rather than face years of potential litigation. The two counties are trying to get a federal permit to build a pump station near the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers, with much of the water to be piped to a water treatment plant at Ferncliff. 

The Monacans say the pump station would be located on the site of their former capital city, Rassawek. An attorney for the James River Water Authority says his clients are “not 100 percent sure” Rassawek is where the Monacans say it is.

Even if county leaders decide to change course, the project could still face lengthy delays, Werkheiser predicted, because the United States Army Corps of Engineers has asked the water authority to apply for a new permit. The individual permit would involve “much more robust analysis” than the nationwide permit the authority has been working to obtain since 2016, she said.

The Army Corps said in a Sept. 10 letter to the authority that it has the discretion to restore the original permit process if it so chooses. But Werkheiser said she doesn’t think that will happen.

She noted that all of the consulting parties to the water project, including the state Department of Historic Resources and the Monacans, are against giving the authority permission to draw water from the James unless a new location is found. [Note: Werkheiser said in an Oct. 3 email she meant to say that DHR is not ready yet to approve drawing water from the current location]

“The more the Corps hears that the public does not support this project, the more they will feel empowered to delay it,” she said.

The James River Water Authority has managed the water project for the two counties’ boards of supervisors for several years. The supervisors from each county appoint the authority’s members. Currently, Louisa is represented by County Administrator Christian Goodwin, business owner D.D. Watson and Supervisor Troy Wade (Louisa district).

The new permit requirement has been overshadowed in recent weeks by charges levied by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which says the consultant who oversaw archeological work at the project site in 2018 and 2019 is unqualified. On Tuesday, Julie Langan, DHR director, said Carol Tyrer had claimed falsely that she had a master’s degree in archeology.

“You have to have a master’s in archeology or a closely related field” to manage an archeological dig for a project that involves a federal permit, Langan said. “We learned in late August that she has a degree in global affairs. She had almost no archeological coursework at the master’s level.”

Langan sent a letter to the authority stating that it would not issue a burial permit, required for handling any human remains that may be discovered at the project site, until a different archeologist with the proper credentials is put in charge. 

The authority is negotiating a contract with another archeology firm, GAI Consultants, but Justin Curtis, an attorney for the authority, said that firm will not necessarily replace Circa, Tyrer’s company. He said GAI will review Circa’s work to make sure it was done correctly.

“We still believe she does meet the qualifications” for the job, Curtis said on Tuesday. “She’s going to remain on the team.”

Curtis agreed with Werkheiser that the individual permit process would be more thorough than what has been done so far. But he maintained that the authority made a real effort to weigh alternative locations before it chose the current site for the pump station. Cost was only one factor, he said.

“There is no other good location we could move it to,” he said.

It would cost at least $3 to $5 million more to build the pump station in an alternative spot upstream or downstream from the current location, Werkheiser said. The estimated construction cost of the project when it was funded by the two counties in 2016 was about $10 million. It has cost Louisa County another $40 million to build a water treatment plant and pipeline to carry the water to Ferncliff and Zion Crossroads.