Some residents of western Albemarle County are worried about a possible temporary closure of Browns Gap Turnpike to upgrade the dam at Beaver Creek Reservoir.
Upgrades to the dam, which is owned by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, are required to meet changes to Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation regulations. The reservoir provides water to the Crozet area.
Though construction of the project will not start until 2023 at the earliest, planning is starting now, and the first community meeting on the project was held virtually Thursday night.
“It’s unlikely, regardless of whatever spillway alternative that is selected at the end of the study, that [Browns Gap Turnpike] will be able to remain open throughout construction in this alignment,” said Victoria Fort, the project manager with RWSA.
During a public comment period, a letter from Paige Ragsdale, who lives near the dam, was read into the record by Fort.
“Closing this section of Browns Gap Turnpike for a minimum of 12 months, if staging of construction is possible, will perhaps permanently affect the daily lives of those who travel this road, the livelihoods of farmers nearby and the safety of those who live nearby with regards to emergency response times,” she said. “I don’t know how in good conscience one could put a cost on any of these factors.”
Fort said an old road alignment that is currently being used as a service road will be evaluated to see if it could be utilized as a temporary detour for use during construction.
“This will likely involve some pretty significant grading in order to comply with [the Virginia Department of Transportation’s] requirements for horizontal and vertical slopes, and sight distance requirements,” she said. “It’s also going to rely on old bridge abutments to be sufficiently safe to support a temporary bridge over Beaver Creek, so we’re going to need to study that in more detail as we proceed with this work.”
The dam was built in 1963, but changes to state regulations over time mean that the dam’s spillway caused it to be classified as a high hazard dam, meaning that failure could cause loss of life or serious economic damage.
Dams are given a high, significant or low hazard classification based on the likely effects that a dam failure would have on people and property downstream. The classifications dictate additional certification requirements and how often dams must be inspected.
A supplemental watershed plan and environmental assessment for the dam and pump station modifications will be completed, which will look at the existing spillway outlet works, performance during storms, assessing downstream and upstream areas, temporary impacts during construction and cultural resource and environmental assessments and other things.
In 2021, the project team will begin drafting the supplemental watershed plan document and will hold a second public meeting to present the preferred alternatives to solicit more feedback.
“July of 2022 is the marked completion for the final phase of the … environmental document and kickoff of the final design,” said J.R. Collins, with Schnabel Engineering.
Fort said that while they were analyzing alternatives earlier in the project, VDOT said any detour must be safe for school buses and other large vehicles to traverse.
During public comment, neighbor Jennifer Williams said she was concerned about the potential increase in traffic on Jones Mill Road.
“Even if the official detour does not take people through Jones Mill Road, there will be increased traffic and Jones Mill Road cannot support that,” she said. “It is a gravel, single-lane road with encroaching, deep gutters.”
Other residents were concerned about the environmental effects of the construction and effects on wildlife.
Jennifer Whitaker, the director of engineering and maintenance at RWSA, said a Crozet drinking water master plan was done about two years ago to look at growth and water consumption uses for the next 50 years due to the dam needs.
“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t constructing a project that was insufficient for future needs, and so we did take a look at what the water requirements are for the community,” she said. “We believe that the current reservoir and its current configuration and volume are adequate, and so we are not planning on expanding the reservoir volume at all.”
The public can submit questions, concerns and comments about the plan development and scope by e‐mail to jcollins@schnabel‐eng.com, or in writing to Schnabel Engineering, LLC Attn: J. R. Collins, 12301 Research Blvd., Building 4, Suite 150 Austin, TX 78759.
Questions, concerns and comments associated with the first portion of the scoping will be accepted through Dec. 21.