Charlottesville – Lawyer goes solo in battle against dam project
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Stanton Braverman, who owns property in the city of Charlottesville, is challenging the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s plans to implement the water plan approved in January. He told the court he is acting on his own and not taking any compensation.
After hearing from Braverman, lawyers representing the RWSA, and testimony by RWSA Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick Jr., Judge Cheryl V. Higgins deferred a decision and consolidated two separate cases before the courts.
The next hearing has been scheduled for May 18.
“I am way out of my league,” said Braverman in an interview before entering the court. “But I have learned so much in the last four weeks. People are coming to me from all over saying, ‘Hey, Stan, have you thought about suing this, have you thought about suing that.’”
Braverman, 70, joked that he took on the case because he “got tired of mowing the lawn.”
“When I walk in that door, and meet that judge, to me it’s a learning experience,” Braverman explained. “But really, I just got pissed. And anybody who knows me knows that when Stan Braverman gets pissed, he starts swinging.”
“Our major problem with what they are doing is that the city has failed to follow their due process responsibilities in the agreements for the dam,” Braverman told the court. “We feel the $765,000 [being paid by the city to the ACSA] represents the sale of land.”
Section 28 of the Charlottesville city code requires a referendum on the sale of public utilities. Section 9 of the Virginia Constitution requires a supermajority for the sale of public utilities.
Braverman said the “sale” could only have been legal if a supermajority of Charlottesville’s City Council had voted in favor of it as part of the cost-sharing agreement. The council voted 3-2 in favor of the water plan and a supermajority would have required four votes.
The January cost-sharing agreement identifies $765,000 as “the value of the city property required for construction of the new Ragged Mountain Dam and which will be inundated by the expansion of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.”
Robert Hodges, an attorney from the Richmond office of McGuire Woods, countered on behalf of the RWSA that the transaction was a lease of land among public entities.
“The new leases are limited by their terms to 40 years,” Hodges told the court. “With respect to the [Virginia] Constitution, the limitation on the rights and transfer of municipal property doesn’t apply when the transfer is to another municipality.”
Higgins said the matter before the court Thursday was a bond validation hearing filed by the RWSA. She repeatedly sustained the plaintiff’s objections to matters raised by Braverman ranging from the RWSA’s “defective management” to whether the water plan was “a good idea.”
After Braverman filed his suit in the Charlottesville Circuit Court, the RWSA responded with a request to get an expedited hearing to resolve the case in an effort to allow it to move forward with the water plan’s bond financing.
Braverman made a motion to consolidate the cases so two courts wouldn’t be looking at the same case. There was no opposition from the RWSA’s attorneys to consolidation, which Higgins approved.
After the proceeding, Frederick declined to comment on the case.
“Out of respect for the court, we think it’s inappropriate for us to talk at this point in time about the case itself when it has not been heard to completion,” Frederick said. “That’s the job of the court and not for me to discuss with the news media.”
Frederick was asked if the deferral of the case to May 18 would delay the RWSA giving Thalle Construction the “notice to proceed” to begin clearing land for the new earthen dam at the Ragged Mountain Reservoir.
“We have heard nothing from the court in the way of any orders that would change the schedule and the work program that has been approved by our board,” Frederick said. “We will continue at this point in time to proceed.”
Frederick said final contract documents just received from Thalle Construction were currently under review.
“If the documents are correct and appropriate, we will then issue the notice to proceed,” Frederick said. “If that occurs before the 18th of May, then I believe we have the authority to do that.”
Braverman said he sees not only legal issues to resolve, but also an effort by local officials to “promote growth in the county over growth in the city.”
“The city doesn’t have any backup resources for water. If we lose this, we lose it,” Braverman said. “What I see going on in this area is that the county doesn’t really want us, they want to put a wall around [Charlottesville]. They want to turn this into Detroit where all the rich live in the suburbs and the poor in the city.”