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City of Alexandria lays out power plant demolition plans and uncertainties

As plans for what will replace the Potomac River Generating Station in Old Town North gradually take shape, the city is still working through the specifics of how exactly to tear down the building.

Deputy Director for Infrastructure and Environmental Quality Bill Skrabak said in a presentation yesterday to the Alexandria Local Emergency Planning Committee — full disclosure, this reporter is a member of that committee — that rather than one big demolition the building will most likely be taken apart piece by piece.

“They’re going to be cutting up the big metal pieces with cranes and demolishing it, hauling it out on trucks and salvaging as much metal as they can,” Skrabak said. “Once the buildings get down to the ground, that’s when they would shift to remediation and soils.”

Skrabak also said there’s still work to be done to determine just how contaminated the soil at the site is. There are two large underground oil tanks at the property, at least one of which leaked around 2013. A remediation project was ongoing from 2016-2019 for that leak, but that remediation was to the standard of an industrial site, not a residential one like what’s proposed.

Beyond just those two tanks, though, Skrabak said there are other smaller tanks buried around the site that could contain chemicals.

One concern raised in the public comment at the meeting by nearby residents is that it’s still unclear just how contaminated the soil is at the site.

“We don’t have a gosh darn idea what’s underneath that building,” One resident said. “All the soil sampling and water sampling has been done in relatively benign areas but we have no clue what’s underneath that building. But here we are looking at how Hilco is going to approach this with what seems to be a pretty risk-tolerant position.”

But Skrabak said there’s a logic to demolishing the building before doing extensive testing on the soil.

“They will be doing an abatement to remove the contaminants before they demolish the buildings but you can’t do the remediation until the buildings are gone,” Skrabak said. “They’ll have to do additional samples once the building is gone.”

Skrabak said the soil will be sealed or covered when it’s transported away from the site in trucks.

“There are state requirements during construction for that material; they have to do the best job they can to reduce the amount of pollution as best they can,” Skrabak said. “There are certain structures they have to have, like the installation of a silt fence. What we try to do, when they’re excavating contaminated soils… we want them to get it in a container and into a truck and not have a big stockpile of contaminated soil sitting at the site for weeks.”

While Skrabak also said there’s no risk of runoff flowing back into neighborhoods, the same can’t be said for contaminants making their way into the Potomac River during demolition and construction. As locals have discovered in recent years, heavy rainfall can cause overflow to many stormwater management systems.

“Depending upon the level of issues, typically they have a sediment basin where they try to filter as much of that and let it settle before it gets discharged,” Skrabak said. “I do want to forewarn people, it’s not possible to have that level of disturbance and not have some dirt and mud. They’ll have a basin and settling tanks before it gets discharged, but if you have a large event it bypasses the filter.”

That demolition is still at least a year way. Alexandria Living Magazine reported in November that Hilco Redevelopment Partners confirmed the demolition of the power plant won’t start until mid-2024 at the earliest.