Alexandria is sending $3 million in grant funding back to the state after controversial stream restoration projects fell through.
When the stream restoration projects return later this year, city leadership made it candidly clear that Alexandria taxpayers will likely shoulder more of the cost thanks to the lost grant funding.
Mayor Justin Wilson noted that an ordinance approved in the City Council meeting last night (Tuesday) starts the process of rescinding two grants received for the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream restoration projects, totaling $2.2 million and $800,000 respectively.
Back in 2021, the City of Alexandria was in the final stages of a plan to replace the existing Taylor Run stream with a “natural channel design” that would make the creek more shallow and cut back on erosion.
But the project faced opposition from a wide array of sources across the local political spectrum, from groups like Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria to the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.
Some local activists criticized the plan for clearing out existing foliage and noted that the city relied on pollution estimates rather than taking measurements, but city staff likewise said activists were using inaccurate data and, in trying to preserve some foliage rather than improving the local environment, were missing the forest for the trees.
The City Council ultimately voted to send the projects back for more study, but Wilson said the decision to return the funding to the state caught him off guard.
“I will say: when we had that discussion last time, I will be honest, I did not expect this to take as long as it did and I did not expect that was a final decision to forego the grants and I did not see it as that at the time,” Wilson said. “I’m a little concerned from a process perspective that we essentially made a decision to return the grants without making a decision to return the grants.”
Wilson said one source of frustration is that the city deferring the project to build consensus resulted in the project — as it had been developed up to that point — being quietly killed off.
“From the overall process perspective here… the concern I have is one that this is ultimately not just a $3 million decision, it’s potentially [much] more,” Wilson said. “This is a significant decision that we kind of made by happenstance, if you will.”
Beyond just being improvements to Taylor Run and Strawberry Run, the stream restoration projects were designed to help fulfill the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) cleanup mandates — a requirement to decrease the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous Alexandria is putting into the Chesapeake Bay.
Per the City’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, the city is still on the hook for decreasing those pollutants somehow. City staff earlier warned various alternatives to stream restoration could be more expensive, and now the city could have to handle that without state support.
“Nevertheless, we’ve made that decision and we’re returning $3 million worth of grants and that whatever ends up coming out of the process that we’ve had underway now, as it relates to these two sites, is probably going to entirely fall on the taxpayers of the City of Alexandria,” Wilson said. “I think that’s an important point and one that should be abundantly transparent to the residents.”
Jesse Mains, stormwater division chief, said city staff will head back to the City Council in June with more plans about what’s next for Taylor Run and Strawberry Run.
“We would need to go get a designer,” Mains said. “We need to go through the procurement process, which will take six to nine months. [Add] another seven to nine months to procure construction services, and about seven months to build it, roughly.”
Mains said the city is looking at Fall/Winter 2026 for a new stream restoration project to be finalized. Mains said that project would likely be in next year’s Capital Improvement Program.
“We’re pretty positive it would not be eligible for any kind of further grants,” Mains said.
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Time flies when you’re having fun! The T.C. Williams High School Class of 1973 will hold its 50th reunion July 21-23, 2023 in Alexandria. All graduates and their adult nears and dears are welcome. Events include a Friday evening icebreaker, Saturday dinner dance, and a Sunday brunch. For more information: tcwilliams73.com, 770.789.3534.
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