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Alexandria Mayor says city spent $1.8 million on stream restoration projects with nothing to show for it

Taylor Run (Photo via City of Alexandria)

The City of Alexandria spent $1.8 million on its Taylor Run and Strawberry Run restoration projects and, at a meeting earlier this week, Mayor Justin Wilson said the city has virtually nothing to show for it.

That $1.8 million went into the project before shovels ever hit the dirt. The plan was to combat erosion and improve the flow of the waterway, but the city’s design attracted considerable pushback from some local environmental activists and city watchdogs who said the plans could do more harm than good to the stream. Critics also noted that pollution levels in the stream were being calculated based on modeling rather than testing in the actual waterways.

Over months of community engagement, city staff and critics of the project went back and forth on the projects. When the project finally went to City Council, the Council voted to send the project back for further study and analysis.

When those plans for the stream restoration returned earlier this year, city leaders were frustrated that the projects had been scaled back considerably. To add insult to injury: the city was forced to return $3 million in grant funding it had received for the project.

Now, the full bill of the aborted Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream restoration projects has come due to the tune of $1.8 million.

“That’s $1.8 million that we spent on these two projects and we essentially have nothing for that,” Wilson said at a City Council meeting. “We had a lot of planning, a lot of meetings, a lot of discussion with the community, and that’s great, but we don’t have a lot else.”

Wilson said that bill is a reminder of the expense that goes into public engagement, something he said the City should be more aware of when approaching future projects.

“I note that as we think about how we design public processes in the future, as we think about how we approach engagement, that these things have a cost,” Wilson said. “In this case, they had a very significant cost to our taxpayers. This is in addition to grants that we returned and other things. There is a significant opportunity cost.”

The new plans for Strawberry Run mostly focus on spot stabilization of erosion rather than a comprehensive project.

“We ended up in an okay place, but we could have ended up in a better place,” Wilson said. “Nevertheless, that’s where we are.”

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