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Alexandria won’t meet 2025 RiverRenew Tunnel Program deadline and needs another year

A Dec. 21 AlexRenew graphic showing progress in its massive RiverRenew tunnel-boring project (via Facebook)

(Updated at 1 p.m.) Alexandria won’t meet its state-mandated July 2025 deadline to complete its massive RiverRenew Tunnel Program, and two local members of the Virginia General Assembly will introduce bills this month extending the deadline by a year.

Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Delegate David Bulova (D-11) are planning to introduce bills extending AlexRenew’s deadline to July 2026.

“My bill would extend Alexandria’s CSO timeline by up to a year to account for some supply chain delays,” Ebbin said.

The $454.4 million program will replace Old Town’s 19th century combined sewer system with a tunnel system, sewer infrastructure and improvements to AlexRenew’s wastewater treatment plant. But supply chain issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have so far led to a 90-day delay, said AlexRenew CEO Justin Carl.

Carl said that adding that the proposed July 2026 deadline would allow for AlexRenew to contend with other “unknown” delays.

AlexRenew recently celebrated 70% completion of the project with Hazel the tunnel-boring machine approaching King Street, digging a 12-foot-wide, two-mile-long waterfront tunnel to divert approximately 130 million gallons of raw sewage from flowing into the Potomac River every year. The Virginia General Assembly mandated in 2017 that the work must be completed by July 1, 2025 — a timeline for a project that Carl calls “one of the most aggressive” of its kind in the country.

“We have 2,000 feet to go and we expect to be  should be finished mining by early next month,” Carl said. “We now have to come back to AlexRenew and build a 20 million gallon per-day and 180 million gallon per-day pumping station. That’s a lot of electrical components, mechanical components, pumps, valves, that type of equipment, so we want to make sure that we’re accounting for the potential for having delays procuring that equipment as well when we build that pumping station, because we don’t want to have to go back to the GA (general assembly) a second time to ask for an additional extension.”

Virginia Senate Majority Leader Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), who co-sponsored the original legislation mandating the program be completed by 2025, told ALXnow that he supports the extension.

The program is the largest infrastructure development in the city’s history, and city leaders have been considering an extension since the summer. In July, Mayor Justin Wilson said that without one the project will never be finished.

“We would reach a point where once the permit expires, they (the state legislature) essentially could not issue us a new permit because we were not in compliance with the permit requirements,” Wilson said at a City Council/AlexRenew Board CSO Workgroup meeting. “And they can’t  issue a new permit with different permit requirements that are contrary to state law. That’s basically what we run into.”

Carl said that the concrete shafts used to launch Hazel were delayed six weeks because of a concrete shortage and lack of truck drivers due to Covid-19. He also said that the war in Ukraine led to a four-week delay when Hazel was shipped from Germany.

“When we’re done, if we get done early, we’ll start the system up,” he said. “It’s not going to just sit there idle, obviously. Just it’s more of a safety net to get us to the end.”

The tunnel project is partially funded through a $321 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, and $140 million through state grants (including $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds).

In August, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director Mike Rolband wrote in support of AlexRenew’s request to amend their timeline.

“Due to unintended and unanticipated delays caused by pandemic related impacts as well as equipment supply issues related to the war in Ukraine, AlexRenew does not have confidence that it will meet the statutory deadline of July 1, 2025,” Rolband wrote. “While DEQ does not have the authority to amend the deadline enacted by the General Assembly in the 2017 CSO law, DEQ fully understands the unexpected delays to the project that AlexRenew is facing and supports any efforts by AlexRenew to seek a legislative solution.”

A delay in the project timeline was noted in an AlexRenew update in July 2023 (via City of Alexandria)

Via Facebook

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