It moves at a snail’s pace, but Alexandria’s tunnel boring machine is ready to drill through 100-foot-deep soil to prevent millions of gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River, Hooffs Run, and Hunting Creek.
On Thursday, Alexandria’s leaders were on-hand for the unveiling and dedication of AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project. The $454.4 million project is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history, and will result in a 12-foot-wide, two-mile-long waterfront tunnel, which will divert approximately 120 million gallons of sewage every year.
At the dedication, Mayor Justin Wilson lamented the loss of former Mayor Kerry Donley, an AlexRenew Board Member, who died on Wednesday.
“Our hearts are certainly heavy this morning as we gather without Kerry,” Wilson said. “I think if there was ever a more fitting, audacious undertaking as a tribute to Kerry, it’s what we’re doing right here. Kerry always believed that this was a city that could do big things that were audacious, and their impact in their planning and scale. And this certainly is a mind-blowing exercise for this community.”
The tunnel boring machine was built in Schwanau, Germany, and was given the name Hazel, after environmental activist Hazel Johnson.
“Today we honor Hazel Johnson’s dedication to a cleaner, safer environment for future generations through the dedication of this tunnel boring machine, which will build a brighter future for all Alexandria,” said Karen Pallansch, CEO of AlexRenew Enterprises. “This 380-ton custom-built tunnel boring machine will soon begin to dig. How fast does she move? She moves about as fast as a snail creeping along a stick by Hunting Creek, and yet, and yet she’s gonna leave behind a lasting legacy.”
The Virginia General Assembly mandated in 2017 that the project be completed by July 1, 2025. The groundbreaking for the project was held last fall.
“It’s a good day for all of us,” said Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45). “We were able to get $40 million additional dollars in this year’s state budget for this project, which will help us see it to completion.”
The tunnel project is partially funded through a $321 million loan from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Delegate Mark Levine says a recent letter to a constituent has been taken out of context, and that his office is still helping 45th District residents deal with unemployment and other issues with state agencies.
In the June letter, Levine apologized to a constituent and said his recent election loss limited his ability to help with issues related to the Virginia Employment Commission.
“Unfortunately, due to my loss in the June 8, 2021 primary, our office will be unable to help you much,” Levine wrote. “Fortunately, your State Senator Adam Ebbin is in a strong position to help you.”
Levine continued, “I sincerely regret that our office will be unable to help you further. I’ve tried hard to reform the VEC, but the voters chose another representative to do future work on this.”
A portion of the note was tweeted out on Wednesday night by Ben Tribbett, the writer of the Not Larry Sabato blog. In the post, Tribbett noted that Levine is still in office until January, despite losing both the Democratic primary for the lieutenant governorship and his seat, which he lost to Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker.
Levine told ALXnow that he was working without staff when he wrote the letter, and that Ebbin, whose 30th Senate District includes the 45th House District, is better situated to help. He also said he worked with the constituent for a long time without getting a resulting answer from VEC.
Ebbin, who is also vice chair of the Commission on Virginia Employment Commission, said he was surprised to see the tweet.
“I think the VEC is equally responsive to legislators, but we try and help all our constituents, regardless of the agency and continue to do so,” Ebbin said. “I think that all legislators ought to be helpful in delivering constituent service. I’m happy to help any my constituents and his constituents happen to live in my district, so we’re not going to pass the buck. We’re just going to help people.”
Levine said VEC is a dysfunctional mess, and that he has since hired a staffer to help with constituent matters.
“This was while I was without staff to have people continue to get the help they need, and I was passing them to Adam,” Levine said. “I was simply telling constituents where they can get the most influence.”
Looks like @DelegateMark is looking to win a prize for the biggest ass in the legislature. He’s pulling a state paycheck until January and this is what he sends out to constituents who need his help. pic.twitter.com/TPeKucWW9Y
— Ben Tribbett (@notlarrysabato) July 8, 2021
“This bill is a win-win and will stem the potential tide of evictions in Virginia,” Ebbin said on social media, “and has consensus support from tenants and landlords alike.”
The legislation requires landlords who own more than four rental dwelling units, or more than 10% interest in more than four dwellings, to serve written notice to tenants of the total rent due and offer a payment plan prior to terminating the rental agreement. Under the payment plan, tenants must pay the total amount in equal monthly installments within six months or the time remaining under the rental agreement.
The legislation was introduced last Monday, Aug. 17, and moved to committee discussion on Wednesday, Aug. 19.
If the tenant fails to pay any installment required by the payment plan within five days of the due date, the landlord may terminate the rental agreement.
Tenants who are participating in rent relief programs are explicitly protected under the ordinance. The change is not permanent, however, and is “not enforceable unless activated by executive order during a declared state of emergency.”
The legislation is the latest move in an ongoing back and forth over renters laid off amid record-high unemployment in Alexandria being required to continue making rent payments. Conflict between renters and landlords have led to protests and rental assistance offered by the City of Alexandria.
The bill was introduced by Ebbin and state Sen. John Bell, and is cosponsored by State Senators Barbara Favola, Jenn McClellan and Jennifer Boysko.
COVID-19 Cases up 21 to 3,186 in Alexandria — “The latest update from the City on COVID-19: Positive tests up 21 to 3,186 in the City 7-day Positivity Rate steady at 5.8% 0 new hospitalizations Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]
Ebbin Bill Would Require Landlords Offer Tenants Payment Plans — “Senator John Bell and my bill to require landlords to offer payment plans to tenants who miss a payment due to COVID-19 rather than evicting them reports unanimously from the General Laws committee. This bill is a win-win and will stem the potential tide of evictions in Virginia, and has consensus support from tenants and landlords alike.” [Facebook]
Irish Festival Goes Virtual — “The Alexandria Irish Festival, an annual tradition promoting Irish heritage, won’t happen in person this year due to the pandemic. Instead, the festivities will go virtual for the first time on Saturday, Aug. 29.” [Patch]
Pizza Restaurant Opens in Del Ray — “The site, 2419 Mt. Vernon Ave., has been home to several restaurants in recent years.” [Alex Times]
Today’s Weather — During the day, mostly cloudy skies; a stray shower or thunderstorm is possible; high near 85F; winds S at 5 to 10 mph. In the evening, isolated thunderstorms, then cloudy skies overnight. Low 71F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%. [Weather.com]
New Job: Reconstruction Estimator — “Review and evaluate cost estimates, communicates with team members regarding new and current projects. Prepare estimates and cost in detail for all products, ensure timely completion of estimates and rebuild jobs, establish and maintain working relation with homeowners and adjusters. Strong understanding of residential and commercial process.” [Indeed]
(Updated 8/7) Upcoming Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend Canceled — “The coronavirus has canceled one of Alexandria’s most beloved traditions this winter.” [Alexandria Living]
Beyer Blames Trump for Coronavirus Response Failures — “The White House is simultaneously blaming state governments for Trump’s failed pandemic response and blocking federal assistance to support state and local governments.” [Twitter]
Fire Department: Use Flashlight, Not Candle if Power Goes Out — “Tropical Storm #Isaias is expected to bring heavy rain and wind gusts that may cause power outages. If you experience an outage, use a flashlight for emergency lighting instead of candles to prevent a possible fire. Be prepared. Be informed. Be ready.” [Twitter]
City Suspends Trash and Recycling Today — “Due to expected impacts from Tropical Storm Isaias, the City of Alexandria has suspended its curbside trash and recycling collection for Tuesday, August 4.” [Zebra]
Ebbin Pledges to Fight for Marijuana Legalization in 2021 — “In 2020, six years of hard work paid off in major reform to our criminal justice system by decriminalizing possession of marijuana. In 2021, I’m ready to do the hard work to legalize cannabis in Virginia the right way.” [Facebook]
Silver Diner to Open August 12 — “The 6,500-square foot restaurant is part of West Alex, a new $185 million mixed-use community at the corner of King and North Beauregard streets, anchored by an in-the-works Harris Teeter grocery store and Array, a 278-unit apartment building.” [Alexandria Living]
New Farmers Market in Carlyle Starts Friday — “The Carlyle Vitality Initiative is hosting a new Farmer’s Market at John Carlyle Square Park, starting on August 7th! We can’t wait to see you this weekend!” [Facebook]
Today’s Weather — “Thunderstorms. Potential for heavy rainfall. Low 71F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 100%.” [Weather.com]
New Job: Activities and Volunteer Coordinator — “At Sunrise, our Activities & Volunteer Coordinator is responsible for leading the day to day activities and programs for a Sunrise Senior Living community.” [Indeed]
Tourism in Alexandria isn’t what it used to be. With local economies devastated by the pandemic, First Lady of Virginia Pamela Northam visited Alexandria on Wednesday (July 22) to promote safe tourism and congratulate the city on winning a $10,000 grant for its Great Walks program.
“In 2018, Virginia tourists spent more than $26 billion here, and this put 235,000 people to work and contributed $1.8 billion in local and state tax revenue,” Northam told a small audience in the Torpedo Factory Art Center. “This year, however, our tourism and hospitality industries have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Northam was joined by State Senator Adam Ebbin, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman, Councilwoman Del Pepper, Rita McClenny of the Virginia Tourism Corporation and Patricia Washington of Visit Alexandria. None of the speakers said they would be taking vacations this summer, but instead would be making small outings and being careful not to contract the virus.
“When you’re ordering out, think about local and how you can support our local stores and restaurants, because they may not be here if we don’t support them,” Northam said.
The officials also praised Visit Alexandria’s ALX Promise program, which they said was important for consumer confidence. More than 300 local businesses have participated in the accreditation system that ensures compliance with health regulations.
Chapman thanked city residents for stepping up to help local businesses and donating time and effort to the city’s nonprofits.
“They are generously donating time and money to our nonprofits, and they are looking out for each other by being smart about masks and social distancing,” Chapman said. “We have 271 years of meeting challenges and overcoming them, and COVID-19 is just the latest and we will overcome this, too.”
McClenny said that promoting safety and tourism is a delicate balancing act.
“We know a revived tourism economy can help spur new economic activity and critical funds back into our Virginia communities,” she said. “Here, we also know that we must proceed responsibly and encourage travel in a safe measured manner.”
Washington said that tourism is essential for the city’s economy.
“Visitors contribute $50 million in hotel, restaurant and retail taxes to our city to help fund for city services,” Washington said. “The tourism sector accounts for 7% of the workforce and it supports our large community of small businesses. Right now this sector is threatened by coronavirus, so I cannot emphasize enough our gratitude to our state and local leaders for recognizing that it is absolutely critical to stand by these businesses so that Virginia’s hospitality sector comes back strong.”
Staff photos by James Cullum
Mayor Marries Couple in Socially Distant Ceremony — “Alanis sang about rain on your wedding day. I’m not sure she envisioned THIS. It was such an honor to put on real pants (first time in weeks!), grab my mask and walk to Parkfairfax to marry a wonderful couple whose original plans were scrambled. Congrats!” [Facebook]
‘Mind The Mat’ Hosting Virtual Meditations at 9 a.m. — “Join MtM Monday-Friday mornings for this free 15 minute guided mediation to start your day off right.” [Facebook]
Volunteer Alexandria Hosting Responsiveness Class — “Be prepared, not scared. Know what to do until help arrives. Two classes are available: Tuesday, April 21, 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturday April 25, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. You’ll learn how to recognize violent activities, provide immediate rescue tactics, and report them to 9-1-1 efficiently.” [Facebook]
Del Ray Psyche & Wellness Starts 10-Day Challenge — “The purpose to continue to implement strategies and habits that will increase positive well-being, during the pandemic and throughout life. Each person who participates for all 10 days and comments on the post will receive a special gift from Del Ray Psych. If you wish to participate, please join our group below and comment on the post, ‘I’m in!'” [Facebook]
West End Business Association Hosting Fitness Webinar — Alan Gulledge, the founder of TriFit Evolution will discuss the how exercise can boost physical and mental health, establishing an effective fitness routine and working out with minimal equipment at home. The presentation will be conducted from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and costs $5. [WEBA]
‘Meggrolls’ Gets Southern Living Magazine Mention — “It’s an extraordinary time. Thousands of hard-working small business owners are digging deeper than they’ve ever thought they were able, to find a safe path through a seemingly insurmountable journey. It’s an incredible feeling to know that others are so willing to help. Thank you @southernlivingmag for sharing the word that Meggrolls is open for businessand we’re gonna stay that way as long as we’re able❤️❤️” [Facebook]
Jack Taylor’s Alexandria Toyota Reveals Raffle Grand Prize — “Need SOMETHING to Look Forward To??!! YOU can STILL Enter our GRAND PRIZE Jack Taylor’s Alexandria Toyota Raffle to W-I-N $25,000 OR a 2020 Toyota RAV-4
$100 for a CHANCE to WIN…DRAWING L-I-V-E Online MAY 30th at 8pm. Watch for Details on How To Tune-In! All funds collected HELP Send T.C. Williams High School Class of 2020 Kids to COLLEGE.” [Facebook]
Sen. Ebbin Hosting Virtual Town Hall Tonight — “Join us for AYD’s virtual town hall on April 21st at 7 pm with Virginia State Senator Adam Ebbin interviewed by AYD President Dan Matthews on the impact of COVID-19 on Virginia Legislation.” [Facebook]
Alexandria Library Increases Online Music Catalog — “Freegal Music is a digital music service offering downloads and streaming. Through a partnership, city library branches can offer the service to patrons for free. All that is needed for access is a library card.” [Zebra]
ACPS School Nurses Send Message to Students in Photo Collage — “This is so cool. Thank you to some of our frontline people. Nurses are awesome.” [Facebook]
City Releases Two Week Repaving Schedule — “Some overnight work on heavily traveled streets may be necessary. Residents on affected streets are notified in advance and temporary ‘No Parking” signs are displayed. Heavy equipment is used and there will be some noise that carries to surrounding streets.” [Facebook]
Kim’s Cleaners Donates Masks to Police — “Today Officer Ignacio stopped by Kim’s Cleaners in Old Town to pick up 50 facemasks from Mrs. Kim! Every bit helps and is appreciated! #socialdistancing” [Twitter]
Passing the Equal Rights Amendment, decriminalizing marijuana and giving localities the power to move Confederate monuments — those are just a few of the pieces of legislation that local Democrats will unveil over the next two months in the Virginia General Assembly.
As Democrats prepare to arrive in Richmond with complete control of all branches of Virginia’s government, there are a slew of bills that will result in serious changes to the way the Commonwealth does business.
Del. Charniele Herring (D-46th) is the incoming House Majority Leader — the first African American woman to hold the post. Herring will also chair the Courts of Justice Committee, and said she is confident that ERA will pass, in addition to pot decriminalization and gun reform.
The latter, however, has some local Democratic members questioning what gun legislation will, in fact, pass. Herring suggested that it can, but as long as Democrats don’t overreach.
“I think our challenge is to be disciplined with ourselves, and it’s our time to govern and we’re up to the challenge,” Herring said on Sunday at her annual fundraiser at Tempo Restaurant.
Herring’s story is unique. A U.S. Army brat, she and her mother moved into a homeless shelter in Alexandria. Mayor Justin Wilson congratulated Herring said that “great things” are expected in this year’s session.
“There is no better person to be going down to Richmond and leading our new majority caucus,” Wilson said. “This is an exciting time for Virginia, with Democratic control of the House of Delegates and the state senate.”
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th) chairs the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus, and said he will support Gov. Ralph Northam’s package of gun-related bills that would reduce magazine sizes, keep firearms from public property, register firearms and ban assault weapons. He also supports universal background checks, red flag laws and child access prevention.
“One of the bills that will be challenging at least is banning assault weapons,” Ebbin said at a fundraiser in Alexandria on Friday, Jan. 3. “What we’re going to do is rather than say we’re going to take away the guns you already own, my proposal is going to be that if you already own a weapon that you can keep it but you have to register it.”
Del. Mark Levine (D-45th) will introduce at least 45 bills, many of which failed in previous sessions. Among the legislation he’s proposing are bills to reverse an antiquated law prohibiting sex outside of marriage, a bill that would expunge a single non-violent drug offense from criminal records, and, should marijuana be decriminalized, Levine is proposing a bill that would expunge any marijuana-related offenses from someone’s record.
Levine is also proposing a raise in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 and a bill that would require landlords evicting tenants to notify tenants in English and Spanish. He also supports a bill that would allow localities to determine the replacement of Confederate statues throughout the state.
“We’re making history for the first time in 26 years,” Levine said at his own fundraiser on Sunday, adding that his bills range in complexity. “Some are really big progressive ideas, you’ve been waiting a long time for some small fixes in the wall, and everything in between, and I think you’ll see it’s quite a range.”