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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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AlexRenew headquarters, via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

Alexandrians struggling to pay their sewer bill might have some relief next year.

AlexRenew, the city’s wastewater authority, said in a release it’s launching a charity-funded emergency bill assistance program called Lifeline Emergency Assistance Program (LEAP).

“Beginning this spring, the program will provide emergency bill assistance for eligible AlexRenew residential customers who are having difficulty paying their sewer bill,” AlexRenew said in a release. “AlexRenew has partnered with Dollar Energy Fund — a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that specializes in utility assistance — to administer the program.”

The utility company said the program will be funded initially through donations made by organizations and community members helping neighbors in need cover the cost of their bills.

“We believe this is an important initiative for our customers,” AlexRenew’s general manager and CEO Justin Carl said in the release. “Wastewater utilities are essential to people’s everyday lives, and the LEAP program is one way we can help ensure customers have access to this vital resource.”

Via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

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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.

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Alexandria leaders will be on-hand on Thursday, July 14, for the unveiling and dedication of AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project.

The $454.4 million project will replace Old Town’s 19th century combined sewer system with a tunnel system, sewer infrastructure and improvements to AlexRenew’s wastewater treatment plant — all to prevent 130 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing from four outfalls into the Potomac River every year.

The dedication will be held on July 14 from 9 to 11:00 a.m. at the Alexandria Renew Education Center and Meeting Space (1800 Limerick Street).

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.

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.

Late last month, a RiverRenew tunnel boring machine was delivered to the project site.

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Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Congressman Don Beyer (D-8th) took a quick break from work in Washington today (March 18) for a tour of Alexandria Renew Enterprises’ RiverRenew Tunnel Project.

The $454.4 million project will replace Old Town’s combined sewer system to prevent 120 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River every year. The 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.

The Virginia General Assembly mandated that the project be completed by 2025. Alexandria, Lynchburg and Richmond all have CSO projects in development — the latter of which Kaine worked on when he was a member of the Richmond City Council in the 1990s.

“The project had started before I got onto the council, and it’s still going on,” Kaine said after the tour. “It’s such an expensive and massive thing to do… It’s really interesting to see how you solve your challenge here.”

After the tour, Kaine discussed infrastructure and job training at Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge campus.

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It was a busy fall week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

Our top story this week was on a plan to completely close off the 100 block of King Street as a pedestrian-only zone. The plan has been in the works since 2019, and was put into action last year. ALXnow’s poll on the subject had very one-sided results, showing 91% (791 votes) in favor of a permanent change.

There was a momentous groundbreaking this week, as city leaders converged for the $454.4 million RiverRenew Tunnel Project. The project is a major overhaul to replace Old Town’s combined sewer system and prevent 120 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River.

School violence has become a major issue in Alexandria, as videos of fights at schools are surfacing on the internet, there have been arrests at Alexandria City Public Schools, and protests in front of City Hall on Monday and Tuesday this week.

As for the Alexandria juvenile who was shot in the upper body at the McDonald’s in the Bradlee Shopping Center last week, police say that there have been no arrests yet.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. City looks to permanently ‘pedestrianize’ a block of King Street
  2. UPDATE: Alexandria man charged with homicide after stabbing at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Landmark area
  3. Total Wine is taking shape in Potomac Yard
  4. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  5. Man buys luxury car with fake driver’s license at Lindsay Lexus of Alexandria
  6. Protestors rally to return police to Alexandria schools, but officials say behind-the-scenes talks have stalled
  7. Man arrested for posting lewd photos of Alexandria stepsister on Twitter
  8. Firecracker shuts down Alexandria City High School football game
  9. Adoptable Chihuahua Dory only weighs 3.5 pounds
  10. Mayor Wilson: Potomac Yard construction delay ‘could have nothing to do with Metro station’
  11. Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School

Have a safe weekend!

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The groundbreaking for AlexRenew’s RiverRenew Tunnel Project was about as Alexandria as events get. The event was a who’s-who of current and former officials, complete with bagpipes, a poem about local sewage presented by the Town Crier, and even a cartoon mascot representing the boring machine getting ready to drill the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history.

The smiles and enthusiasm from city and state officials and organizations like the Potomac Riverkeeper Network were a marked departure from the occasionally contentious process that led to the $454.4 million RiverRenew project. Plans include replacing Old Town’s combined sewer system with a new sewer structure that will prevent 120 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River.

“The Tunnel Project will include a two-mile-long underground tunnel, an open-cut pipeline, and other infrastructure to capture, store, and transport millions of gallons of combined sewage to AlexRenew’s wastewater treatment plant,” AlexRenew said in a press release. “There, these flows will be treated and cleaned prior to being returned to the Potomac River, reducing harmful overflow events from 70 to fewer than four each year.”

The city didn’t willingly enter into the project: the clean-up was mandated with a July 25, 2025 deadline by the state, over the objection of some local leadership. The project is currently scheduled to be finished on time.

“I’m proud of our role in bringing this great infrastructure investment today to life,” said Nancy Stoner, president of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network. “(T)his is critical infrastructure for protecting public health.”

Stoner said the eventual goal is to make the Potomac River swimmable again. Though later generations may not value the Herculean effort it took to get Old Town’s sewer system modernized, Mayor Justin Wilson said if it helps get the river into a cleaner state it will have been worth it.

“This investment prevents things from happening and provides an investment most people won’t really appreciate,” Wilson said. “People swimming in the Potomac years from now won’t really appreciate the investment. They’ll never see the investment, never understand it, but we will know, and we’ll know it was this generation that made the investment.”

Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for water for the Environmental Protection Agency, tied Alexandria’s experience in with nationwide efforts to improve water quality.

“This was one of the first loans I got to approve as part of the Biden-Harris administration,” Fox said. “One of the best bets we can make as a nation is to make these investments in our water infrastructure. It leads to environmental health, community vitality, that’s what this project is about. That’s a big, huge step Alexandria is taking today.”

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AlexRenew headquarters, via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

A new state grant could help fund the city’s expensive, state-mandated RiverRenew project and offset some of the sewer rate increases for Alexandrians.

According to a press release, Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew) — which runs the RiverRenew project — has been recommended to receive a $50 million grant to support construction on the project. The RiverRenew project is an overhaul of the city’s combined sewer system in Old Town that results in millions of gallons of sewage flowing into the Potomac River ever year.

The grant funding is part of the $411.5 million American Rescue Plan (ARP) dedicated to restoring water and sewer infrastructure.

“Investment in our water infrastructure is crucial to a thriving Alexandria, and we are greatly appreciative of the Governor, our local delegation, and state leaders for their support of this historic program,” said AlexRenew General Manager Karen Pallansch in the press release.

Pallansch added that the funding could offset some planned sewer rate increases. A rate increase by 6.9% was deferred last year due to coronavirus but was implemented earlier this year. In the press release, Pallansch said the sewer rate increases to fund the RiverRenew program could last for decades.

The ARP investments will still need to clear the General Assembly at a special session on Monday (Aug. 2).

“We feel very good about the prospects of the General Assembly agreeing to the Governor’s proposal,” said Pallansch. “The Northern Virginia legislative delegation has been an important partner in this effort.”

Via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

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RiverRenew Tunnel Project Map, courtesy AlexRenew

Massive infrastructure project RiverRenew has laid out a rough timeline for the ambitious three-pronged work throughout Old Town later this year.

The project is part of compliance with a 2017 Virginia law that requires Alexandria to overhaul the city’s combined sewer system, which has been dumping 130 million gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac River every year. The city is required to complete the overhaul by July 1, 2025.

In an email to ALXnow, RiverRenew Outreach Program Manager Sheeva Noshirvan outlined the schedule of the project moving forward.

Work at the AlexRenew site started the earliest, in May this year, and will be the last part of the project to finish — in July 2025.

The first community work for the RiverRenew project will be in October, when work starts on Royal Street for Outfall 2.

The full schedule is:

  • Royal Street (Outfall 2) — starting October 2021, ending June 2024
  • Pendleton Street (Outfall 1) — starting November 2021, ending October 2024
  • Hooffs Run Interceptor (Outfalls 3 and 4) — starting December 2021, ending May 2023
  • AlexRenew — started May 2021, ending July 2025.

RiverRenew is planning to host a series of virtual community listening sessions, where project staff meet with locals to discuss issues surrounding construction. The next meeting will be held Thursday, July 15, at 6 p.m., to discuss construction of a facility on Pendleton Street near Oronoco Bay Park.  A meeting the next Thursday, July 22, will discuss a similar facility on Royal Street near Jones Point Park.

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(Updated 4:40 p.m.) Alexandrians could see their wastewater bill go up an average $50 per year with a new rate adjustment aimed at funding the extensive RiverRenew program.

The adjustment has been in the works for a while but was delayed last year in light of the impact of COVID-19 on the local economy. The rate would be in place for two years to finance AlexRenew’s state-mandated efforts to overhaul the city’s sewer system.

“The rate adjustment proposal includes a 6.9 percent increase on July 1, 2021, and 6.5 percent increase on July 1, 2022,” AlexRenew said in a press release. “An average residential customer may see a difference of about $4 per month for each of these increases, or an average increase of about $50 per year. The rate adjustment is critical to funding the ongoing construction of the RiverRenew program, scheduled for completion in late 2025.”

The press release noted that the RiverRenew program is estimated to cost $615 million — a substantial increase over the $370 to $555 million price range cited in 2019.

“Wastewater infrastructure is essential to keeping our community healthy,” said Karen Pallansch, AlexRenew General Manager, in the press release. “Our shared investment helps ensure the waterways that connect us are improved and preserved for future generations.”

A public hearing is on the rate adjustment is scheduled Saturday, May 22, at 9:30 a.m.

Photo via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

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