Newsletter

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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Morning Notes

Surge in COVID-19 Deaths Occurred in January and February — “The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is reviewing and accounting for COVID-19 deaths that occurred during the post-Holiday COVID-19 surge between January and the end of February. As a result, there have been recent increases in deaths reported in Alexandria’s COVID-19 dashboard. AHD and the City extend their sincere condolences to all community members who have lost someone during the course of the pandemic.” [City of Alexandria]

Resident Launches DrainALX Website on Flooding — “After Waynick’s first flood experience, she started talking to neighbors on her own street, letting them know that they should submit information through Alexandria 311, sign up for City alerts and more — and her communication efforts kept growing from there. Her email list now has more than 250 people across at least a dozen neighborhoods from the West End to North East Alexandria and Old Town.” [Alexandria Living]

AlexRenew Provides Details on Alexandria’s RiverRenew Project — “The project AlexRenew is undertaking now means reducing the millions of gallons of rainwater mixed with sewage that sometimes pollutes Alexandria’s waterways via four outfalls located around the City. These outfalls are at the eastern end of Pendleton Street, the southern end of Royal street, and two along Hooffs Run.” [Alexandria Living]

Front Boarding, Fares To Resume On Dash Bus In Mid-March — “Other regional bus systems, including Metro, Fairfax Connector and Arlington Transit, resumed front boarding and fare collection in early January.” [Patch]

Health Department Gives More Doses to Ladrey Senior Highrise — “The Alexandria Health Department (AHD) has allocated another 100 first doses to ARHA for seniors. In addition to the remaining residents at Ladrey who want to be vaccinated, ARHA is reaching out to seniors at other sites who have not yet been vaccinated to offer them the opportunity. The clinic will be held in the Community Room at the Ladrey Highrise on this Wednesday, March 3 from 1:00PM – 4:00PM.” [ARHA]

Elnoubi Out of Council Race — Abdel Elnoubi, the co-vice chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, is not running for City Council. Elnoubi, a project manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, filed to run in the upcoming democratic primary on Dec. 30, but told us that he’s now thinking about running for the School Board. [ALXnow]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny (during the day). High around 45F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low 31F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: School Classroom Monitor — “Positions start as soon as possible. Temporary/Contract – Through June 2021.” [Indeed]

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The old Robinson Terminal North, once the abrupt northern end to the Old Town waterfront, is no more.

Demolition was mostly wrapped up this weekend after a quick tear-down, and the plan is to make the location part of the broader effort to reform Old Town’s sewer system called the RiverRenew program.

“Behind me is the Robinson Terminal North warehouse,” said Kelvin Coles, deputy design manager for the RiverRenew program, in a video. “Many residents and visitors will recognize this large steel building as the dividing landmark between Oronoco Bay park and Founders Park.”

The property a coal storage facility, along with other industrial uses, and ultimately a Washington Post shipping hub before it was decommissioned in 2013.

The property is adjacent to outfall 1, one of four sewer outfalls in Old Town that is the subject of the combined sewer system overhaul. On average, there are around 30 overflow events at outfall 1 alone. The plan is to build a diversion facility to direct the outflow into a tunnel.

Construction on the new project is expected to begin in spring 2021 and continue through winter 2024. The facility will be mainly below ground once complete.

Above ground, the plan is to extend Pendleton Street into a promenade. The program is planned to feature benches and potential space for programming.

Pendleton Street Extension image via RiverRenew

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(Updated 2 p.m.) The sweeping RiverRenew project being helmed by Alexandria Renew Enterprises has some new forward momentum with a contract awarded yesterday (Tuesday).

The AlexRenew Board of Directors met yesterday to award a contract to build the RiverRenew Tunnel System to Traylor-Shea Joint Venture, a team specializing in tunnel projects that recently completed the 4.5-mile-long, 23-foot-wide Blue Plains Tunnel in D.C.

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.

AlexRenew has been working on implementing the program since 2018.

Earlier this year, AlexRenew said COVID was unlikely to adversely affect the timeline of the project, but cut back on a planned utility rate increase.

Photo via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Beyer Says Biden Needs Support — “President-Elect Biden must be given all the support he needs to take the helm of government, including swift consideration and confirmation of his team, so that he can take the country forward. We have no time to lose – there is serious work to be done.” [Twitter]

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter Was on Jeopardy — “This picture is from years ago when I had the opportunity of a lifetime to appear on Jeopardy and personally meet Alex Trebek. He was as warm and engaging as you would think he was. Today we mourn his loss. He was a television icon and philanthropist who left the world a much better place. My heart goes out to the Trebek family and to the families of all who have been impacted by this terrible disease.” [Facebook]

Mayor Reminds Residents of Celebrating Biden Win Without Fireworks — “Just a reminder from your Mayor/Wet Blanket: Fireworks remain illegal in the City of Alexandria #CelebrateResponsibly” [Twitter]

City Recommends Celebrating a Virtual Thanksgiving — “The City and the AHD strongly urge those celebrating Thanksgiving to choose lower risk activities to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks, rather than the traditional indoor gatherings and traveling.” [Twitter]

City Tearing Down Robinson Terminal North — “AlexRenew is demolishing the building as part of its much larger plans to improve Alexandria’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria’s Tree Lighting Goes Virtual on Nov. 21 — “Alexandria’s annual Tree Lighting ceremony that rings in the holiday season will be a little different this year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the event that usually takes place at Market Square will be held online on Saturday, Nov. 21.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Areas of patchy fog early. Partly cloudy skies. High 72F. Winds light and variable. A few clouds overnight. Areas of patchy fog. Low 54F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Development and Communications Specialist — “The Campagna Center’s (TCC) Development Specialist plays a vital role in ensuring that TCC’s donors feel good about their giving. The individual will act as the first point of contact for stewardship activities and donor requests, always presenting an amicable demeanor, a can-do attitude, and appropriately reflecting TCC’s mission and values.” [Indeed]

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The New York City-based property owner of the 65-acre Potomac Yard property will present plans to the Alexandria Planning Commission donate 4.5 acres for an extension of Potomac Yard Park.

The extension is part of Virginia Tech’s massive Innovation Campus development, and the contribution by property owner CPYR Theater, LLC includes handing over responsibility for a pump station that will handle sanitary sewer flows for Virginia Tech’s Sewer to Wastewater Energy Exchange system.

The pump station will be owned and maintained by AlexRenew.

The plans go before the commission on December 1.

The property is located at the former Regal Potomac Yard movie theater, which closed in March due to the pandemic and never reopened.

The extension includes green spaces, public art, stone walls, walkways, benches and a play area for kids. Plans also call for tree and shrub plantings, in addition to a fitness station, bike rack and bike station.

Images via City of Alexandria

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