Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Alexandria Realtors Predict Strong Summer — “The first few months of 2020 were very strong in the local real estate market. Contracts slowed significantly in the second half of March and in April, said Dave Hawkins, COO of McEnearney Associates, before the rebound started in May. June should be even stronger for local real estate activity.” [Alexandria Living]

St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School and Goodwin House Embark on Senior Companion Program — “They talk like old friends, but they have never met in person; three months ago, they didn’t even know about each other.” [Washington Post]

Bicycle Shops Report Sales Increase Amid Pandemic — “Alexandrians have been flocking to bicycle shops in recent months, looking to stay fit, avoid public transportation and have fun while social distancing. As a result of the increased demand, bike shops are among the few retailers that have flourished during the pandemic.” [Alex Times]

AlexRenew’s FY 2021 Budget Affected by COVID-19 — “The FY21 budget includes reductions in operational expenses, deferral of capital projects, and a reduction in the previously-approved rate increase of 11 percent to 6.6 percent.” [Zebra]

City Shares Resources to Cope With Racism-Related Trauma — “There are links to mental health counseling, virtual therapy, and meditation.” [Zebra]

Houses of Worship Consider Reopening — “For some churches, including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Old Town, the risk of giving the Eucharist contributed to the decision not to reopen.” [Alex Times]

Mount Vernon Estate Reopens to the Public — “Your safety and the safety of our staff is paramount as we open our doors again. There will be additional safety measures in place when you visit to limit the spread of the coronavirus.” [Alexandria Living]

New Job: Design Center Manager — “Must have experience as a florist.” [Indeed]

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(Updated 4:25 p.m.) Local wastewater management service Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew) is still going to need that $370 to $555 million for the massive upcoming infrastructure project, but due to COVID-19 the organization is cutting down the planned utility rate increase.

“Recognizing the impact COVID-19 has had on the Alexandria community, AlexRenew has updated its previously planned budget, which included an 11% rate increase that was approved last year to support RiverRenew, a state-mandated program to address Alexandria’s combined sewer pollution,” AlexRenew said in a press release. “While an increase is still necessary to support the project, AlexRenew has reduced its rate increase to 6.6%, which will go into effect July 1.”

The utility service said that the average residential customer could see an average monthly bill increase of less than $3 per month with this approved increase.

The reduction comes amid widespread job loss that’s hit Alexandria harder than some of its neighbors, like Arlington. Ongoing construction, and a state-manded 2025 deadline, means that AlexRenew can’t eliminate the bill increase entirely.

“The updated Fiscal Year 2021 budget will allow AlexRenew to continue essential operations to clean wastewater while fulfilling its commitment to complete RiverRenew, a state-mandated program to address Alexandria’s combined sewer pollution, by the 2025 deadline,” Alexrenew said. “To continue the needed investment in this construction program, parts of which are currently underway and the bulk of which will be awarded this December, a rate increase is needed.”

After it came to light that the city was dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac River, the state required Alexandria to completely reform its sewer system by 2025. The city has assigned that task to Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew), which in been pushing forward with RiverRenew — the largest infrastructure project in Alexandria’s history.

AlexRenew also announced that the RiverRenew project has also earned low-interest loans through state and federal programs. Additionally, in April 2019, the Virginia General Assembly appropriated a $25 million grant in support of RiverRenew. The organization also made internal cuts, like freezing pay increases for staff, hiring freezes, reducing discretionary spending and deferring capital projects.

“We understand the impact COVID-19 has had on the lives of Alexandrians, and we have adapted to continue to serve our community 24/7/365 by keeping our community healthy through cleaner waterways,” says Karen Pallansch, AlexRenew CEO. “AlexRenew remains focused on fulfilling its vital mission to manage wastewater and improve the waterways that connect us.”

Top photo via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

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A global pandemic is not stopping forward progress on RiverRenew, a project that aims to overhaul the city’s sewer infrastructure that is annually dumps 11 million gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac River.

The project is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history, with a price tag that increased last year to an estimated $464 million. The project recently cleared its environmental assessment by the National Park Service that was required because portions of the project run through Jones Point Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway and the bed of the Potomac River.

“The National Park Service (NPS) has completed an environmental assessment for Alexandria Renew Enterprises’ (AlexRenew) proposed RiverRenew project,” AlexRenew said in a press release. “The NPS (Regional) Acting Director… signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the RiverRenew environmental assessment on April 14, 2020.”

This #TunnelTakeoverTuesday, AlexRenew and the National Park Service announced the Finding of No Significant Impact…

Posted by Alexandria Renew Enterprises on Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The environmental assessment outlined several points of concern, like potential erosion and sediment, damage to historic parks, and noise generation. In each of these instances, however, the “no action” alternative that would result in continued dumping of sewage was considered more damaging and would violate legislation requiring the city to take action.

City Manager Mark Jinks said in a recent budget meeting that the project, being managed by AlexRenew, is not impacted by cuts made in the city’s budget.

The press release said that construction is planned to start this December — slightly earlier than had been initially scheduled — and is expected to last through mid-2025.

Image via National Park Service

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Morning Notes

Lead in Soil Near Oronoco Bay Park — “Research for the Combined Sewer Overflow remediation project uncovered a mysterious cache of lead along the waterfront… It was during exploration at CSO-001, the outfall near Oronoco Bay Park, that RiverRenew came across the lead… RiverRenew is taking extra precautions to remove the impacted soil.” [Alexandria Times]

T.C. Teacher Goes Extra Mile — T.C. Williams 11th grade English teacher Corrina Reamer, who teaches immigrant and international students with limited English proficiency, has raised money for a library of 1,000 books “so her students would learn to love reading.” [Washington Post]

Mag Lists Alexandria Traffic Concerns — “In the past month, we asked Alexandria residents to answer this question: ‘What is your biggest concern about transportation and/or commuting in the Alexandria area, and what do you think should be done to make it better?’ Here are the responses we received.” [Alexandria Living]

Local Robotics Team Advances to State Tourney — “The St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School Upper School robotics team Thunderstone advances to states! They competed January 11-12 at the Salem Qualifier and finished the day as the top-ranked team and captained the winning alliance.” [Zebra]

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As Alexandria’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project RiverRenew starts making progress, it’s looking increasingly likely the project’s cost will approach the half-billion dollar mark.

During an update at the City Council meeting on Dec. 10 (Monday), Mayor Justin Wilson said the price will be towards the upper end of the $370 to $555 million price range.

“We’ve been able to refine the pricing… the numbers do not ever get smaller, they get bigger,” Wilson said. “The current estimate is around $464 million. Those numbers have gone up.”

The massive infrastructure project — the largest in the city’s history — was an unfunded mandate from the state legislature. The state will require Alexandria to completely overhaul its centuries-outdated sewer system by July 1, 2025, to prevent sewage from flowing into the Potomac River during rainstorms.

The good news, for Alexandria, is that since the initial mandate the state has started putting some funding into the project. The General Assembly adopted a budget earlier this year that included $25 million for the project. This year, Wilson said the city government is back requesting $75 million more.

“We will hear in a couple of weeks whether there’s money in the governor’s budget,” Wilson said.

Meanwhile, Wilson said three design-build teams have been shortlisted for the project, and will have to submit proposals for the project by Feb. 11. From there, Wilson said it will be a pretty quiet year in terms of news on the project as Alexandria Renew Enterprises chooses who is awarded the contract. The goal, Wilson said, is to have a design selected by December 2020.

“We still have a substantial amount of work to do,” Wilson said, “[but we’ve] made a lot of progress.”

Photo via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

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RiverRenew has a lot of tunneling to get through and not a lot of time.

Over the city’s objections, the state has required Alexandria to completely reform its sewer system by 2025. The city has assigned that task to Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew), which in been pushing forward with RiverRenew — the largest infrastructure project in Alexandria’s history, estimated to cost between $370 and $555 million.

The pieces of the project are coming together, but the clock is ticking. Caitlin Feehan, program manager for RiverRenew, said that experience from other tunneling programs puts the estimated construction schedule at four and a half years, which includes accounting for construction delays.

To accomplish the project before the deadline, Feehan said her team is working to get as much of the red tape checked off simultaneously.

“It’s a realistic timeframe for construction because the phase we’re in right now… we’re going through the process of simultaneous planning, preliminary engineering and permitting,” Feehan said. “It’s putting a lot of stress in this stage but ensures a realistic timeframe.”

Environmental assessments earlier this year helped establish the plans for building tunnels underneath Old Town to carry sewage to a new pumping station at AlexRenew’s Water Resource Recovery Facility at 1800 Limerick Street. The pumping station — which will run 150 feet below ground — was approved by the City Council in September.

There were some concerns earlier this year that the federal government shutdown could hurt the timeline for the environmental assessment, Feehan said, but the program was able to work with the National Park Service to keep the process moving forward.

“It’s a challenge to make sure we’re on schedule,” Feehan said, “but [we have an] experienced staff that knows how to mitigate risk.”

Feehan said various teams will come in, go through the process of finishing out final designs for the project, then get permits

Currently, construction is scheduled to start in mid-2021. Feehan said teams will use a state of the art tunneling machine that will be drilling 100 feet underground — deep enough that the underground activity should cause no disruption on the surface. RiverRenew will also be working simultaneously on the new pumping station to ensure that the project is ready to go online as soon as the tunnels are ready.

The final result, Feehan said, will be sewers that capture 98% of discharge sewer flow — as opposed to dumping millions of gallons of sewage into the Potomac River when it rains — putting the city sewer system in compliance with the state’s demands.

Top photo via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

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