Alexandria, VA

Alexandria environmental planning staff say that the stream restoration at Taylor Run is necessary to combat the effects of climate change and improve flooding conditions.

On Tuesday night, staff from the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services and city consultants held a Zoom meeting to discuss the proposed $4.5 million restoration of the 1,900-foot-long project. The project falls within the city’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL Action Plan to reduce pollution, and staff say the area is experiencing the effects of climate change.

“We’re seeing more frequent storms,” said Jesse Maines, the stormwater management division chief for T&ES. “We actually walked the stream last weekend and you can see trees that were… falling into the stream with green leaves. What we’re talking about with this project is not only water quality we’re talking about water quantity and really stabilizing the stream so we don’t get just this continual degradation of the stream. We’re just seeing that it’s being continually impacted especially with climate change.”

Staff’s plan to clear the waterway near T.C. Williams High School and Chinquapin Park will result in the removal of 269 trees, of which they say 22% are dead.

“The City anticipates re-planting 2,280 trees for this stream restoration including oaks, maples, dogwoods, and sycamores,” according to the City’s stream restoration page. “An additional 7,200 shrubs are expected to be planted which include buttonbush, winterberry, and spicebush.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the city was successful in getting $2.255 million in grant funds from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) to “restore a badly-neglected and rare natural stream.”

“This effort will plant over 2,300 new trees, in perhaps the largest single tree planting initiative in recent City history,” Wilson told ALXnow. “This project is designed to increase and improve natural open space, reduce human impact and improve water quality. I look forward to engaging with our residents so that we can improve our stewardship of these natural spaces.”

The meeting did not alleviate the concerns of a local group led by former Vice Mayor Andrew MacDonald.

MacDonald, who chairs the Environmental Council of Alexandria, wants the city to meet with their advisor John Field, a fluvial geomorphologist and stream restoration expert. ECA has also started a GoFundMe campaign to pay Field $5,000.

“(John Field) understands what happens to streams when you manipulate and try to restore them,” MacDonald told ALXnow. “His preliminary view is that the City doesn’t really know what it is doing.”

City staff will soon release a Survey Monkey comment/response table, and the public comment period will end on October 23. Staff said that the next public meeting on the subject will be in November.

Photos via City of Alexandria 

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Morning Notes

Mayor: Council to Accelerate Sewer Capacity Projects — “Our ’16 Storm Sewer Capacity Analysis identified 90 areas where the system does not meet our CURRENT design standard of a 10-year storm. Our Stormwater Utility Fee was implemented in ’18 to fund capacity and environmental compliance. Council will now discuss how to accelerate.” [Facebook]

Beyer Attacks Trump’s Environmental Stance — “Trump’s climate change strategy is the same as his pandemic strategy: play it down and pretend it isn’t happening. There are a record number of named storms in the Atlantic and the west coast is on fire.” [Twitter]

Anonymous Donation Helps Expand SNAP Double Dollars Program — “A $10,000 anonymous donation to help fight food insecurity during the pandemic will help the City expand SNAP Double Dollars program, which allows SNAP customers who visit participating Alexandria farmers’ markets to receive up to $20 in double dollars to purchase eligible food products at the markets.” [Facebook]

Environmental Council of Alexandria Decries Taylor Run Restoration Plan — “We’ve got our work cut out for us to make sure that the City doesn’t continue to promote so-called “eco” policies that actually come at the expense of the environment and efforts to reverse global warming.” [Facebook]

Tall Ship Providence Sails Away for Inspections — “And, they’re off… Bright and early this morning, Providence headed out on a voyage to Georgetown, MD for a scheduled haul out and Coast Guard inspection. They’ll inspect the hull, complete any necessary maintenance, and she’ll get a new coat of bottom paint. Please join us in wishing our Captain and crew “Fair winds and following seas.” Providence will return home by the end of September. We look forward to welcoming you back aboard for tours and cruises!” [Facebook]

Classic Car Show in Old Town September 19 — “This Saturday you can head to the parking lot of the Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum for a classic car show featuring a variety of Packards and other ‘orphan’ vehicles.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “During the day, mainly sunny. High 73F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. At night, clear. Low 54F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Spanish Language Teacher — “You must have previous tutoring/teaching experience, and minimum Bachelor’s degree.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria City Public Schools today cut down a 150-year-old oak tree to make way for a concession stand as part of the renovation of Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School.

“Shame,” Alexandria activist MacArthur Myers told ALXnow. “A crime has been committed.”

There were more than 2,850 signatures on a Change.org petition to save the “Witness Tree,” but the school system said that saving the tree was not feasible given site constraints and that 31 trees will be planted along the T.C. property line.

“Happy to report the renovation project is underway this morning at the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium,” wrote the T.C. Williams High School Football Boosters in a Facebook post. “Thank you Alexandria City Public Schools for making this happen for the students and residents of the city!”

Tree removal marks beginning of the stadium improvement project

Happy to report the renovation project is underway this morning at the Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium. Thank you Alexandria City Public Schools for making this happen for the students and residents of the city! @TCWSports #TitanPride

Posted by T.C. Williams High School Football Boosters on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Courtesy photos

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Construction will soon begin to renovate Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School, and that means a 150-year-old oak tree will soon be demolished, according to Alexandria City Public Schools planning staff.

Over the last several weeks there has been renewed discussion over the fate of the Witness Tree, which the school system said must go to make way for a new concession stand. A Change.org petition to save the tree even garnered more than 2,500 signatures.

John Finnigan, the acting director of Educational Facilities for Alexandria City Public Schools, said that a contractor for the project has been chosen and that work will likely begin in the next few weeks.

“It’s a very tight site and that is a very large tree right in the middle of our developable footprint,” Finnigan said in an online chat on Monday night. “The tree was unfortunately unable to be saved, but because of that we are planting around 31 new trees.”

Alexandria activist and historian MacArthur Myers says it is shameful to cut the tree down.

‘The Witness Tree is part of the soul of the Woods Place community,” Myers said. “ACPS has missed another opportunity to heal the community.”

Boyd Walker said that cutting the tree down conflicts with the city’s climate goals.

“It is unfortunate the school board has refused to request to save a tree that would provide oxygen, shade and carbon capture for decades to come, to the future students at the school and the athletes who will use this field,” he said.

Finnigan said that construction will be conducted from Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 pm.

According to ACPS, the project includes:

  • The addition of an eighth lane on the track
  • Replacement of the artificial turf
  • The addition of restrooms
  • A new concession stand
  • A ticket booth
  • Replacement of the score board and placement on the other end of the field
  • Egress safety lighting
  • A new press box to replace the condemned one on the other side of the field to improve the quality of lighting for images and video for media
  • Field lighting
  • An upgraded the sound system to comply with the City of Alexandria’s Noise Ordinance, enhance the quality of the sound, disperse the sound via multiple speakers and direct it away from houses along the fence line
  • A 10-foot-tall wooden fence between the stadium and neighboring homes

Photo by Boyd Walker

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After getting a late initial start, the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation is back on the water and looking for volunteers to help kayak along Alexandria’s northern border and do some cleaning.

The organization has had three kayak cleanups so far this season, starting in late June. Upcoming sessions are planned for Wednesday, July 29 at 4 p.m., and on both  Saturday, August 1 and Sunday, August 16, at 9 a.m.

“It’s been great,” said Kurt Moser, President of Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation. “Kayak cleanups are naturally distanced. You can’t really be that close, and we’re taking precautions on-shore and limiting the size of the groups.”

The kayak cleanups are limited to groups of ten. Moser said those spots fill up quickly but as of today (Tuesday) there were still open spots on the newly announced upcoming cleanups. Moser said the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation has kayaks and all the necessary equipment available for anyone to come and use, though some prefer to use their own kayaks.

June and July are late in the season for theses cleanups to start, Moser said. The crews typically start kayaking along Four Mile Run cleaning in April or May, but Moser said it wasn’t clear at that point what was allowable.

As far as the impact of coronavirus on litter in the stream, Moser said it’s too soon to tell.

“We’re not finding as much as last year, but not sure if that’s a reflection of any substantial change,” Moser said. “Just the timing of things, like when we get big rainstorms, we see variability with that.”

But while it’s not clear what liter impact will be on Four Mile Run, Moser said the silver-lining to the pandemic has been an upsurge in public use and enjoyment of the park.

“The neat thing to see this year, and what’s been the silver lining of having had people staying at home and not doing their regular routine, is a lot of people are starting to realize there really is a great park resource at lower Four Mile Run,” Moser said. “People who didn’t realize the park was there or that there was a big loop trail, a lot of people didn’t know about that. The park has seen a tremendous uptick in usage. I view that as very good, it means more people care about the place.”

Moser said that could also come with some negative consequences, like more informal trails through parts of the park, but he said those were “okay problems” for an urban park to have.

“People are using the space and it’s proving their value to them,” Moser said. “It’s more than demonstrated its value. People use it a lot to get fresh air and settle their minds.”

Photo via Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation/Facebook

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Christina Pelliccio wants to make the world a cleaner place, and the high school senior was just awarded the Earth Day Scholarship by the National Society of High School Scholars.

Pelliccio, who lives in the city of Alexandria and attends West Potomac High School, plans on studying environmental science this fall at the University of California at Berkeley.

“This work is really rewarding and that alone continues to motivate me,” Pelliccio told ALXnow.

The $500 scholarship is given to students who are deeply passionate about the environment. Pelliccio, who routinely organizes and hosts cleanup events along the Potomac River, and at her school worked to install water bottle filling stations and recycling bins. Additionally, she is the local chapter leader of Think Ocean, a nonprofit youth-led network of student environmentalists around the world, and sits on the Mount Vernon Environmental Advisory Committee in Fairfax County.

Pelliccio said that succeeding on environmental issues is about making a string of little victories.

“It’s definitely a big challenge, the environmental issue,” she said. “It’s definitely not going away any time soon, but I just think that we have to be optimistic and keep pushing and just take in the little victories, even if they are small they can help motivate you and they are really rewarding.”

Courtesy photo

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One attempted solution to a trash problem in Alexandria has allegedly created another, though the city said it’s working to manage the problem.

In response to the increased demand for recycling services at homes in Alexandria, the city has been encouraging residents to take their surplus recycling materials to a facility at 4251 Eisenhower Ave.

A local duo calling themselves Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways cleaned 110 trash bags from Hunting Creek and said they identified the source of the pollution as the Alexandria Recycling Center. Video taken at the site shows holes in the fence through which trash was being dumped down the hill.

The Video showed the hillside littered with trash bags, styrofoam and more.

“Unfortunately, this is where our pollution is coming from,” said Caleb Merendino, who along with Benjamin Swanson runs Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways. “Everything upstream from this point is pretty clean… [but] from the recycling center down we’re seeing the reason that our waterways are so polluted.”

Merendino said part of the problem was the lack of trash can at the recycling center, leaving residents dropping off trash to find alternative means of disposal. The other problem was large holes in the fence where those residents stuffed their trash through.

“Alexandria, what the heck is going on?” Meredino said. “We’re at a recycling center. You’re trying to pretend, but I don’t see any results. We have a broken fence. You are the reason our waterways are polluted… Alexandria is to blame, and everyone should be furious.”

“Virginia DEQ and the City of Alexandria have been promptly notified, and Alexandria is to blame for much of the garbage flowing into our local waterways,” said Swanson.

City of Alexandria spokesman Craig Fifer said the damage to fences was found and repairs were made immediately, but pushed back on the characterization of the recycling center as the source of the pollution.

“We also inspected the area around the fence, and we are confident that the facility is not a major source of pollution in waterways,” Fifer said. “The waterway near the Eisenhower Avenue facility is the main stem of Cameron Run, but the residents who shot the video generally collect trash from the downstream tidal portion of Cameron Run called Hunting Creek. Hunting Creek receives surges of water (and debris) from the entire Potomac River watershed with changes in the tide. This means trash found in the Potomac River and Hunting Creek is generally from upstream of Alexandria. The recycling drop-off facility and surrounding area is not a significant source of trash in Hunting Creek, but its location upstream from Hunting Creek may create that appearance.”

Fifer said like other localities in the region, the city is trying to figure out how to handle the 30% increase in volume of trash and recycling since the pandemic started.

“Because we have had to limit curbside collection to the contents of the City-provided bins (i.e. no loose or bagged trash on the curb) and suspend collection of bulk, metal and yard waste, our drop-off facilities have also had large increases in volume,” Fifer said. “In particular, we’re seeing a significant increase in cardboard shipping boxes and food takeout containers because people are shopping more from home.”

Fifer added, “These materials take up more volume in trash and recycling than other items, filling bins faster. Compounding these challenges, we are seeing a significant increase in illegal dumping at our recycling drop-off centers, both of non-recyclables and of items while the centers are closed. All this is why there is much more litter on the pavement at drop-off centers now than a few weeks ago.”

Fifer said additional resources have been directed to the recycling drop-off facilities, including cleaning the facility five days per week.

Photo via Advocates for Clean and Clear Waterways/Facebook

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Looking for a grocer to suit your dry goods needs in Old Town? Mason & Greens will be opening its doors at 913 King Street this spring, but there’s a couple of catches — the store won’t accept cash and in the interest of sustainability you’ll have to bring your own bags and jars.

“We are living in a time where we can no longer kick the can down the road about taking care of our planet,” notes the Mason & Greens website. “Mason & Greens brings the community of Alexandria and its surrounding areas the ability to shop sans plastic. Sans disposable bags. Sans unnecessary waste. And knowing that your buying power is going to support companies who care about reducing waste we can start to combat the frivolous throw-away culture that has crept in all around us.

Just what exactly will Mason & Greens sell? That is still being ironed out, and the business is described on its Instagram account as a “boutique shop selling not so common goods that are oh so good for the planet.” It also touts itself as the D.C. area’s “first bulk
and zero waste shop.”

The store will be located in a 2,300-square-foot Victorian town house, which was built in 1888 on land that was once owned by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Anthony Charles Cazenove. It’s situated between The Majestic restaurant and Misha’s Coffeehouse.

Photo (top) via Mason & Greens/Instagram, (bottom) via Google Maps

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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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Morning Notes

New Environmental Academy in Alexandria — “‘It’s that time of year again – Academy Time and there is a brand new Academy this Spring, the Eco-City Academy (promoting sustainability in the City), bringing the total to seven academies,’ exclaims Elaine Scott, Senior Community Liaison in the City’s Office of Communications and Public Relations.” [Zebra]

Seaport Foundation Looking to Expand — “The small, timber-frame building along Alexandria’s waterfront is noticeable — and it may be joined by another building as the Alexandria Seaport Foundation looks at expanding its space and services… The foundation wants to build a second waterfront building on the north side of the pier near their current location, allowing it to serve more youth and have space for larger projects.” [Alexandria Living]

Community Fire Academy Applications Open — “Apply to participate in our Spring 2020 Community Fire Academy program and get an inside look at how your fire department operates. Applications are now open through Friday, Jan. 31.” [City of Alexandria, Twitter]

Port City Hiring Local Sales Rep — “This is a unique opportunity to work for a dynamic, entrepreneurial company to maintain and expand our market presence to more locations in Northern Virginia. The Northern Virginia Territory Manager is responsible for sales of Port City Brewing Company’s products in Northern Virginia for on/off premise accounts. We have over 1000 existing accounts in the Northern Virginia area and with your help, will see this number grow exponentially.” [Brewbound]

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Taylor Run stream in pretty bad shape, but the City of Alexandria wants to revitalize it into a healthy stream rich with native vegetation.

“It’s in the design phase right now,” said Jesse Maines, division chief for Stormwater Management. Maines estimated the design was about halfway completed, but the department is still reaching out to local stakeholders and continuing internal discussions about the eventual design.

The stream starts near T.C. Williams High School and the Chinquapin Recreation Center, then runs parallel to King Street, eventually emptying into Cameron Run.

Maines said the stream has seen severe erosion over the years as new development has funneled ever-increasing amounts of stormwater through the ravine. There are places where the stream’s banks are a nearly 90-degree drop-off. Restoration of the stream will also help improve water quality to meet the Chesapeake Bay cleanup mandates, the city said on its website.

“We’re considering different kinds of techniques,” Maines said. “This isn’t your grandfather’s stream restoration. The main focus back in the day was just stabilizing everything, but now we [use] natural channel techniques. We want to use those techniques that allow vegetation to be established and hold the banks in.”

The new stream restoration efforts aim to make those banks gradual with native vegetation that slows the water and creates ecological stability. As a bonus, a slower stream with native vegetation could also help return more wildlife to the stream, starting with local macroinvertebrates — bugs, for the less scientifically inclined among us — that dwell in calmer pools of water.

Maines said the design for the project is estimated to be completed sometime around spring or summer this year, followed by a few months of paperwork and procurement, with construction activity starting late this year or the beginning of 2021. Once construction starts, Maines says it’s estimated to take about a year to complete.

After the work gets underway, Maines says the biggest impact the community is likely to see is more truck traffic along King Street near the high school. Construction hours are currently scheduled to be 7 a.m.-5 p.m. during the week, though that could change to 9 a.m. to minimize the impact of truck traffic on buses and other school traffic.

The total cost of the project is currently projected at $4.5 million, though this doesn’t include other features that could be incorporated during the design process. That funding is evenly split between a grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and matching funding from the city.

The City of Alexandria is scheduled to host a meeting discussing the Taylor Run Stream Restoration project next Thursday (Jan. 16) from 7:30-8:30 p.m. at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School. The meeting will include presentations from the Dept. of Project Implementation and Dept. Transportation and Environmental Services, the city said in a press release, with both departments available to field questions from the public.

Photos via City of Alexandria

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(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) Alexandria will no longer collect glass curbside for recycling, starting next year.

Starting Jan. 15, if you’re hoping to get your glass recycled rather than just tossed out with the trash, you’ll have to take it down to the purple bins at one of four facilities in southern Alexandria.

According to the city, glass recycling can be dropped off at:

Only glass bottles and jars — of any color — can be dropped off, though they have to be emptied and rinsed first. The change reflects the reality that single-stream recycling of glass is no longer feasible from an economic and environmental standpoint.

“Currently, glass collected for recycling by our contractors is ending up in landfills due to a variety of issues, including recycling contamination, rising recycling costs, and lack of a regional glass processing capacity,” the city said.

For residents who don’t want to take a trip to the big bins, glass should be tossed out in the trash starting Jan. 15.

After China stopped accepting some recyclable materials from the United States, the cost of recycling in the United States skyrocketed and left localities nationwide grappling with what to do with costly waste.

Alexandria is just the latest locality to ditch glass. Arlington County eliminated glass recycling in April, though like Alexandria several locations were designated as drop-off locations to be sent to Fairfax County, where the glass is crushed and used in road and other projects. Prior to the change, Arlington said, glass placed in curbside recycling bins was just being sorted and ultimately sent to landfills — not recycled.

According to the city website:

The City is actively monitoring the market for a viable option to recycle glass and working with our neighbors to propose and advocate for innovative solutions. While glass is still accepted in the blue recycling bin, the City has partnered with Fairfax County and established four drop-off centers to improve the recyclability of glass. Glass separated at these centers will be hauled to a processing plant in Fairfax County to be recycled into gravel and sand that can be used locally. These end products can be used in landscaping, construction projects, and even remanufactured into new glass items.

On Twitter, some residents were upset with the announcement from Mayor Justin Wilson last night, though the mayor pushed back on the assertion that Alexandria can do much to solve the larger glass recycling problem. Still, curbside glass collection could eventually be restored, Wilson said.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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