Newsletter

Morning Notes

Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza and Tap named in top 100 restaurants in U.S. — “Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza and Tap, owned by the Yates family of Alexandria, was just placed on OpenTable’s list of the 100 Best Neighborhood Gems in America for 2021.”[Zebra]

Retiring City Manager talks to Agenda Alexandria — “Retiring #AlexandriaVA City Manager Mark Jinks talks about his career in @ArlingtonVA and @AlexandriaVAGov, including everything from redeveloping Landmark Mall to building the Potomac Yard @wmata station @agendalexandria #AgendaAlexandria” [Twitter]

Former police chief named to ACPS Athletic Hall of Fame — “Former Police Chief Earl Cook (was) among the Legendary sports stars of Alexandria honored Sept. 18 as ACPS holds its Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony at 2 p.m. in the Alexandra City High School Gerry Bertier Gymnasium.” [Gazette]

Alexandria has secret Magnolia Bogs — “Despite their rich history and importance in the local ecosystem, many in the area are still unaware of the existence of these unique micro-ecosystems.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Cloudy (during the day). High 81F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph… Cloudy in the evening, then off and on rain showers after midnight. Low near 70F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Delivery driver — “Deliver food in your bike or car from local restaurants to homes and offices around Downtown. Be your own boss! Decide when to work depending on availability and needs. Deliver all days of the week between 10:30am–10:30pm.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Community town hall on City Manager position on Wednesday — “Alexandria City Council will hold a hybrid town hall meeting to receive input from the community about the qualities and values that should be considered in the hiring of the next City Manager. The town hall meeting will be held at City Hall in Council Chamber (301 King St.), from 7 to 9 p.m. and community members will be able to participate either in-person or online.” [City of Alexandria]

Fall fest honors heroes at Greenstreet Gardens — “Greenstreet Gardens kicks off its annual Fall Fest this weekend with a special bonus: All heroes get in free.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy skies (during the day). High near 80F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph… Mainly cloudy (in the evening). Low 63F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Garden center associate — “Looking for team members to help water plants, load mulch, unload trucks, assist customers and general garden center duties, Must be a team player with a great attitude. We will train you!” [Indeed]

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Amy DuVall still can’t believe she’s baking Italian cookies for a living in Alexandria. The owner of From Politics To Pastry says its surreal to be her own boss, especially after nearly 20 years of rubbing elbows on Capitol Hill as an environmental lawyer and lobbyist.

“So far, everything is working out well,” DuVall told ALXnow. “I will say that I am definitely more relaxed. It’s very surreal to not have a boss. I mean, other than taxes and laws, but to not have somebody to report to is very surreal.”

DuVall found herself at a crossroads in 2016, after then-President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act into law. The legislation, which significantly updated the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, took up most of DuVall’s time and energy. With the Act wrapped up, she asked herself, what should she do next?

“I have this great therapist who asked me what I did for fun,” DuVall said. “I told her how much time I spent in the kitchen, and she  asked why I couldn’t do that for a living. And I laughed at her. I really did. I was like, because that’s not what I went to school for. Not only is it not a way to make a living, but it’s just what I do for fun.”

DuVall left the corporate world in 2018, and her journey was filled with twists and turns along the way. For instance, after getting accepted to attend the renowned L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, it abruptly closed. Instead, she would teach herself how to bake by taking online courses and watching videos.

She started selling her Italian cookies at farmers markets in 2018, and then launched in February 2020. The pandemic forced DuVall to stop selling at the markets, though, and all orders are now made for pick-up at her house in the city’s Rosemont neighborhood.

DuVall releases a weekly menu every Monday night, and orders ($20 minimum) can be picked up between Wednesdays and Saturdays. The minimum custom order is $30.

DuVall said she appreciates being able to live on a more flexible schedule.

“It’s frustrating at times because I have no help, but it’s also extremely rewarding,” DuVall said of her business. “Nobody can take credit for the success except for me. That’s been pretty cool.”

Courtesy photos

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With no more mayoral debates, now it all boils down to the Democratic primary on June 8.

Like the main event at a boxing match, Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg on Thursday night maneuvered through a series of questions in the final of four Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forums.

This is the final debate or forum for the two candidates until the June 8 Democratic primary.

Wilson is leading in fundraising and endorsements, while underdog Silberberg has gotten support from groups like the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page for agreeing on a number of its pet issues, including government transparency, reversing the Seminary Road Diet, and curbing developments.

Fifteen City Council candidates participated in the Seminary Ridge conversations, opining on density, affordable housing, government transparency, flooding, and, their opinions on making changes to the controversial Seminary Road Diet.

After a 4-3 Council vote in 2019, the road, which is next to Inova Alexandria Hospital, was reduced from four to two lanes in exchange for a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks and medians. A majority of Council candidates are now in favor of taking a look at bringing travel lanes back from two to four lanes on the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street.

Wilson said that he is in favor of tweaking the plan, although has been accused of ignoring the opposition of 13 civic associations.

“It’s unfortunately we couldn’t get everyone in the community on the same page on this issue,” Wilson said. “I believe the improvements that we made were good ones. I’m hopeful that in the future we can continue to tweak as necessary.”

Silberberg said she would restore the four lanes.

“This is a major arterial road that leads to our only hospital,” she said. “I’ve seen it and many residents have seen it and told me about it that they’ve seen ambulances stuck. I think we have a chance to right this wrong, and, of course, keep the pedestrian improvements, but I wouldn’t have voted for it and I will restore the travel lanes if I can get everyone together on that.”

Transparency

Silberberg said she’s been saddened to hear reports of residents not trusting their government, and defended recently pledging herself to an accountability pledge labeled the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights. Silberberg lost to Wilson in the Democratic primary in 2018, and says that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during her single term.

“I think they [City staff] should sign the pledge as well,” she said.

Silberberg also criticized the performance and six-figure salary of City Manager Mark Jinks.

“It is a lot of money, frankly. I brought this up (when mayor) but nobody agreed with me, but for the City Manager to have a car allowance. It sounds minor, but I don’t think we should have that for him. I think we should revise that.”

Wilson said that Jinks’ salary was in the middle of the pack when compared to the salaries of neighboring jurisdictions, and that he is appropriately paid given the organization that he runs.

Colocation of affordable housing

Wilson said he does not want to colocate affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, a position echoed by Silberberg on another controversial issue.

I don’t support putting affordable housing on our existing school properties,” he said. “We need more instructional space.”

Silberberg said that the school system is bursting at the seams as it is.

“I would certainly support an ordinance to say no to putting housing on our limited school properties,” she said.

Stream restoration

Wilson said that the city’s Environmental Policy Commission is full of “good science minds” that can look into the city’s stream restoration projects, including at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run. Last month, Council opted to send aspects of the projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.

Silberberg says that Alexandria has few forests left, and that she has long been opposed to the plans, as well as Wilson’s “unending pursuit of overbuilding”.

Transit lanes on Duke Street

Speaking of road diets, Wilson and Silberberg agreed that the Duke Street Transitway project should not result in fewer traffic lanes between Landmark Mall and the King Street-Old Town Metro station.

I personally don’t think the volumes on Duke street would allow us to remove any traffic lanes on Duke Street,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have a lot of community engagement to figure out the best alignment, as well as looking at the intersections to try to reduce some of the cut-through traffic that we see in a lot of our neighborhoods.”

The city is embarking on the public engagement part of the project next month.

On $60 million in federal COVID funding

Silberberg said that the nearly $60 million in COVID relief funds coming to the city should be handled carefully, and after all of last year’s flooding that the funds should be spent on stormwater infrastructure.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment from the federal government, and we need to be extremely careful and good stewards of this money,” she said. “Think about what is mission critical. First and foremost, I think we clearly have to focus like a laser beam on this flooding, the sewage and stormwater flooding that’s attacking, and stalking, really, our residents every time it rains.”

Wilson said he’s proud to have led the city through the most significant public health crisis in a century, and that the city needs to invest more in the social, emotional and academic losses experienced by Alexandria children.

“We have an opportunity to make generational investments in our community around our infrastructure, around our facilities, around some of the systems around workforce development and things that are going to ultimately benefit our community for generations,” he said. “We got 1,300 suggestions from the community, and we’re going to be working in June and July to apply those suggestions in figuring out how to use that first tranche of money.”

Image via Seminary Ridge Civic Association/Zoom

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Morning Notes

Alexandria among areas with highest median income in Virginia — “According to a recent study by SmartAsset, residents in Alexandria are among the highest earners in Virginia. The analysis was completed as part of the company’s study on the places with the most purchasing power, and cost of living was factored into the calculations.” [Alexandria Living]

Target, Walmart, BJ’s, Costco: Virginia stores end masks for vaccinated — “BJ’s Wholesale Club, Starbucks, Costco, Sam’s Club, and Trader Joe’s will also no longer require masks inside stores. Initially, Target and Walmart had been among numerous establishments in a holding pattern after last week’s announcements.” [Patch]

‘The Physical Therapy Zone’ expands operation — “We just knocked a hole in the wall and expanded into the suite next door.” [Gazette]

Today’s weather — “Mainly sunny (during the day). High around 80F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph… Clear (in the evening). Low 56F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Bartenders — “Here at Doyle’s Outpost, we are looking for a great team who will “change the game” with us while providing elevated service each and every day while making lasting connections with our guests! We are searching for exceptional, motivated, charismatic and genuine people, who can work smart and thrive under pressure, all with a smile. Get in on the ground floor of this exciting opportunity.” [Indeed]

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Master gardener Joyce Hylton was awarded the Ellen Pickering Environmental Excellence Award by the Alexandria City Council on Tuesday night.

Hylton, a local training coordinator for the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program, received the award during a virtual City Council meeting. The award, which is the top environmental honor given in the city, is usually handed out in person at the annual Earth Day celebration and cleanup on April 22, but the pandemic forced the event to shift to a virtual format.

“I’m very honored to receive their award, and I want to thank both of Pickering family and Alexandria Renew Enterprises for selecting me,” Hylton said after showing off the award in front of the camera in her home. “But more importantly, I appreciate the efforts of the Pickering family, and Alexandria Renew Enterprises for working to place environmental awareness on par with other governmental considerations as we make decisions for tomorrow.”

The award is named after former City Councilwoman Ellen Pickering, who championed the preservation of Founder’s Park along the waterfront. That effort led to the creation of the Mount Vernon Trail, which runs between Alexandria and Washington, D.C.

“We thank you for giving back in so many ways,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “You’re clearly a worthy recipient of this award and the legacy of people who have received this award.”

Adriana Caldarelli, an AlexRenew board member, presented Hylton with the award.

“Ms. Hylton has passed along the values of environmental sustainability in her work for over two decades,” Caldarelli said. “Her service to the community as a mentor to over 240 master Gardener volunteers, and a teacher of and expert on sustainable landscaping best practices to so many Alexandrians personifies the Restore The Earth theme of Earth Day 2021.”

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Near the end of a nearly eight-hour meeting, the City Council opted last night to send aspects of the city’s controversial stream restoration projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.

Stream restoration became something of a surprise Seminary Road-like issue last year. Many recurring public complaints — namely over a lack of communication from staff and concerns regarding city studies — resurfaced during the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream restoration debates.

But in other ways, the coalition uniting against the city’s plans for Taylor Run and Strawberry Run looked different from the Seminary Road debate. While the same elements that composed to Seminary Road diet opposition were present in the stream restoration debates — local civic associations and the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria! group — they were joined by more unexpected sources of dissent, like Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and the Alexandria Environmental Policy Commission (EPC).

“This has evolved into a political issue, but I’m here to voice my opinion on the science,” said EPC member Marta Schantz. “We’re concerned that many questions about current approach and good faith exploration of alternatives remains unanswered.”

At the City Council meeting, the EPC laid out several concerns that had been repeated by some environmentalists throughout the process — with staff reiterating many earlier responses.

It’s a muddy, tangled issue with branching concerns over the efficiency of natural channel design, the impact on wildlife in the area and the impacts of erosion — but one of the fundamental issues considered by City Council at the meeting was whether or not the stream is as polluted as the city’s modeling indicates.

Critics of the project, including the city’s Natural Resource Manager Rod Simmons, say the city is calculating pollution levels in the stream not based on first hand evidence gathering, but rather on state-approved models based on studies done in Pennsylvania. A study by Simmons found significantly lower levels of phosphates in Taylor Run, though Simmons’ study was criticized by the city as not providing a complete view of total phosphate levels in the water.

Complicating matters is the city’s plans to have the stream restoration work count towards the city’s required pollution reduction credits. Staff reiterated that alternatives to stream restoration could be more expensive, less beneficial to the city — like paying credits for an equivalent amount of pollution reduction — and result in fees passed on to tax payers.

Even then, staff said the city will likely eventually need to take some form of action to prevent homes new Strawberry Run and Taylor Run from being threatened by erosion.

“If we take approach that we don’t need to do anything, we risk losing grants, we pay for credits, and we’ll eventually need to do something to protect neighboring homes from erosion,” said Matt Landes, project director for the Department of Project Implementation.

City staff said there’s a looming deadline to meet pollution reduction guidelines laid out by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Staff said that to meet a June 2022 deadline, the stream restoration projects need to move into final design in the May/June timeframe and the project needs to move into procurement by December this year.

Testing Taylor Run’s water for phosphates, staff said, could take two-to-three months to get reliable results. But the city council — led by urging from members Amy Jackson and John Chapman — agreed to take that time to do the studies and get a better picture of the pollutant levels in Taylor Run and Strawberry Run.

“It’s disconcerting to a lot of community members tonight,” said Jackson. “We usually don’t have public comment except for public hearings. They’ve been here pretty much every time signing in to discuss what they think is important… to be continually, what I feel: shoved aside.”

The Environmental Council of Alexandria, which is led by former Vice Mayor Andrew Macdonald, has been the city’s main opponent to the project.

“Staff reports and responses from City staff indicate that they want to proceed with this destructive and ineffective project despite all the scientific evidence against doing so,” ECA wrote on Facebook on April 23. “This may be our last chance to stop this environmentally unsound project.”

Chapman said the city should also take those months to get a better look at alternatives to current stream restoration plans.

“We need to take a good look at alternatives,” Chapman said, “and not just the ones presented here.”

While Strawberry Run and Taylor Run took the lion’s share of the conversation, Mayor Justin Wilson said it would be willful ignorance on the city’s part to go forward with testing those without getting a more accurate idea about pollutant levels in Lucky Run, also slated for restoration work.

“I have a hard time justifying how Lucky Run is okay but Taylor Run and Strawberry Run aren’t,” Wilson said. “[We’re] not sampling Lucky Run… because we don’t want to know what the answer is.”

In response, the Council agreed to also loop Lucky Run in with planned testing of the other stream sites. The City Council directed staff to come back at a later date to lay out more community engagement and a timeline for further study of the streams.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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After touring the area and meeting with residents, Alexandria City Councilman John Taylor Chapman will ask his colleagues tonight to stop the Taylor Run Stream Restoration Project.

The move is a decisive blow against the project, which city staff defend as the most cost effective alternative to keep up with its Chesapeake Bay Watershed credit requirements. Last month, Chapman and Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker requested a legislative meeting to discuss the Taylor Run and Strawberry Run stream restoration projects, which critics say disrupt natural habitats.

“I look forward to asking questions of staff tonight, but I intend to ask my colleagues to support stopping this (Taylor Run) project, and in turn, directing both staff and our Environmental Policy Commission to work together to bring back to council an update on the capture of environmental credits, with potential credits that we can receive and updated cost estimates and a strategy on future capture of credits,” Chapman said.

Staff plans to clear the Taylor Run 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.

Mayor Justin Wilson said he’s happy to consider alternative approaches to meeting the city’s clean water obligations and addressing the environmental damage and future risk to Taylor Run.

“Ultimately, whatever we decide must be based in the science, in compliance with the law and affordable,” Wilson said.

Opposition has been led by the Environmental Council of Alexandria, which also says that the city’s soil tests at Taylor Run are not accurate. City Councilwoman Amy Jackson has also moved against the Taylor Run project after the EPC advised Council to step back.

Chapman will also ask Council to support an annual report from the Environmental Policy Commission and staff on the city’s environmental credit progress. He said that such an update would allow for the city to find additional projects.

“(I)t will give the community and City Council a firm understanding of our current status, real opportunities, and the cost, without the stream restoration projects that our advisory policy commission and our community are against,” Chapman said.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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Today is Earth Day, and for the second year in a row Alexandria is celebrating virtually.

The theme of the 51st annual celebration is “Restore Our Earth,” and residents are encouraged to participate with projects on the city website, including restoration efforts around water, land, air quality and climate.

The City and AlexRenew also partnered with Alexandria City Public Schools to showcase 140 Earth Day-related student artwork submissions from Matthew Maury Elementary School, Mount Vernon Community School, Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School, Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, and George Washington Middle School.

Their art projects are featured on a video below.

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City staff have launched a defense of the embattled Taylor Run Stream Restoration Projectcriticized by some environmental activists and the city’s Natural Resources Manager Rod Simmons

As part of the budget query process, Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker asked staff to look into other options as alternatives to the project. Despite reluctance towards the Taylor Run restoration project starting to take hold in the City Council, staff said in a response to Bennett-Parker they believe the current course to be the most effective one.

“If an alternative is pursued, then the 10-Year Plan would need to be revised based on the funding impact of these alternatives, each of which come with very different levels of risk and costs,” staff said. “Additionally, none of the alternatives would stabilize the sanitary sewer infrastructure which will need to be undertaken regardless.”

The Taylor Run Stream Restoration Project is expected to cost $4.5 million, half of which is paid for by the state-level Stormwater Local Assistance Fund.

Local activists have said the city’s project overestimates the levels of pollution in the stream by relying on projections rather than tests of the water and the removal of foliage from the stream — many of them mature trees — though the city has said it will replant new ones.

The first alternative analyzed is implementing smaller scale green infrastructure projects, like bioretention facilities and underground filtering. But staff said these projects could cost up to $66 million, which would come entirely from city coffers and ultimately from homeowners in Alexandria.

Staff compared smaller scale BMPs that include green infrastructure (urban bioretention, bioswales, etc.) and underground BMPs (filtering devices) as alternatives as retrofits in the right-of-way and on public property.  Cost-benefit estimates for these alternatives range from $88,000 to $225,000 per pound of phosphorous reduced, respectively.  (Note these estimates do not include currently uncertain costs that may arise during the planning, scoping, design or implementation phases, or future maintenance and operation costs.) Using those per pound cost ranges, capital costs are estimated between $26 million and $66 million to implement between 300 and 400 new BMPs to achieve an equivalent amount of pollution credits. This would add (refer to footnote) between $41 and $89 to the annual stormwater fee for the majority of homeowners in the City. It is also important to note that due to the high cost per pound of phosphorous removal none of these BMPs would meet the eligibility requirements (of $50,000/lb. or less) to be considered for a VDEQ Stormwater Local Assistance Program grant. Therefore, the City would need to fully fund these smaller BMPs using local funds.

Another option suggested by many opponents of the Taylor Run Stream Restoration project is additional tree planting, an option suggested in contrast to some of the tree clearing that would take place as part of the project. Staff noted in their analysis of the option that, like additional green infrastructure projects, the solution could be more expensive than the current project.

Staff compared tree planting per DEQ and EPA’s Recommendations of the Expert Panel to Define BMP Effectiveness for Urban Tree Canopy approach to generate pollution reduction credits. To achieve an equivalent pollution reduction, the City would need to plant between 421,000 and 686,000 trees at a low-end estimated cost of $84 million to $137 million and a high-end estimated capital cost of $126 million to $206 million. This would add (refer to footnote) between $113 and $287 per year to they stormwater utility fee for the majority of homeowners in the City. Like Alternative Scenario 1 these costs do not include currently uncertain costs that may arise during the planning, scoping, design or implementation phases, or future maintenance and operation costs. The issue of where to plant this volume of trees also would need to be addressed.

The last option, and possibly the alternative scenario most suggested by opponents of the Taylor Run project, is to do nothing: leave the stream alone. City staff reviewed the no-build option but said that cancelling the project without pursuing any of the other alternatives it could put its state stormwater permits (MS4) at risk.

If the City chooses to defer or cancel the Taylor Run Stream Restoration project, it brings into question the use of stream restorations as a key strategy in the City’s toolkit to meet its Bay mandates. The City’s three, currently approved stream restoration projects will cost the City approximately $3.7 million, with another $3.7 million coming in VDEQ grants.  In contrast, the total cost of a “BMPs alone” strategy to reduce an equivalent amount of phosphorous for the City would be between $79 million and $201 million, which is currently not programmed in the Ten-Year Stormwater Capital Plan. This would add between $106 and $274 per year to the stormwater utility fee for a majority of homeowners. It would require the installation of over 900 total green infrastructure and underground BMPs in rights-of-way and on public property. If Council chooses one of the above scenarios for Taylor Run, or removes stream restoration from the City’s toolkit, staff would need to provide additional refined projections on the fiscal impacts and risk, and revise the City’s Stormwater Utility 10-Year Plan.

Staff said the city is currently ahead of schedule on its Chesapeake Bay Cleanup mandates, but if the city fell behind from cancelling this project, it could be subject to fines and other punitive measures.

“These would likely include prescriptive actions and schedules of interim milestones to demonstrate positive trajectory to meet the requirements, including the identification of adequate funding and scheduling to implement alternative BMPs to achieve milestones,” staff said. “These punitive measures would likely be administered through aggressive oversight by VDEQ.”

The kicker, staff said, is that separate sanitary sewer stabilization would still require impacting Taylor Run.

“The sanitary sewer runs parallel to the trail and within the southern stream bank for most of the way until it crosses to the northern side of the stream near the acidic seepage wetland, where the sheet pile for the manhole is located,” staff said. “Separately stabilizing the sanitary infrastructure in lieu of incorporating this work into a more holistic stream restoration would require tree removal for access — presumably the pedestrian trail as well as down to the stream to access the sanitary sewer crossings exposed in the stream bed — to allow heavy equipment access to stabilize the sanitary crossings by encasing the pipe in concrete.”

Mayor Justin Wilson said in an email that on Monday, April 12, from 5-7 p.m. staff and the design consultant will host a walkthrough of the project, giving community members a chance to tour the site.

“Project staff will be present and available to answer questions and discuss restoration goals and efforts in specific areas of interest,” Wilson said. “The onsite walkthrough will begin at the entrance of the Chinquapin Park trailhead located at 3120 King Street.”

An update on the project and others included in the city’s Chesapeake Bay Pollution reduction goals is also scheduled to be presented to the City Council on Tuesday, April 27, at 7 p.m.

Image via City of Alexandria

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