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Five months after a 16-hour power outage disrupted Del Ray’s Art On The Avenue festival, Dominion Energy says it will invest $17 million over the next three years to improve reliability in the city.

That was the gist of an hour-long update from Dominion to City Council Tuesday night (March 22), where Bill Murray, Dominion’s senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications, informed City Council that the energy giant plans on spending $3.4 million this year, $8.5 million in 2023 and $5.2 million in 2023 on 20 “incremental reliability investments” in areas affected by outages in Alexandria, and will begin planning with city staff next month.

“We’re going to plan in April to have some workshops with your staff around the first five,” Murray said.

There have been few outages in Alexandria since Art On The Avenue on Oct. 2 — forcing businesses to close for the the busiest day of the year on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray. The weather was nearly perfect that day, with clear blue skies. Since the event, Murray said, Dominion has replaced 1,000 feet of power cables in the area, and will give future Art On The Avenue festivals the same attention as it gives to polling places on Election Day.

“Any of your polling places, regardless of the weather forecast on Election Day, whether it’s bad weather, good weather, whatever it might be, we always have a plan for each individual polling precinct,” Murray said. “We recognize things happen, and we don’t want the marching democracy being interrupted by an outage. So, we’re going to adopt that approach with this particular festival.”

Dominion did not present a PowerPoint presentation to City Council, and did not present details on which areas of the city need improvement, which irked some members.

“I’ll be honest, we were a little hampered by not having something to kind of look at tonight,” said Mayor Justin Wilson, who has been critical of Dominion for years.

Council Member Kirk McPike said that a PowerPoint presentation would have been useful after “repeated failures of our electrical system over the years.”

“We need the people of Alexandria to be able to see what we’re discussing here, what point you’re raising, have a better sense of what’s going on here,” McPike said. “Right now I don’t think they do.”

Dominion last spoke with the council shortly after the Art On The Avenue outage, and provided the city with maps on where it plans on making improvements in the city.

Council Member Alyia Gaskins said she appreciates Dominion’s plan to prevent an Art On The Avenue outage from reoccurring, but that the city hosts multiple large-scale events throughout the year.

“I’m also thinking about the fact that we have so many big, really important events in the city, beyond Art On The Avenue, and that was catastrophic and devastating,” Gaskins said. “Maybe there’s a top five list of events that we know are huge economic generators for the city, and having that same type of pre-scan, pre-assessment, as well as a point person who is on-site would be critical for those events as well.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said that Dominion is a valuable partner, and that she would appreciate its representatives to be on the ground for large festivals.

“I don’t know how you would have enough manpower and boots on the ground to do that for every festival,” Jackson said. “That’s close to impossible, but I’d like to see you try. If you’re promising one to Art On The Avenue, then then absolutely, I’ll take you up on all of them. We’ll give you the calendar.”

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The big story this week was snow.

A snowstorm on Monday had the city working at clearing roads and putting weather-affected services back into play. There was a smaller dusting of snow last night, though it didn’t have nearly the same level of impact.

Alexandria City Public Schools went virtual for the first three days of the week as well. Thursday was closed for students as a teacher workday, and both teachers and staff had today off.

Of course, Alexandria wasn’t alone in dealing with the snowstorm: similar operations were underway this week in Arlington and Fairfax.

Top Stories:

  1. Comcast working on fixing widespread internet service outages caused by fire and snowstorm
  2. JUST IN: Officials investigate fire at Jordan Street 7-Eleven
  3. PHOTOS: Scenes from today’s snowstorm in Alexandria
  4. Winter Weather Advisory issued ahead of Thursday night snow
  5. Power outage hits North Ridge neighborhood as weather topples trees and power lines
  6. DEVELOPING: Winter weather conditions shut down city services and some streets
  7. ACPS cancels school in Alexandria for students, but staff will have a virtual workday
  8. School closed tomorrow as students and staff both get proper snow day
  9. ACPS goes to virtual schooling Monday ahead of expected snow
  10. Alexandria Restaurant Week returns this month with new dining options
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Xfinity outage map, photo via Comcast

(Updated 3:40 p.m.) Internet service is down for many Alexandrians as Comcast works to get its network up and running again after yesterday’s snowstorm.

According to the Xfinity outage map, there are several thousand Alexandria affected by the ongoing internet outage, most of them in Del Ray and Arlandria.

Yesterday, Alexandria emergency services were hit with downed power lines city-wide, closing streets and causing localized power outages. Kristie Fox, vice president of communications for the Comcast Beltway Region, said that the internet service is dealing with a combination of local power outages and damage to a fiber cable in the area.

“Separately from the overall winter storm power outages, there was a power line that fell on our fiber today as a result of the storm and that caused a fire that is also impacting our service,” Fox said. “We’re having multiple crews on-site working to restore service.”

Del Ray resident Mark Stephenson said that last night around 8:30 p.m. one of the power lines between Rosemont and Del Ray was damaged. Stephenson noted that work crews from Dominion Energy responded quickly and have been working on repairs.

“Around 8:30 p.m. there was a huge boom and flash of light which we thought at first was a tree falling, but then I could see some flames on a line,” Stephenson said. “It seemed a heavy branch had fallen on the line. We called the fire department who came out almost immediately to rope off the street, along with APD. Then around 9:30 it happened again, and that’s when the internet went down.”

As of this afternoon, Stephenson said he was watching as a team from Xfinity was working to repair around 400 feet of cable.

In addition to the fiber damage, Fox said there can be some confusion about how power outages impact internet service.

“Once power is restored to home, internet can be restored, but power needs to come on first,” Fox said, “and even though power might be restored to an individual home, it might not be restored to a Comcast distribution point that serves a neighborhood. There could be instances where one person on a street and a neighbor down the block doesn’t because of a distribution point.”

Some locals on Twitter said they’ve seen 4 p.m. as an estimated restoration time, but Fox was hesitant to put an exact estimated time for repairs because it could vary from household to household.

“Some of it will be dependent on whether it was customers affected by fire in one area or the broader storm,” Fox said.

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Power outage in North Ridge on 1/3/2022, photo via Dominion Power

There have been sporadic power outages throughout the region during today’s snowstorm, but the North Ridge neighborhood is the hardest hit in Alexandria with an estimated 1,665 residents without power.

The Dominion Power website says a work crew has been dispatched and the cause of the outage is under investigation but it’s almost certain the heavy snowfall today is likely to blame.

There are reports coming in on social media and the emergency services scanner citywide of fallen trees and damaged power lines. Emergency services have identified a handful of intersections where traffic lights are non-operational as a result of local outages.

There are islands across the city where around a hundred residents per spot are without power, like on Seminary Hill near Inova Alexandria Hospital where a street was closed after wires fell and a transformer blew out.

Besides North Ridge, one of the other heavily-impacted areas are the affordable housing units just northeast of William Ramsay Elementary School, where residents have already been struggling with unsanitary living conditions. There are currently roughly 404 residents in that dense area currently without power.

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The Alexandria City Council wants more than answers from Dominion Energy for a recent power outage on the busiest day of the year in Del Ray — they want restitution.

After a 2020 hiatus, the weather was perfect for Art On The Avenue on October 2 along Mount Vernon Avenue. But a 16-hour power outage that morning ended up shuttering many businesses throughout the festival, which brought an estimated 50,000 visitors to Del Ray.

“We couldn’t believe what happened,” Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson told three Dominion representatives at Tuesday night’s Council meeting. “Honestly, there was no reason for it. There wasn’t any wind, there wasn’t any rain, there wasn’t anything like an act-of-God scenario… Is there anything that you’re doing for those businesses aside from (saying), ‘We’re so sorry, we’ll do better next time,’ because they’re so sick of that, I can tell you.”

Robert Wright, Dominion’s director of grid planning and asset management, told Council that a “perfect storm” of underground switch and cable equipment failure was to blame. Wright also presented Council with a map of current and future spot improvement projects that Dominion is working on throughout the city.

“I completely understand the frustration with customers,” Wright said. “A 16+ hour outage on what sounds like one of the busiest, or most important days of the year.”

Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said that Dominion “raked in” $1 billion in excess profits between 2017 and 2021, and that it would be “cruel and shameful” if the utility giant does not compensate the affected businesses for their losses. Also, earlier this month, Dominion reached a settlement agreement with the Virginia Attorney General to refund $330 million to customers for outages and reduce rates by $50 million throughout the state.

“I think our restaurants are struggling, our businesses are struggling,” Bennett-Parker said. “I think to not do something would be cruel and shameful, in addition to obviously this additional work that we need.”

Joe Woomer, Dominion’s vice president of grid and technical solutions, said that no impacted businesses have been contacted and that such issues should be sent to Dominion’s Claims department.

“We have not had an outreach to the residents out there,” Woomer said.

Councilman John Taylor Chapman recommended that Dominion establish a way to reach out to affected businesses after widespread outages.

“I think it would help the business owners in particular,” Chapman said, “…and helping them pick up the pieces after they’ve had huge power outages.”

At the meeting, Dominion provided two maps of areas throughout the city that are planned for tech upgrades and equipment replacements over the next several years. Wright said that multiple projects to improve service have been in the works throughout sections of the city since last year, prompting Chapman to note that it was only just before the meeting that City staff were presented with the maps for the projects.

I’m just amazed that today is the first day anybody from the city is seeing this,” Chapman said.

Councilman Canek Aguirre said it was concerning that no work is outlined for the Chirilagua (Arlandria) and Beverly Hills neighborhoods.

“You guys got nothing going on down in Chirilagua,” Aguirre said. “We want to make sure that we’re paying attention tothat section of Beverly Hills, which is just south of West Glebe (Road) because on both maps, there’s a strong section there that’s kind of missing.”

Wright that there has been an “increase in expectations” from Dominion customers in recent years.

“We’ve seen an increase in expectations in recent years,” Wright told Council. “If you think about the shift to more technologies, even during the pandemic, teleworking and remote learning have pushed reliable electric service to the forefront.”

Wright said that Dominion is inspecting its underground equipment, identifying needed equipment upgrades, and also “applying the lessons learned with that experience of equipment failure and our findings during inspections to make decisions about our broader population of equipment when we need to take action to maintain reliable service.”

Mayor Justin Wilson has been critical of Dominion for several years, and wants the utility to invest more money toward Alexandria.

“Money makes sense to me,” he said. “You’re able to tell me that you invested $39 million last year (in reliability upgrades throughout Alexandria). If you come to me and you say, ‘Hey, next year we’re gonna invest $60 million,’ That would mean something to me. That would be important.”

Earlier this month, Wilson voiced his disapproval on how city residents “have been adversely impacted by Dominion’s declining reliability in recent years,” in a meeting with the State Corporation Commission. Wilson asked that the Commission consider a downward performance adjustment to Dominion’s authorized return on equity.

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A power outage on Saturday set off a week of concerns about city infrastructure, even as the city was ranked one of the best small cities in the country.

The power outage that derailed the Art on the Avenue celebration is just the latest in a long chain of outages that have hit Alexandria over the last year, giving the lie to Dominion Energy’s claim that a large outage almost exactly a year ago was a fluke. Mayor Justin Wilson has previously called the state of frequent outages unacceptable and urged Dominion to do more to upgrade its infrastructure.

Power outages are just one of the infrastructure issues Alexandria is grappling with. This week the state also announced it would be funding some flooding mitigation work in Alexandria, while some in city leadership are hesitant about the price tag for some specific waterfront flood prevention plans.

Top stories

  1. Alexandria considers options after local businesses crushed by ‘Art On The Avenue’ power outage
  2. BREAKING: A bunch of student fights were recorded at George Washington Middle School and put on Instagram
  3. Alexandria ranked third-best small city in America in Condé Nast survey
  4. Updated: Alexandria City High School no longer on lockdown after student arrested with gun outside school
  5. Art On The Avenue festival continues despite Del Ray power outage
  6. JUST IN: Principal at Alexandria City High School addresses in-school violence and re-socialization pressure
  7. Four more COVID-related deaths in Alexandria, City preps vaccine rollout for kids under 12
  8. Planning Commission endorses King Street closure despite concerns Prince Street could inherit trouble
  9. Convicted felon arrested for gun possession after claiming to be shot in head in West End
  10. Former doctor’s office aide accused of computer trespassing after getting fired in Alexandria

Photo via Dominion Energy/Facebook

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Morning Notes

River Farm gets taken off the market — “Local residents cheered over email and text messages Wednesday after learning that the American Horticultural Society’s board — or what remained of it — decided not to sell its 27-acre property overlooking the Potomac River.” [Alexandria Living]

Northern Virginia AFL-CIO presents award to Rep. Don Beyer — “When the bus drivers in Alexandria – the DASH workers (who had been trying to unionize over decades, actually), Alexandria City hired a union buster and Congressman Beyer stepped in and was very forceful with his language in making the city aware that the DASH workers had a right to organize.” [Zebra]

Let’s Meat On The Avenue is restocked again after Saturday outage — “It wasn’t just restaurants impacted by Saturday’s #ArtOnTheAvenue outage. After having to toss much of their inventory, @LetsmeatDelRay is restocked and open! Picked up some beautiful pork chops for dinner. What’s your #artontheavenueafterparty stop today?” [Twitter]

Free food pop-up distribution points announced — “ALIVE! provides bags of food for specific neighborhoods or apartments, in collaboration with community partners, in the parking lot at each pop-up emergency food distribution location.” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Mostly cloudy skies. High 77F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph… A few clouds. Low 63F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Lot attendant/Porter — “We have full and part time positions available.” [Indeed]

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The power went out on the busiest day of the year in Del Ray on Saturday (October 2).

An estimated 50,000 people descended on Mount Vernon Avenue for the 26th annual Art On The Avenue festival that day, but many restaurants and other businesses were forced to shut down due to the outage.

Homegrown Restaurant Group’s Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant, The Sushi Bar, and Holy Cow Del Ray lost a combined $30,000 in sales, co-owner Bill Blackburn told ALXnow.

“It was disappointing,” Blackburn said. “It was a lot of work for nothing.”

Dominion Energy reported that the outage was due to underground switch and cable equipment failure, and eventually restored power at around 10:30 p.m. — after the event was over.

Mayor Justin Wilson says the city is now considering a “variety” of options to improve service.

“We are exploring a variety of options to improve the reliability of Alexandria’s electricity service,” Wilson said. “We continue to believe that Dominion can and should do more to build a more reliable and resilient infrastructure to serve the City.”

Wilson did not get specific on the options, and said that the City will release more information this week. During the outage, he tweeted out a strongly worded post, and said it was unacceptable that a central business district was plunged in darkness.

Blackburn said business was strong the following day, on Sunday, with support mainly coming from local customers.

“Once again, we are lucky to do business in such a great community,” he said.

The Dairy Godmother, on Facebook, said that it lost “400 kolaches and 1,500 donuts… due to the power outage.”

“We are so sorry we were closed,” the shop wrote. “We have the greatest staff in the greatest neighborhood with the worst power company (except for Texas), we will open at 9AM with Just Fine Donuts, today we have Pumpkin Cake donuts, plus all of our usual flavors of yeast and cake donuts. With luck by 10 we will have Sausage Cheese Kalaches. Custard by Noon with Pumpkin as the Flavor of the Day, Apple Crisp is the Treat of the day.”

Alexandria also sent a letter to Dominion asking them to step up their game earlier this year. There were 16 large-scale outages in 2020 affecting thousands of residents.

The following businesses lost power, according to Visit Del Ray:

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A power outage in Del Ray has shut down a number of businesses, although the annual Art on the Avenue festival today (October 2) is still happening. The event is one of the biggest events in the city and draws tens of thousands of people.

“We have a right to expect more from @DominionEnergy,” tweeted Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “Plunging a central business district into darkness for the better part of their biggest day of the year, with no inclement weather, is UNACCEPTABLE.”

The Alexandria Health Department has shut down a number of businesses due to the outage, although most of the art vendors don’t need power to operate along Mount Vernon Avenue. The Del Ray Business Association’s set-up team was out at 5 a.m. working in the dark.

“For some of those businesses this is literally the busiest day of the year,” said Del Ray Business Association Board member Gayle Reuter. “Restaurant staff are just waiting there with all the food they bought, and it’s very frustrating. But the festival is unbelievable. It’s one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen. It’s just really sad for local businesses without power. They’re the ones who have been hurting.”

The festival ends at 6 p.m.

Via Dominion Energy

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The National Weather Service has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch that will remain in effect until 9 p.m.

This is the second evening in a row of rough weather, as a brief storm knocked out power for thousands Wednesday night. Consequently, Dominion Energy is warning of potential outages tonight.

A Special Marine Warning has also been issued until 6 p.m. for the Potomac River, as wind gusts of 34 knots or greater are anticipated.

“Boaters in small craft could be thrown overboard by suddenly higher winds and waves capsizing their vessel,” NWS advised.

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