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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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An electrical malfunction has prompted the required evacuation of a 17-story apartment building in the West End.

The power went out at Key Towers at 6060 Tower Court shortly before 5 a.m., and the city’s DASH bus service is helping transport evacuated residents to a cooling center at Patrick Henry Recreation Center, which is just over two miles away. There are 140 units in the 1960s-era building and Monday’s temperature is expected to reach the mid-90s.

“Evacuation is required and is being ordered by the Fire Marshal’s Office,” AFD Senior Public Information Officer Raytevia Evans told ALXnow. “Dominion Energy is on-scene now, and they have been for a while along with us. The building has been evacuated because the power had to be cut in order to make those repairs on what they’ve discovered.”

Dominion determined that a privately owned underground transmission line went down, Evans said.

“The property managers have their private contractors on scene as well,” Evans said, adding that that the city’s Office of Emergency Management is working with the property manager to inform residents that the building will be without power for “a while”.

Courtesy Google Maps

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For thousands of customers in Alexandria’s West End, power is still out after last night’s storms.

According to Dominion Energy’s power outage map, 3,703 customers in the West End — from the border with Shirlington down to the Van Dorn Metro station — are currently without power.

The outages are broken into two sections, with an unfortunate handful of homes near Hammond Middle School caught in the overlap. The northern half of the outage has been identified as being caused by a blown circuit and work crews are currently dispatched to fix the problem. For the southern half, the cause is still under investigation.

https://twitter.com/maurnd/status/1397708890389819398

Map via Dominion Energy

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Updated at 12 a.m. Thousands of Alexandria residents are currently without power, as a thunderstorm continues to affect the city, according to Dominion Energy’s outage map.

There are more than 3,400 people without power in Old Town. There are also more than 150 residents without power in North Ridge due to a downed power pole, and more than 300 without power in Del Ray. Crews have been dispatched to impacted areas.

Alexandria and the surrounding area were hit by a thunderstorm at around 4:30 p.m.. A Hazardous Weather Outlook remains in effect until 10 p.m.

Map via Dominion Energy

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What a week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

The Alexandria City Council on Wednesday approved its Fiscal Year 2022 $770.7 million budget on Wednesday, and it includes a 2 cent real estate tax reduction. It’s the first time that’s happened in 15 years, and the budget also fully funds Alexandria City Public Schools’ request and includes a 1% raise for city and state employees.

But perhaps the biggest news of the week came with City Councilman Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to eliminate School Resource Officer funding from the budget. The effort was supported along by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman Canek Aguirre and Councilman John Taylor Chapman, who voted along with the group after failing to save the program in a last-minute effort.

Crime stories dominated many headlines, and Police Chief Michael Brown spoke with us this week about his department’s efforts to reduce destructive elements throughout the city. More from that interview will be published next week.

In this week’s poll, we asked about the importance of political endorsements for local candidates. Out of 222 responses, 48% (107 votes) don’t consider endorsements while voting; 39% (86 votes) said endorsements influence their decision; and 14% (29 votes) feel that endorsements hold a lot of sway.

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  1. Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
  2. Knife pulled on woman who chases would-be thieves in Old Town
  3. D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
  4. Police: Armed robberies occur minutes apart in Del Ray and Arlandria
  5. Two injured in hit-and-run in Old Town, driver leaves car and flees on foot
  6. Too noisy? City Council is considering revising Alexandria’s noise ordinance
  7. Alexandria City Council to end School Resource Officer program at Alexandria City Public Schools
  8. Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
  9. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  10. JUST IN: Power outages across Alexandria as strong winds hit the city
  11. What’s next for GenOn and the rest of Old Town North?

Have a safe weekend!

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