Alexandria is one step closer to seeing its stormwater utility fee double for residents, as City Council on Tuesday night accepted a report from city staff outlining its multi-million dollar plan to upgrade the city’s storm sewer capacity.
City Council approved receipt of the staff proposal 6-1, and it will be voted on in a public hearing on Feb. 20. Also approved was the formation of a nine-member Ad Hoc Stormwater Utility and Flood Mitigation Advisory Group. The plan includes doubling the $140 annual fee for residents to generate $15 million per year on $284 million worth of immediate and longterm projects, some of which aren’t slated to be completed for a decade.
Earlier this month, Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne joined his Del Ray neighbors in venting frustration over what he sees as a history of misdirected funds. Lawhorne criticized council for implementing a stormwater utility fee in 2018, and then redirecting significant portions of the monies toward Clean Water Act initiatives instead of much-needed improvements.
Councilwoman Amy Jackson was the lone dissenting vote, and raised an objection to the potential for the city to potentially acquire land through eminent domain in order to make some stormwater improvements.
“We’re in this position because we’ve raised stormwater fees in the past — 2018, right?” Jackson said. “And we are not anywhere near helping anybody, and honestly we’re still going down this path that there’s a whole trust and transparency issue.”
A number of heavy rainstorms in 2020 laid bare Alexandria’s besieged stormwater management system, leaving many damaged neighborhoods throughout the city. There were more than 500 requests for service through the City’s 311 system due to extreme rain events this year, according to a city memo.
Below is a graph showing storm sewer capacity projects in the city for Fiscal Years 2022 through 2031.
Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne joined his neighbors in criticizing City Council’s plan to double the stormwater utility fee, and asked at last night’s meeting that the matter be deferred to give the community more time.
Lawhorne, who lives in Del Ray, said that his home flooded multiple times last year and is frustrated with what he called a lack of progress to solve the problem. A number of heavy rainstorms in 2020 resulted in dangerous flooding situations, revealing a besieged stormwater management system that left many homes damaged throughout the city. There were more than 500 requests for service through the City’s 311 system due to extreme rain events this year, according to a city memo.
“When the city imposed a stormwater utility fee in 2018, I thought it was a step in the right direction,” Lawhorne said. “Instead, this is what happened in 2019 only 12% of the capital expenditures went to addressing the street flooding, and only 28% and 2020. Most of it went to the mandated Clean Water Act initiatives. I’m all for the clean water, but I thought we would get a fair share of that pie, but we didn’t.”
City Council ended up passing a motion by member Amy Jackson 6-1 to reintroduce the city’s stormwater utility fee on Jan. 26, followed by a public hearing next month. Mayor Justin Wilson was the lone dissenting vote.
“I do feel like this has been rushed through,” Jackson said.
Yon Lambert, the director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, worked with the newly formed Interdepartmental Flooding Management Task Force to create the plan over the last six weeks. The plan includes doubling the $140 annual fee for residents to generate $15 million per year on $284 million worth of projects that would not be completed until at least 2030.
“These are very very complicated infrastructure projects,” Lambert said. “Some of them may require property acquisition. There are going to be situations where we’re going to have to be considering utility relocations. All of those things add up to some level of uncertainty for us as we move forward, but it is our desire to continue as we refine the design of the project, the scope of each project and continue to come back to you and talk to you more clearly about what the delivery will be.”
City Councilman John Taylor Chapman agreed with Lawhorne’s assessment.
“I really think there’s been overall a kind of genuine miscommunication around what we’ve been spending out money on, versus the expectations of the public,” Chapman said. “And maybe that just has not been followed and communicated out… The city has not necessarily prepared itself to try to catch up to the inland flooding.”
Slides from the city’s presentation are below.
Graphs via City of Alexandria
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There’s a chance Hurricane Zeta won’t have much of an impact by the time it reaches Alexandria, but the city is nonetheless offering free sandbags to residents hoping to protect their homes.
Currently, the National Weather Service has predicted a 100% chance of rain on Thursday with potential to reach three inches of rainfall.
“The City will provide free sandbags to residents and businesses today, October 28, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., at 133 S. Quaker Lane,” the city said in a press release. “Sandbags will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, with a limit of five per resident or business. Proof of residency or business in Alexandria is required. Please wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of distance from others when picking up, and review guidance for proper use of sandbags.”
The release noted that city crews are continuing to work to clear debris from streets and curb inlets ahead of the storm. Residents and businesses can assist by clearing leaves and debris near gutters and storm drains.
The hurricane is expected to make landfall this afternoon in Louisiana with an expected path cutting across the southeast towards D.C. While Alexandria isn’t expected to take the brunt of the storm, precautions are warranted after earlier storms this year led to significant flooding.
Alexandria’s LaMonica Johnston says that the life of her infant son was put at risk when her home was flooded on July 8.
Johnston just put her son down in his Pack ‘N Play and was laying down on her couch when water rushed into her home, located near the Hooff’s Run Culvert, a large tunnel that has some of the worst stormwater management issues in the city and handles runoff from the Del Ray, Rosemont, Beverly Hills and Northridge neighborhoods.
“When I stood up we had more than three inches of water in our home covering my ankles,” Johnston told City Council on Tuesday. “In less than 10 more minutes there was two feet of water inside the first floor of our home, along with most other homes in the area.”
On Thursday, September 10, flooding was reported throughout the city in the latest of a string of summer weather events that shut down swaths of roadways, and flooded alleyways and homes. Just as with the storms on July 8 and July 23, city sent out an advisory warning residents of “indoor sewer backups, impassable roads, power outages, and other flood-related issues.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said that the public is demanding a public conversation on the topic, and on Tuesday Council asked for an update on the city’s storm sewer infrastructure.
“This is one of the most basic services we provide as a community,” Wilson said. “We have to step up to that challenge.”
City Manager Mark Jinks reported that the city has taken a “proactive, aggressive approach to flood management and sewer maintenance in its stormwater program,” according to a city memo. “However, with climate change and the evident increase in major intense rain events which have caused major flooding, the City will need to reexamine and accelerate its stormwater planning and project implementation.”
There have been more than 500 requests for service through the City’s 311 system due to extreme rain events this year, according to a city memo.
The City’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan includes $33 million is for a sanitary sewer asset renewal program. As such, the Four Mile Run and Commonwealth sewer sheds will be inspected early next year.
“Out of the 83 ‘problem areas’ in the City’s eight watersheds, the top two watersheds were Hooff’s Run and Four Mile Run, with 23 ‘problem areas’ each, according to the city. “More detailed planning and analysis will take place to assess the overall implementation feasibility (including construction) prior to full design of these large-scale capital projects.”
The memo states that the cleanup of the Hoof’s Run culvert will cost $2 million, and that the work will take six months.
“(A) tree contractor will be onsite within the next three weeks to remove additional brush and limb up trees with branches that currently overhang the culvert and could interfere with water flow,” notes the memo.
Regardless of citywide improvements, the city is asking residents to make home upgrades.
“This is an opportunity here where you can be thinking about how you can make your personal property more flood resilient,” said T&ES Director Yon Lambert. “Whether that’s considering flood insurance, whether that’s considering investments on your personal property, to make sure that your homes are better prepared to deal with climate change in the future.”
Johnston said that her son almost drowned in 2019 and that her family could have been electrocuted. She says that all of the water is coming from the culvert and that it is a matter of time before someone is killed.
“It’s literally three feet of water coming into our backyards, pushing into our property and there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” she said.
Council will continue the discussion on stormwater infrastructure at its next legislative meeting on October 6.
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Thunderstorms will continue throughout Saturday in Alexandria, as the remnants of Hurricane Laura — now a tropical storm — moves its way out of the area. The city remains under a hazardous weather outlook all day, according to the National Weather Service.
Tonight, expect scattered showers and thunderstorms before 10 p.m.
“Some of the storms could produce gusty winds,” according to NWS. “Partly cloudy, with a low around 66. Northwest wind 8 to 11 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%.”
There was a flash flood warning issued yesterday, and it led to some light flooding.
While having dinner outside around 6pm @Northside 10 tonight this happened. Thunder and lightning and lots of rain.
Posted by Nora Partlow on Friday, August 28, 2020
According to NWS:
This Hazardous Weather Outlook is for the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay, Tidal Potomac River, and adjacent counties in central Maryland and northern Virginia as well as the District of Columbia. DAY ONE...Today and Tonight Isolated severe thunderstorms are possible today as the remnants of Laura move across the region. The main threat is damaging winds, although a brief tornado can`t be ruled out. An isolated instance of flooding is also possible. DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN...Sunday through Friday Heavy rain is possible Monday afternoon and Monday night, which may result in scattered instances of flooding. SPOTTER INFORMATION STATEMENT... Spotters are requested to report significant weather via standard operating procedures.
(Updated at 7:10 p.m.) The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Warning for Alexandria until 10:45 p.m.
NWS advises people to shelter in place.
607p: storms lined up just north of i66… very heavy rain and pockets of very strong wind. severe tstorm warnings in yellow polygons. pic.twitter.com/NOIzeZVIGs
— lowercase weather gang (@lowercasewx) August 28, 2020
According to the National Weather Service:
At 650 PM EDT, Doppler radar indicated thunderstorms producing heavy rain across the area. Up to one inch of rain has already fallen. Additional rainfall amounts of one to two inches are possible in the warned area. Flash flooding is ongoing or expected to begin shortly.
HAZARD…Life threatening flash flooding. Heavy rain producing flash flooding.
IMPACT…Life threatening flash flooding of creeks and streams, urban areas, highways, streets and underpasses.
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As Alexandria hunkers down for potentially heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Isaias, some local services have been suspended.
The northern entrance to the King Street Metro station will be closed.
“The north entrance at King Street Station will also be closed Tuesday due to the potential for flooding,” Metro said in a press release. “Customers should use the station’s south entrance instead.”
The city has also suspended its curbside trash and recycling collection today.
“Residents who normally receive collection on Tuesday should not place bins or bags curbside on Monday night or Tuesday morning, and should secure any bins or bags already placed outside,” the City of Alexandria said.
According to the city:
Trash and recycling collection will “slide” by one day this week:
- Items normally collected on Tuesday will be collected on Wednesday.
- Items normally collected on Wednesday will be collected on Thursday.
- Items normally collected on Thursday will be collected on Friday.
Residents needing to dispose of storm debris from their property or home can place it curbside for pickup during their next trash and recycling collection day.
Because crews will collect trash this Friday, yard waste collection is suspended for this week and will not be collected on Friday, August 7. Any yard waste materials placed curbside this week will be collected as trash. Yard waste collection is expected to resume on Friday, August 14.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), showers and a possible thunderstorm could appear before 3 p.m., then a chance of showers again between 3-5 p.m., then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 5 p.m. Tonight, the NWS says there’s a chance of showers and thunderstorms before 10 p.m., then a slight chance of showers between 10 p.m.-1 a.m.
While the main body of the storm has mostly passed Alexandria and the rain is starting to taper down, flooding can still occur after a period of intense rainfall.
Remember that river and creek flooding is usually delayed for a period after rain ends.
— Russ Adams 🌧️🌬️☀️☃️❄️🌨️ (@patpend) August 4, 2020
🔈Remember Friends, where the rain may start to taper off, flash flooding can still happen for hours after that.
Pls stay vigilant. Floodpants do not equal preparedness. pic.twitter.com/H5e0pfiMhn
— VDOT Northern VA 😷 (@VaDOTNOVA) August 4, 2020
In a map of service requests from the flooding two weeks ago, North Del Ray and Old Town were both areas of high concentrations for flooding.
Our staff continues to assess the impact of last week’s storm which dropped 2-3” of rain in 30 minutes and caused flooding and sewer backflow in many places in our City.
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) July 30, 2020
Staff photo by James Cullum