Alexandrians can now get at least an interim fix for sewers that back up into their basements during flooding.
On February 22, the rain came on top of more than a foot of snow. Residents of Del Ray and Arlandria found their basements flooded with water and, in some cases, sewage. Why? Mostly because of the aging sewer system that, in some parts of the city, is still a combined sanitary and storm sewer. At Tuesday night’s City Council meting, staff proposed, and Council approved, a fix for the problem.
“There are about 2,300 homes in the affected area and we are proposing that the city reimburse each of these residents for up to 50 percent of the purchase and installation of backflow preventers,” said Richard Baier, the director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services.
A backflow preventer (BFP) is a valve that closes when the sewer becomes overloaded and does not allow water or sewage to flow into the basement of a home. There are several types of BFPs, ranging in cost from several hundred dollars to around $1,000.
And where does the overflow sewage and ground water go if not into homes? “Manhole covers will float off and the overflow will go into the street,” Baier said.
“Like in Georgetown,” asked Councilwoman Redella S. “Del” Pepper, remembering the exploding manhole covers seen on television.
“No,” Baier said. “They will simply float off as several of them did during the flooding in February. In most cases, the overflow was ground water but in cases where solid waste came into the street, we had street sweepers out removing it as quickly as possible.”
Councilwoman Claire Eberwein was concerned about the health risk. “This could be a serious public health issue,” she said.
Baier explained the problem. “Some of these pipes are 60 to 80 years old,” he said. “We have $12 million in the capital budget between now and 2006 to replace them but that is as quickly as it can be done. We have compressed what was a nine year project into just three years. If we can get it done more quickly, we will, but that is a pretty tight time frame. We believe that it can be done but I am just not sure that we can do it more rapidly.”
Mayor Kerry J. Donley asked how much of the problem this will relieve. “After we invest this $12 million, how much more capacity will the system have,” he asked.
Baier was not absolutely certain, but said, “We believe that we will get over 50 percent more capacity,” he said.
IN THE MEANTIME, T & E S has produced literature on BFPs and is conducting a public education campaign, going out to civic associations and talking to individuals as they contact staff. Citizens who are interested in participating in this program must complete an application, must purchase the BFP and have it installed by a licensed plumber. As part of the application process, the resident must agree that the city can conduct spot checks to ensure that the installation was done properly.
Also, the resident must release the city from any liability if the BFP does not work, as some of them did not during the last floods. To be eligible, residents must have a basement, finished or unfinished and must live in the Commonwealth or Four Mile sewer shed areas.
To obtain an application or for more information, contact T & E S at 703-838-4966 or check the web site: www.ci.alexandria.va.us/t&es.
Council also agreed to hold a public hearing on an ordinance that would expand the tax deferral program for elderly residents or for persons with disabilities.
Councilwoman Joyce Woodson asked for the budget analysis some time ago. “I am pleased that staff has gotten back to us with information that we can put our hands around,” she said. “But I would like to see some analysis on expanding the program to include some small businesses and for those people who commit to retaining certain open space.”
Staff had recommended that the tax deferral program for elderly residents and those with disabilities be expanded to allow for more relief for these residents, many of whom are living on a fixed income. They, however, recommended against expanding the program to small businesses and for open space preservation.
“We say that we want to relieve the tax burden on residential property owners and expand our business and commercial tax base and then we consider this program, which would decrease the very revenues that we say we need to increase,” said Eberwein. “There is something completely inconsistent about that.”
THE TAX DEFERRAL PROGRAM that staff recommended will cost an additional $200,000 in FY2004. “If you decide to implement the other two parts of this program, you must find budget offsets,” said City Manager Philip Sunderland. “This public hearing occurs after your last add-delete session so you need to think about that.”
Donley asked for a clarification. “What you are suggesting in amending the motion to include these other two components is that we ask citizens to comment on them at a public hearing,” he said to Woodson, who amended the motion to include the items.
After she confirmed this, Donley continued. “I want to make it clear to citizens that, while there is unanimous support to expand the tax deferral program for the elderly and handicapped, there is by no means unanimous support to enact the other two parts of this motion. Personally, someone is going to have to do a lot of convincing to get me to vote for them but I am going to support taking them to public hearing and getting citizen input,” he said.
The tax deferral proposal for small businesses includes businesses with $100,000 or less in gross receipts each year. “It’s not like this includes the mega companies that will really provide us with a lot of revenue,” Woodson said.
Council will hold a public hearing on the matter on April 22. Eberwein voted against the motion to amend, which passed six to one. The main motion to take the matter to public hearing, which is required because the change necessitates amending a city ordinance, passed unanimously.
Council will hold its April public hearing on April 12, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Issues will include a discussion of potential changes to the issuance of taxi cab certificates and Windmill Hill Park.