Council Notebook

Council Notebook

On the Record

It's official. The Alexandria City Council is against expanding operations at a hazardous materials facility on the West End of the city near the Van Dorn Metro station and just a few hundred feet from Tucker Elementary School. Elected officials unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night to formally oppose a permit to more than double the daily limit of liquid ethanol that is transferred from railcars to tanker trucks at a facility owned by Norfolk Southern.

"It's near rail track, Metro track, residences, a school. I mean I just can't believe that they see this as an ideal site to have that kind of sustained operation," said Councilman Paul Smedberg. "And I don't understand, given all that we went through a couple of years ago, that they would be so politically tone deaf to not approach the city."

Back in 2008, Norfolk Southern began offloading the class 3 hazardous substance from railcars to tanker trucks, a process known as "transloading." City officials tried to issue a "haul route permit" limiting how many trucks could use city streets, but that effort was struck down in court because railroads enjoy immunity from local regulation. Now council members are hoping that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will deny Norfolk Southern's permit application on the basis of air quality — a dubious argument, but one that city officials are willing to fight.

"This is a relatively minor set of emissions, and so it is an uphill battle for us," said City Manager Rashad Young. "They do not take into account issues of noise or proximity to schools or residential areas."

City officials are hoping the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will schedule a public hearing in Alexandria so residents who live near the facility can air their concerns.

Delinquent Reports

What has the Sister Cities Commission been up to lately? Are the members of the Commission for the Arts working hard? What about the Commission for Women? These three groups are among the 34 city boards and commissions that have not submitted annual reports to the City Council.

"We need to know what they are doing," said Councilman Tim Lovain. "This is about accountability."

Since 2008, the City Council has required that annual reports be submitted with annual attendance reports of the council-appointed boards and commissions. The reports are supposed to summarize activities of the group over the course of the previous year, describe recruitment activities and outline plants for leadership turnover.

"We take this seriously," said Councilman Paul Smedberg. "And we are looking forward to hearing what they have to say."

One group, the Building Code Board of Appeals, did not meet. So there was nothing to report. Some of the groups submit reports that could be considered annual reports, such as the extensive budget overview submitted by the Budget and Fiscal Advisory Commission. Most of the groups, however, are just failing to meet their requirement. City officials say they will remind all the delinquent groups that council members remain ready, willing and eager to receive their annual reports.

"It's very difficult," acknowledged Rose Boyd, executive secretary for boards and commissions. "Hopefully I will prevail."

$1 Per Pack

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. But that doesn't mean City Hall doesn't want its fair share.

This week, City Council members took action to formally increase the tax on cigarettes — part of the budget approved earlier this month for fiscal year 2014. Instead of hitting up smokers for 80 cents a pack, each box of Marlboros will add $1 tax that goes directly to the Alexandria city government. Budget officials estimate that will raise an additional $600,000 a year — unless smokers decide to quit rather than paying the tax. The new tax will become effective July 1.