To the Editor:
All across our city Alexandrians are discussing and imagining what might replace the GenOn plant and its 25 acres of premium property on the Potomac River. Could it include parks, an art center, beautiful town houses, boutique shops, a unique gateway to the city and the pinnacle of North Old Town? The soon to be convened Old Town North workgroup will help create vistas of exciting edifices as we move forward to actualizing a plan for the site.
With this fascinating and rare opportunity, we should step back and look at how the city became heir to such a large parcel of prime real estate. Twelve years ago, Councilman Paul Smedberg, on the basis of preliminary testing and residents’ concerns, determined that the GenOn (Mirant) coal fired power plant was a health hazard to Alexandrians. Fly ash covered neighborhood homes and toxic-ridden smoke funneled regularly out of the plant chimneys. Working with neighbors and supported by Councilwoman Dell Pepper, Councilman Smedberg led the fight to shutter the facility. It was a tough and lengthy battle.
Councilman Smedberg led the city through a court case, heavy EPA and Virginian Department of Environmental Quality resistance and eventually pushback from the Secretary of the Federal Department of Energy, himself. Paul persisted throughout with strong unwavering leadership, and resolved to protect Alexandrians’ health. Downwash was discovered and tests indicated that the plant was greatly exceeding all primary National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Paul was right in his original assessment — Alexandrians’ health was at stake. The GenOn power plant was the largest single stationary source of air pollution in the metropolitan area. Not long after the downwash test results were released and an interim negotiated settlement occurred, the plant closed down. Paul Smedberg had succeeded in his 12-year quest to protect our health.
Yet that was not all that Councilman Smedberg did. After the shutdown, he insisted that testing the GenOn property for soil contamination must be accomplished. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality oversaw the operation and found old underground oil tanks had leaked and spread into the ground water. Decontamination, projected to take approximately three years, is now underway. Not only did Paul lead and
succeed in shuttering the plant, he also insured that the property will be clean for new usage.
Now, as we look toward imagining and planning for the future of this land, let’s not forget that it was Paul Smedberg’s hard work and dauntless determination that made this property’s transformation a reality we are about to embrace. For this reason we strongly support Councilman Smedberg’s bid for reelection. Our city needs the type of leadership he has shown.
Pat Collins, Robert G. Hull, Judith A. Cooper, Elizabeth Chimento, Jody Manor, John Rebstock, Lisa Chimento, Alice Manor, Jesus Medrano, Jackie Chimento, and Tyler Perez