Planning for Mission Impossible in Alexandria

Planning for Mission Impossible in Alexandria

City’s sewer control plan nears approval.

Schedule of sewer remediation.

Schedule of sewer remediation.


Option B+.

Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper said that, a little over a year ago, when the state legislation ordered Alexandria to remediate its centuries old sewer system by 2025, it seemed like an impossible task.

“This really looked like mission impossible,” said Pepper. “[It looked like] there was no way on God’s green Earth.”

But one year later, the city is on the verge of approval for a plan that will bring Old Town’s four sewer outfalls in line with the state regulatory standards. The plans reduce the flow of bacteria from the outfalls by between 80 and 99 percent.

The recommended plan is Option B+; where one unified tunnel will connect all of the outfalls to a dual use facility operated by AlexRenew. Option B+ has the second lowest estimated capital cost and life cycle costs of all of the projects, but results in half the average overflow volume of the standard Option B, which doesn’t include the treatment facility.

The plan will come at substantial cost to Alexandria taxpayers. The total project cost is estimated $535 million with between $20 to $40 per month in increased sanitary sewer fees for the average Alexandria taxpayers. Mayor Allison Silberberg noted that it means an increase of at least $240 for the average taxpayer per year.

But the increased fees aren’t the only impact the sewer control plan will have on Alexandrians. The new sewer control plan will require extensive drilling under Old Town, and, where the drills enter the city’s underground, there will be drilling shafts that could reduce traffic to one lane or close it off entirely.

“There’s no sugarcoating it, this is going to be very impactful at the areas of the shafts,” said Deputy City Manager Emily Baker. “We’re trying to refine where those shaft locations will be. We’re focusing on what are the businesses and residents around there. What programs can we put in place [to mitigate the impact].”

The public comment at the meeting was mostly approval of the plan, even from citizens typically critical of city policies. Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, who had repeatedly raised the issue of polluted sewer outfalls at City Council meetings before the state’s mandatory requirement, said the plan was a good answer to the city’s chronic sewer problems.

“Two years ago I expressed concerns about Outfall 01 and other concerns about plan,” said Naujoks. “There have been some bumps and bruises, but with a lot of hard work ... we have a good plan. This is eco city. It’s in your charter, it’s something you’ve committed to. Today is the largest river cleanup on the Potomac that they have each year. I’d rather be out there, but I felt it’s important to be here and let you know it’s important to support this plan.”

“I’m grateful for the collaboration we see here,” said Silberberg. “As a community, this is the right thing to do.”

The plan is scheduled for final approval at the City Council’s April 24 meeting.