Virginia has ended the dispute between Alexandria and federal officials over whether city officials can require that the U.S. Postal Service install fire safety sprinklers in a new post office.
The word from Richmond: no sprinklers needed.
State officials interpreted the state's building code in favor of the Postal Service, which had said it would not install sprinklers.
For seven months, Alexandria's top building official has tried to get the Postal Service to agree to a put a sprinkler system in the new post office under construction at 610 N. Henry St.
The efforts of city building official Uwe K. Hinz were rebuffed by letters from Postal Service officials, who referred to the fact that federal buildings are exempt from city regulations.
"We in the federal government have a higher responsibility and therefore are not permitted to defer our judgment and responsibility to local or state officials," said one postal official's letter.
In fact, the Postal Service and the city agreed to abide by a recent ruling made by the state's Technical Review Board, a group that interprets disputes over Virginia's uniform building code.
The city received notification of the ruling this week.
The seven-member panel agreed with the Postal Service that the mail handling room does not fall into the category of either a storage area or workshop, both of which require emergency fire sprinklers.
In an attempt to stall the construction of the building, city officials withheld sewer service and street opening permits for the new post office this summer.
The city later granted the permits after postal officials arranged an arbitration method with the city.
City officials expressed disappointment in the state ruling. However, "We're obligated by law to listen to the interpretation of the state technical review board. We don't have a choice," said William Pennell, Alexandria's code enforcement administrator.
"We're pleased that our position was upheld, but more than that we were able to solve the situation amicably," said Postal Service spokesman Frank P. Brennan Jr.
The sprinkler squabble attracted the attention of Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Texas), the chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee.
In a letter to Postmaster General Paul Carlin, Leland urged the Postal Service to install the sprinklers at Alexandria.
Leland had previously expressed criticism of the Postal Service's safety precautions after last October's spectacular fire, described as one of the largest ever fought in the District, caused an estimated $18.6 million in damage to the Postal Service headquarters at L'Enfant Plaza.
Although the city lost this one, Alexandria's Pennell seemed encouraged at least by the Postal Service's willingness to send the dispute to a third party.
"I've never heard of the feds subjecting themselves to state law," Pennell said.