Alexandria officials are worried about whether the city will get $20 million from the Virginia General Assembly to help design and engineer a major sewer repair project that state legislators say must be done by 2025.
The funds, which were included in former governor Terry McAuliffe’s (D) budget proposal, were removed from both the House and Senate budget proposals this week. It’s uncertain whether the money will be restored this year, either by legislators or the governor’s office.
“We have a mandate and we are still moving forward to address that mandate,” said Yon Lambert, the city’s director of transportation and environmental services. “We’re going to continue to work closely with the state on this.”
The $380 million project would replace the 200-year-old combined sewer systems in portions of Old Town, which send effluent and rainwater into the Potomac River after nearly every rainfall. The federal Clean Water Act requires that some of the work start immediately; last year, after legislators learned the sewer that dumps the most overflow into the river would not be fixed until the 2030s, they insisted Alexandria address that problem more promptly.
Several said relatively wealthy Alexandria, which calls itself an “eco-city,” ought to tax itself to pay for the project.
Alexandria taxpayers already pay a storm water utility fee, averaging $140 per year for homeowners, and that cost may rise in future years, city officials have said.
The city was counting on the state money to help pay for the upfront costs of design and engineering, which must be done before the streets are dug up. Legislative director Sarah Taylor, who was optimistic earlier this month that critics in Richmond were warming toward the city’s progress, said the city would like the money sooner rather than later, since the work is being done on a faster-than-expected schedule.
She added that she regards the budget setback as disappointing, but “not a no, but a ‘not now.’ ”
The city of Richmond, which has a similar project underway, did not get state money in its first year, either, Taylor noted.
It’s possible that conference committees, meeting to eliminate the difference in the House and Senate versions of the budget, may reconsider before the end of the legislative session March 10, Taylor said.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) could offer changes that the General Assembly would take up in its annual one-day reconvened session April 18. A spokeswoman said the office is reviewing the budget and will announce any amendments after the budget passes.
“This is a long game, and we’re trying to play chess, not checkers,” Taylor said. “It’s a matter of trying to convince a whole lot of people that we have everything in place.”