Your View: Smedberg’s leadership in GenOn closure was critical

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Your View: Smedberg’s leadership in GenOn closure was critical
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By Pat Collins, Robert G. Hull, Judith A. Cooper, Elizabeth Chimento, Jody Manor, John Rebstock, Lisa Chimento, Alice Manor, Jesus Medrano, Jackie Chimento, Tyler Perez (File photo)

To the editor:
All across our city, Alexandrians are discussing and imagining what might replace the GenOn coal-fired power plant and its 25 acres of premium property along the Potomac River. Could it include parks, an art center, beautiful townhouses, 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 toward 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, City Councilor Paul Smedberg, on the basis of preliminary testing and residents’ concerns, determined that the power plant was a health hazard. Fly ash covered neighborhood homes and toxic smoke funneled regularly out of the plant’s chimneys. Working with neighbors and supported by City Councilor Del Pepper, Smedberg led the fight to shutter the facility. It was a tough and lengthy battle.

Smedberg led the city through a court case, heavy EPA and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality resistance and pushback from the U.S. secretary of energy. But he persisted throughout with strong, unwavering leadership, resolving to protect Alexandrians’ health. Downwash was discovered and tests indicated that the plant was greatly exceeding all primary National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Smedberg was right in his original assessment — Alexandrians’ health was at stake. The GenOn 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. Smedberg had succeeded in his 12-year quest to protect our health.

But that was not all he did. After the shutdown, Smedberg insisted that officials must test the GenOn property for soil contamination. VDEQ oversaw the operation and found old underground oil tanks had leaked and spread into the ground water. Decontamination, projected to take around three years, is now underway. Not only did Smedberg lead and succeed in shuttering the plant, he also ensured that the property would be clean for future uses.

Now, as we look toward imagining and planning for the future of this property, let’s not forget that it was Smedberg’s hard work and dauntless determination that made its transformation a reality we are about to embrace. For this reason, we strongly support City Councilor Paul Smedberg’s bid for reelection. Our city needs the type of leadership he has shown.

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