Your View: Sewer upgrade costs are result of development

Your View: Sewer upgrade costs are result of development

By Dino Drudi, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
When he was on city council, Frank Fannon noted that the city budget had risen over a number of years by 44 percent more than population plus inflation. I doubt I am alone in suspecting that much of this increase, which continues apace, derives from the hidden costs of development. Unfortunately, precisely because these costs are hidden, even policymakers may miss them.

At its May 14 meeting, city council approved construction of a subterranean tunnel and tank to hold combined sewer runoff so that it can be treated instead of overflowing into Hunting Creek during storms.

The city was pushed into this huge expenditure, upwards of $100 million, by staff attempting to accelerate combined sewer runoff mitigation flowing into the Potomac River as well, even though there is no regulatory requirement to do so.

Staff, which through this entire process strove to protect taxpayers from exorbitant costs, tried to explain why such a move could bur- den residents with extra costs. But city council insisted.

An environmental advocate addressing city councilors pointed out that City Hall cannot invest in the planned waterfront developments only to allow untreated sewage to continue flowing into the waterways as it has for more than a century.

Delivered with the implied threat of environmentalist-generated adverse publicity, and surely backed by many emails to City Hall, city council caved. Staff estimated the cost to taxpayers as upwards of $30 million.

Prematurely addressing combined sewer run-off into the Potomac during storms, before there is a regulatory requirement and potentially before alternative, less costly green infrastructure fixes and developer proffers tied to development special use permits, likely will translate into higher costs for city taxpayers.

But, anxious to eliminate overflows that might affect the Potomac River adjacent to developments outlined in the waterfront plan, city council initiated steps that lead to putting taxpayers on the hook for big bucks.

This is a prime example of a huge hidden cost attendant on development — in this case the waterfront plan — because, had the water- front simply been maintained as many urged, the potential of bad publicity would have been minimal since there would be no change to the century-long status quo.

Instead, the infrastructure needs of a redeveloped waterfront carry this enormous unforeseen cost, which city council did not acknowledge, factor in, or even recognize when enacting the waterfront plan.