Our View: September storms in Alexandria

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The intersection of Union and King streets floods Tuesday at high tide at around 10 a.m. (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)
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Hurricane Florence’s menacing approach toward the coast in South and North Carolina is a reminder that we are never as in control as we would like to be – or think we are.

Try as we might to effectively organize our time, to schedule family routines, to fit in a balance of work, service and fun, we are, ultimately, at the mercy of forces we can’t control. Our best-laid plans can be torn asunder by a devastating illness, job loss or derailed relationship – or a catastrophic natural disaster. In the end, all we can do is prepare for the worst, hope for the best and live our lives.

Periodic floods are a fact of life for a locale with the nickname “Port City.” Flood mitigation efforts have been tried periodically through the years, and another attempt is planned. While a better floodwall and updated sewer lines would certainly help, the threat of flooding will always be with us in Alexandria.

The city seems to be doing all it can to prepare for Florence: sandbags have been handed out to businesses near the waterfront, Mayor Allison Silberberg and other city officials have sent out missives on preparedness and planning for a potential waterfront evacuation is underway.

Planning of a different kind is also underway at city hall, as Alexandria’s city council fall term kicked off Tuesday night with its first legislative meeting. While unforeseen issues could crop up to overshadow everything else, three topics seem destined to dominate our local politics in the coming months: the Potomac Yard Metro Station, litigation over lights at T.C. Williams High School’s Parker-Gray Stadium and the long-overdue public hearing on ethics reform.

There seems to be considerable uncertainty surrounding the planned Metro station, despite the city’s announcement this week that the project will be built by Halmar International and Schiavone Construction Co. Final environmental sign-off by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is apparently lacking, and a group of 50 residents have signed a letter to USACE urging denial of a permit to fill in up to five acres of wetlands along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

An updated station design is to be unveiled and discussed at a public hearing later this fall. Given that council has approved the project, the south entrance was eliminated without public input and the contract has already been awarded, we are undoubtedly not alone in viewing a public hearing at this point as not much more than window dressing. Repeated Freedom of Information Act requests for documents by a group of nearby residents continue to shed light on who-knew-what-when during this flawed process.

The second contentious and ongoing issue before the city is that of whether to break a verbal pledge widely believed to have been made to neighbors back in the early 1960s by city officials to never place lights at the T.C. Williams High School football stadium. The no-lights provision was later included in development special use permits when the school was rebuilt in the 2000s and again when tennis courts in front of the school were lighted. While this issue is slated for consideration at the October public hearing, the lawsuit filed by a group of neighbors to block lights is likely to at least delay the effort.

Finally, a public hearing on ethics reform must, by mandate, be held by the end of this year. While we remain appalled that this conversation with the public did not take place in early 2016 when council considered and passed a weak ethics reform plan, this hearing will belatedly provide a public forum to discuss the topic.

These are our projected highlights of what promises to be a busy council session. But stay tuned, because you never know what additional storms may be brewing over the horizon.

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