Our View: Misplaced outrage?

Our View: Misplaced outrage?
Courtesy photo

“The issue is that we should have some more resilient infrastructure so that if a transformer or a switch blows up, which happens from time to time, that it doesn’t take out thousands of people every single time. … We want to see an expanded infrastructure investment. [Dominion] showed a multi-year history of investment with similar numbers every year. It doesn’t seem like they feel like there’s any need for large investments, and we believe there are.”

Replace the words “transformer or a switch blows up” with “100-year rainfall occurs,” “take out” with “cause damage to” and “Dominion” with “The City of Alexandria,” and this quote from Mayor Justin Wilson reads like a post on the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook group from a resident fed up with the city’s slow response to the destructive flooding that’s been ravaging increasingly large swaths of Alexandria these past few years.

Spoken about the power outage on Saturday in Del Ray in the midst of Art on the Avenue, his words contain a fair bit of irony. But does Wilson see the irony in his outrage at the power outage that disrupted Art on the Avenue in his own neighborhood, on which it’s possible to conveniently blame Dominion Energy, and the city’s lack of meaningful upkeep and remediation on a flooding condition that has become a crisis?

We want to make it completely clear that the power outage that disrupted Art on the Avenue was an extremely unfortunate event that caused real financial harm to restaurants and shops that have already suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, we plan to run a special section in the Alexandria Times in the coming weeks and will be offering a free small ad to every restaurant that had to close on Saturday because of the power outage. When any part of our city suffers, we all suffer.

But Wilson’s ongoing, very loud complaining about Dominion’s lack of spending on its infrastructure in Alexandria is also rich given that he had the opportunity to lead City Council to spend all, not just a small fraction, of the city’s $29 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding on flood remediation.

This City Council has followed Wilson’s lead on every significant issue during the past three years and there is no reason to believe he couldn’t have persuaded them to spend meaningful dollars on flood remediation had he been as outraged about that problem as he is at Dominion.

Wilson has served on City Council for 11 of the past 14 years, first as a councilor, then vice mayor and now mayor. He has unabashedly pushed for approval of development projects that have taxed Alexandria’s antiquated sewer system to the breaking point, and he needs to own the cause and effect between population growth and flooding.

The numbers are quite clear about this. In 2010, Alexandria’s population was 139,966 according to the city’s own 2010 Census Data Profile. Our population is now 159,428 according to Alexandria Health Department data from last month – a population growth of 19,462, or 14%, in just 11 years.

All of those people have overwhelmed both our sanitary and storm sewers in Alexandria, which are supposed to be separate in most of the city but are combined in Old Town. The loss of mature trees, wetlands and pervious surfaces from development means what’s left of our natural habitat is unable to absorb as much rainfall at a point in time where torrential rains due to Global Warming are becoming more commonplace and are vanquishing our storm sewers.

Additionally, the U.S. Geological Survey says that the average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water in their homes each day. Taking the midpoint of 90 gallons, that’s 32,850 gallons of water per year per person, and most of it is passed straight into our sewer system.

Hold onto your socks for the next number: that means roughly 639,326,700 more gallons of water are being used in Alexandria this year than just 11 years ago, and most of it is going right into a sanitary sewer system – in places combined with stormwater – that has received little TLC during that time. Most residents by now have seen the sickening images of waste overflowing into bathrooms during major rainfall events, along with people being rescued from their cars during frequent “100-year” flooding events. This has to stop.

Wilson is a man of great intelligence and an unusual mastery of policy details who has wielded outsized influence during his time on Alexandria’s council dais. If he wins re-election next month to another three years as mayor, we hope that he brings as much fervor to solving Alexandria’s flooding woes – which certainly should include a densification pause – as he has to the problems caused by the Dominion power outages.