Taylor Run project approved: Council vote ends four-year stream controversy

Taylor Run project approved: Council vote ends four-year stream controversy
Erosion along the Taylor Run stream banks. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

By Denise Dunbar | ddunbar@alextimes.com

City Council unanimously approved a scaled-down restoration plan for Taylor Run, with an estimated cost of $2 million, during its legislative meeting Tuesday night.

The focus will be on repairing a sanitary sewer line that runs through the stream and surrounding wetlands, while minimizing disruption to the existing ecosystem.

The project has a multiyear, complicated and controversial history that dates back to 2019, when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality awarded the city two grants from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund for up to $2,255,000 for Taylor Run and $800,000 for Alexandria’s Strawberry Run, as part of efforts to clean pollutants from the Chesapeake Bay.

The controversy began in early 2020, when residents learned that the grant had been based on flawed methodology – utilizing models to estimate the levels of pollutants in the streams’ soil rather than actual on-site testing – and that Natural Channel Design was the chosen restoration method.

Furious pushback from local environmentalists and community activists ensued. On-site testing by local scientists revealed that pollutant levels at Taylor Run, particularly of phosphorus and nitrogen, were negligible. While the methodology used for awarding the grants was eventually changed, Alexandria’s grant was grandfathered, meaning the money was still available.

The projects were paused in 2021 and scientists and activists worked with Jesse Maines, Alexandria’s division chief for stormwater management, and other city staff to develop the scaled-down proposal that was approved Tuesday night.

The VDEQ grants for both Taylor Run and Strawberry Run expired in April, meaning that funds for the Taylor Run restoration will come from city coffers, with $1.5 million of the funds already budgeted for the project. The staff presentation on Tuesday night said the remaining $500,000 for Taylor run will come from use of sanitary funds.

Staff also presented a plan for a scaled-back restoration of Strawberry Run on Tuesday night. After extensive pushback from Mayor Justin Wilson, the Strawberry Run proposal was tabled, meaning a potential restoration of Strawberry Run can be considered at a later date.