ALEXANDRIA, VA (WUSA9) - More criticism aimed at Alexandria's plan to stop raw sewage from flowing into the Potomac River.
WUSA9 was first to report the problem that an expensive project in the works won't fix the city's biggest sewage discharge into the river.
The city has a no-swimming sign up at Oronoco Bay where a pipe dumps a raw sewage and storm mixture during and after rainstorms.
"Its sickening, actually. You look at all the trash out here too. Sad," said Derinda Weber, a city resident who didn't realize the city dumps raw sewage into the Potomac.
Oronoco Bay is at the north end of Old Town. You can barely see the water beneath the thick layer of algae, hydrilla and trash. The no swimming sign warns about the combined storm water and sewage outflow, which happens during and after falling rain.
"Algae is stimulated by nutrients, sewage, storm water, fertilizer. And it's choked this entire pay out," said Dean Naujoks who, as a member of the organization Potomac RiverKeepers, is fighting the city's plan pushing for a full-fix. The group is concerned about the lack of public input.
"If it rains, we won't touch the water for a couple of days. You can watch the color change and you can smell what's in the air," said Chip Johnston, the dock master at Belle Haven Marina which is a downstream from Old Town.
City leaders say the sewage problem at Oronoco Bay will be addressed when a new development is built there. Johnston thinks that's backwards.
"You would think that you wouldn't want to put a lot of stuff on top of what you have to fix," said Johnston.
The city does have a plan to build a huge storage tunnel to contain the sewage runoff from three other outflows, but it has no plan for the biggest one at Oronoco Bay where 70 million gallons of the mixture flows in to the Potomac every year.
"That's ridiculous. Why, it's like putting a band-aid on a problem...Fixing three and not all four? Doesn't make any sense. I would rather have my bills go up, pay a little more, and feel secure that raw sewage is not coming into the Potomac," said city resident Ruth Prodan.
The current project is expected to cost at least $188 million which will be funded through bonds. Local sewer bills will go up $10 to $15 per month on top of a $48 monthly average.
Alexandria is hoping for a grant from Virginia to fund the project. Lynchburg and Richmond, the only other cities in Virginia which also have combined sewer systems, recently received grants for similar projects.
City officials were not available for interviews today. A spokesman said the public has many opportunities to tell the city council how to prioritize the capital budget. He said If that results in changing the formal plan, there will likely be public hearings on the permitting process.
The city released the following statement:
The City's sewer system is regulated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and Alexandria remains in compliance with all current permit requirements. The City is actively working to reduce the sewage overflows that originate from our aging combined sewer system. We have submitted an update to our long-term control plan that would significantly reduce the volume of overflows through a proposed combination of storage and treatment, green infrastructure, and targeted sewer separation. City Council has directed staff to investigate opportunities to accelerate implementation, and we will return with recommendations to City Council over the next few months. Residents can learn more at www.alexandriava.gov/Sewers.