An environmental organization is asking the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to let the public speak before it decides whether to grant a permit for Alexandria’s repairs to its storm-water and sewage system, which dumps 11 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Potomac River every year.
The Potomac Riverkeeper Network said in a letter to the DEQ regional director Friday that rather than granting the permit the city asked for in August, the state should make the city post the entire long-term control plan, not just a summary, on its website and the state should open the request to public comment, hold a hearing and respond before deciding whether to allow the city plan to move forward.
“As DEQ is well aware, this is a 15-20 year plan of critical importance to improving water quality in [Hunting] Creek and main stem of the Potomac River,” wrote Phillip Musegaas, vice president of programs and litigation for the Riverkeeper group. He added in an interview that the group is not trying to delay the decision, noting that Alexandria has been working on the plan for three years and that a public comment period would take only two or three months more.
When it rains, the system becomes overwhelmed and storm water and sewage are pushed into local waterways. The state, enforcing the federal Clean Water Act, ordered the city to reduce the amount of pollution going into Hunting Creek, which feeds into the Potomac. But half of the overflow runs into Oronoco Bay on the Potomac, and that is not subject to the 2010 cleanup order. The city plan would not address that overflow until the 2030s.
The city has held multiple public meetings with residents to describe how it plans to contain and hold the overflow into Hunting Creek before sending it to the local treatment plant. But Musegaas pointed out that it is not the city that makes the final decision on the permit.