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6 ‘Critical’ Stormwater Projects To Cost $17M

AN OVERVIEW of the Trammel Branch area that is being considered for stormwater improvements. (Screenshot: News-Press)

Global climate change is already hitting City of Falls Church residents in the pocketbook, but that cost impact could double if the City goes ahead and undertakes six new projects deemed “critical” at a price tag of $17 million in stormwater mitigation measures.

The Falls Church City Council learned Monday that it will cost that much to undertake the projects as recommended by the City’s Stormwater Task Force, as well as another four smaller projects around the City. The six big projects will mitigate stormwater impacts on 48 homes in the City.

According to Zak Bradley, acting director of the City’s Department of Public Works, no action by the Council is needed right now, but will require votes associated with the adoption of a new Capital Improvements budget for Fiscal Year 2022 in the spring.

Mayor David Tarter said at the virtual Council work session Monday that “it is a fundamental obligation of government to prevent flooding,” but others on the Council expressed concerns about such a large burden being foisted on all City taxpayers to the benefit of so few homes. The annual cost for the average taxpayer will grow from $239 now to $460 by 2026.

The estimated cost will be $12 million if bonded for 20 years, and $17 million if bonded for 30 years.

It is recommended to be paid for by incremental 10 percent increases in stormwater taxes until the tax amount will have doubled in Fiscal Year 2027 for everyone.

“That’s a lot of money to spend for 50 houses,” said Council member Ross Litkenhous. “These are pretty critical economic times and we are challenged to live within our means.”

Not only that, it was pointed out, but the mitigation efforts will be effective for only up to what is called “10 year floods,” meaning the volume of stormwater that would be generated from an on-average once every10 year flood.

However, given the impact of climate change, the metrics defining what are 10-year versus 20-year or 100-year floods are due for change.

It was noted that the City has received notifications of 29 weather events (watches and warnings) so far this year. It was a major storm on July 8, 2019 that did considerable water damage to homes in the City that spurred action in the City to create the Stormwater Task Force, appointed last December.

Appointed to the task force were Rolf Anderson, David Deitch, Dave Gustafson, Ellen Heather, Jeff Jardine, Hans Miller, Lauren Pincus and Matthew Ries, with Mike Domenica as the City staff liaison.

F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields said Monday that he’s looking only for a “consensus to proceed” from the City Council now, and that talk about rates will come in March and “the big spending will begin two or three years out.”

The six projects are the so-called Harrison Branch on E. Columbia for $1.7 million, the Trammel Branch for $1.8 million, the Hillwood #2 near Shady Lane for $711,000, the Hillwood #1 (Ives Branch) between Brook Dr. and Cleave Dr. for $1.3 million, Sherrow Avenue/Tripps Run off S. Virginia for $1+ million and the Lincoln Avenue/Ellison Branch at Walnut for $743,000.
The smaller projects already underway are on Midvale, Ellison at the Railroad Cottages, Poplar at S. Spring and Wrens Branch at Underwood and Columbia.

The Lincoln project would be completed in Fiscal Year 2022, the two Hillwood projects in FY23 and the rest in FY24. The four smaller projects are all due to be completed this fiscal year.

New higher rates would go into effect in December 2022 based on increasing the cost per 200 square feet of impervious area per site from $18.36 to $35.31, resulting in an eventual doubling of the average residential fee from $239 a year in 2020 to $460 by 2026.

To secure funding for the six priority projects, the Public Works Department authorized an update of the 2014 Stormwater Utility rate study. The municipal finance group of GKY worked closely with the City’s Department of Public Works and the Finance Department, using the GKY engineering designs and cost estimates, along with information from the City on historic stormwater budgets, staffing levels and utility fee revenues to complete the study in late 2020.