Tysons, VA

Fairfax County is designing restoration plans for an eroded stretch of Little Pimmit Run from Franklin Park Road to just upstream of Kirby Road in McLean.

The $9.23 million project will address 7,100 feet of degraded stream channel in addition to about 1,250 feet of tributaries, which will be restored so that they tie into the main channel of Little Pimmit Run.

“The water has a lot of energy and it’s causing a lot of erosion,” project manager Fred Wilkins said during a recent meeting.

According to Wilkins, the project aims to slow the speed of the water, which will protect infrastructure and area vegetation. It will also restore the ecology of the stream and the surrounding area, while preventing sediment and pollutants from flowing from Little Pimmit Run into the Chesapeake Bay.

Identified in 2019, other problems caused by the ongoing erosion include undercut banks and compromised trees, the county’s project page says.

Wilkins says another goal of the project is to protect infrastructure.

“There are multiple locations where we have sanitary pipes that cross the stream bed, and in some cases, the water can move debris that can damage the sanitary crossings, as shown during the 2019 storm, which caused emergency repairs to be needed,” he said.

Last but not least, the project manager said the county aims “to give the community something to enjoy.”

The project will unfold in two phases, starting with a stretch of stream from Franklin Park Road to Chesterbrook Road that runs parallel to Solitaire Lane. The second phase picks up north of Chesterbrook Road and goes away the way to Kirby Road.

Right now, county officials are deliberating the future alignment of the channel. Once one is chosen, concept designs should be ready to be submitted this September 2021. A community meeting is slated for November.

There will not be a construction timeline until the designs are completed.

The project straddles private property and county property, and will require coordination between the county and property owners, Wilkins said.

People in the area can expect to see flagging and survey markers over the next several months, according to the county’s project website.

“Survey markers do not necessarily mean that the marked tree will be removed,” the website said.

This restoration work joins another stream restoration project along the channel between Forest Lane and North Albemarle Street, along with a sewer realignment project, emergency wastewater stabilization, and a Fairfax County Department of Transportation sidewalk project, Wilkins said.

The project is being funded through the county Stormwater Service District.

Images via Fairfax County

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Town of Vienna residents might soon be able to drop their compost off in the town instead of having to drive up to 10 miles to the nearest Fairfax County facility.

However, the town is still searching for a location and a vendor to pick up the compost, according to Christine Horner, a water quality engineer for Vienna who is spearheading the project.

The idea of a stand-alone composting drop-off site has been long mulled-over.

The Vienna Town Council approved funding for such a program on May 13, 2019 as part of the 2020 fiscal year budget, Horner says. Since then, the town has been looking for a place to set up a compost site.

“The project is in motion,” she said. “We are actively searching for an appropriate location.”

Once a location is set, Vienna will be ready “to get the facility installed and contract with a vendor for pick-up services,” Horner said.

Finding a location is top-of-mind for Councilmember Nisha Patel, who is campaigning to get reelected for a second term this May.

“We don’t have an area that is free of residents to compost,” Patel told Tysons Reporter. “It’s something we need to look out and see where we can encourage more composting.”

While Vienna staff look for an appropriate location in town, Patel encourages residents to use Fairfax County’s composting drop-off at the I-66 Transfer Station (4618 West Ox Road) in Fairfax and the I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton. Those locations are open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

“These programs provide a similar service but are separate initiatives,” Horner said in an email. “The Fairfax Composting Drop Off location is currently available for Vienna residents.”

The county sites accept a wide range of goods for composting, including food — meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruits and grains — along with flowers, uncoated paper bags, towels and plates, compostable flatware, flowers, coffee grounds and tea bags. Scraps and paper goods can be collected in kitchen pails, secured in compostable bags, and tossed into the green bins.

Image via Fairfax County

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What would it take for you to reduce your carbon footprint?

That’s the question Fairfax County is posing as it enters the public engagement portion of its Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) initiative, which will establish goals and strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impact of climate change.

Launched in early 2020, the CECAP process is being led by the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) with support from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Fairfax-based consulting firm ICF.

The county previously sought public input on the plan in August and September, when a CECAP Task Force started developing draft mitigation goals.

In addition to holding two public meetings last week, one focused on energy and another on transportation, waste, and development, the county is looking to gather more public feedback through a trio of short surveys.

“We want to make sure that we expand our reach and get information from as many county residents and business owners as we can,” ICF Director of Human Capital Michelle Heelan said when facilitating the energy community meeting on Feb. 23.

One survey gauges respondents’ interest in undertaking projects to make their home more energy-efficient and sustainable, like installing solar panels and replacing light bulbs and HVAC systems. Another deals with transportation and development, asking questions about public transit, electric vehicles, and mixed-use development.

There is also a more open-ended survey for people to share general comments on the CECAP initiative.

“In Fairfax County, energy use and transportation are the two greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” the OEEC says. “The CECAP will address both issue areas, and with your input, we can ensure that the final plan reflects the needs of everyone in our community as we work to reduce our collective carbon footprint.”

The surveys are currently available in English, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese. They will be open until 11:59 p.m. on Mar. 14.

ICF will draft a final report with input from a CECAP Working Group and the community for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to adopt this summer, according to OEEC Senior Community Specialist Maya Dhavale.

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Trash collectors in Fairfax County will not pick up leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste stored in plastic bags when the collection season begins on Monday (Mar. 1).

After holding a public hearing, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 on Tuesday (Feb. 23) to officially prohibit the use of plastic bags for yard waste by amending its Solid Waste Management Ordinance, a move that supporters say is necessary to reduce pollution and make the county more environmentally friendly.

“To reverse climate catastrophe, each of us must make many small and large steps,” Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions Board Chair Eric Goplerud said when testifying at the public hearing. “Banning plastic bags to contain yard waste is a step that the Board of Supervisors can take to lead our community to care for our common home, the Earth.”

Fairfax County began transitioning away from using plastic bags for yard waste last year, encouraging residents to use compostable paper bags or reusable containers instead.

In an update to the board’s environmental committee on Oct. 27, county staff reported that about 51% of homes surveyed during the 2020 yard waste season were still utilizing plastic bags, but Fairfax County Director of Engineering and Environmental Compliance Eric Forbes says he is “hopeful and confident” that the bags can be eliminated after the past year of education and outreach.

Now that the ban has been approved, the county’s solid waste management program is encouraging private trash and recycling collection companies to notify their customers that waste in plastic bags will no longer be collected.

“We do not anticipate a hundred percent success rate in the beginning, but we will continue our outreach and collaboration with industry to help our community to reach compliance with the new requirements,” Forbes said.

Forbes acknowledged that compostable paper bags are slightly more expensive to buy than plastic bags. County staff found that paper bags designed to carry yard waste cost about 50 cents per bag, whereas plastic bags cost around 30 cents.

Yet, the overall cost of utilizing plastic may be greater, since the material is difficult to extract and can damage equipment during the composting process, pushing up costs for collectors and, by extension, customers, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says.

While paper bags are preferable to plastic, Forbes noted that residents can avoid the costs of yard waste removal altogether by managing it on-site with backyard composting or allowing grass clippings to decompose on their lawn, a practice known as grasscycling.

McKay says he got 75 emails on the proposed ban, with an even split between supporters and opponents, but he believes it is time for Fairfax County to join the rest of the D.C. region, where some jurisdictions have required paper bags or reusable containers for more than a decade.

“We ultimately just have to decide whether we think this is a good idea or not,” McKay said. “…I think clearly, based on the testimony that we’ve heard today, based on where everyone around the region is, and frankly, based on where the science is, this is something that we must do now to help with our environmental challenges.”

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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Combatting climate change will be an all-hands-on-deck effort, and at least one private company in Fairfax County has promised to do its part to help.

HITT Contracting, a construction contractor headquartered in Falls Church, announced a commitment on Feb. 11 to become carbon-neutral by 2023. The company pledged to reduce its reliance on carbon after starting to track its emissions in 2018 and learning that its operations generated 19,173 carbon-equivalent metric tons of greenhouse gases.

“Environmental stewardship is at the core of all we do. After tracking and understanding our greenhouse gas emissions, we could not ignore the effect our operations have on the environment,” HITT Director of Sustainability Isaiah Walston said. “By reducing our carbon footprint and moving toward carbon neutrality, we can positively impact our workforce, clients, and society as a whole.”

Walston acknowledged that carbon neutrality is not the same as eliminating all carbon emissions, but says the company sees this as a starting point and is “committed to taking further steps to reduce our emissions in the future.”

HITT’s emissions reduction strategy will involve purchasing primarily U.S.-based carbon offsets in locales where it operates. It has also pledged to focus on making its office and on-site operations efficient and sustainable even as it plans to expand.

The company also says in its press release that it will continue tracking its corporate emissions and present annual feasibility studies on its reduction practices.

“The commitment to becoming carbon neutral is our next major investment in fighting climate change,” HITT CEO Kim Roy said. “Making the world a better place through our work is a core value that aligns with our clients and partners. It’s simply the right thing to do as a good corporate citizen.”

Fairfax County commended HITT’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint, as the county pursues similar green aspirations.

“The Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination is pleased to see local business leaders, like HITT, taking steps to address climate change,” OEEC Deputy Director Susan Hafeli said. “The business community has a large role to play in addressing greenhouse gas emissions, and Fairfax County is fortunate to have numerous examples of companies making strides in sustainability planning and action.”

Reducing emissions is especially critical for building operations and construction, which collectively account for 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions globally, according to a United Nations report published in December.

Hafeli says Fairfax County will look to businesses, as well as community organizations and individuals, to help drive emissions down as it develops its first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), which will set goals and strategies for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the impacts of climate change.

The county is also developing a Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan to address and identify risks and areas of concern in the county that could eventually be impacted by climate change.

Fairfax County will hold two community meetings next week to discuss the CECAP. The first meeting on Feb. 23 will focus on energy issues, while the second on Feb. 25 will center on transportation, waste, and development.

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Since he was first elected to represent Virginia’s 35th District in the House of Delegates, Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) has emerged as a steadfast advocate for environmental justice and reform.

That dedication to environmental policy was rewarded on Thursday (Feb. 4) when Keam’s House Bill 2118 passed the House and has now advanced to the State Senate for consideration. The bill seeks to create a grant program to fund electric vehicles.

The Virginia Electric Vehicle Grant Fund would allow schools and other qualified entities in Virginia to get state support for projects to replace vehicles that utilize fossil fuels with electric vehicles. A portion of the bill is aimed specifically at increasing the number and use of electric school buses in the state.

Keam said that his bill was inspired by his work with Mothers Out Front, a grassroots organization in Fairfax that focuses on renewable and clean energy. That work led Keam to review and focus on the toxins and greenhouse gas emissions that children are exposed to by school buses.

He brought a similar bill to the 2020 General Assembly, but it ultimately failed to pass the House, which Keam attributes to questions about Virginia’s ability to acquire funding for the project. Those questions, however, are seemingly being addressed at the federal level.

Keam credits the increase in support for his bill this year to President Joe Biden’s prioritization of efforts to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector. The bill is designed to partner with the Biden administration’s plans, and it would be set up to solicit federal funding and the private sector.

“My goal is, we set up this fund, we set up some criteria around that — who should apply for what — and as soon as some funding comes in, then we’ll set up this whole program that hadn’t existed before,” Keam said. “I was very proud to get this bill passed.”

Keam’s environmental work and support extends beyond that one bill, though.

He is also the chief co-patron for HB 2074, which would establish an Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group and require state agencies to adopt environmental policies. The bill’s chief patron is Del. Shelly Simonds (D-Newport News).

Keam touts HB 2074 and HB 2221, a bill proposed by Del. Hayes, Jr. (D-Chesapeake), as significant legislation to promote environmental justice in Virginia going forward. HB 2221 requires applicants seeking environmental permits to conduct community outreach.

“With these bills passing this year, Virginia is now going to have not only a very robust environmental justice law and an advisory council, a working group, policy, statements and definitions, but now we’re also going to be requiring license holders and permit holders to come in to do reviews ahead of time,” Keam said. “And we’re also going to require local governments to start adopting some of this as well.”

Keam is also a chief co-patron for HB 1965 and HB 2042, which have passed the House and are being discussed in the Senate.

HB 1965 would direct the state Air Pollution Control Board to institute a program for low-emissions and zero-emissions motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later. HB 2042 would allow localities to exceed general requirements for tree replacement and other conservation ordinances. Read More

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has endorsed county efforts to expand food scrap drop-offs to more farmers markets and evaluate a possible curbside collection pilot program.

Such collection opportunities would mark a step toward the county’s ambitious goal of making schools and government operations zero waste by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2040.

The board asked the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services last summer to research and report options for bringing an internal compost pilot — an employee-led food scrap recycling program called the Fairfax Employees for Environmental Excellence — to the public.

Fairfax County Director of Engineering and Environment Compliance Eric Forbes told the board during its environmental committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday) that DPWES has “a number of pilot programs” and the county “has been discussing working toward organics diversion for quite a while.”

Food scraps, which can be composted and converted into nutrient-dense soil, make up 30% of what gets thrown away in the county. Diverting this potential resource represents “the next rung on the ladder for our community,” Forbes said.

The county unveiled composting drop-off sites at the I-95 Landfill Complex & I-66 Transfer Station in November. He said these sites have rescued about 4,500 pounds of food scraps so far. People can also bring food scraps to farmers’ markets or hire one of four vendors in the county that offer curbside organics collection services.

In the near future, the county is looking to expand collection opportunities at farmers’ markets run by the Fairfax County Park Authority, FRESHFARM, and Central Farm Markets. These three organizations have expressed interested in working with the county, according to Forbes.

The county is also mulling over a curbside collection program, which would let residents mingle food scraps and yard waste in their green bins. Through an inter-county agreement, the food scraps could be taken to a facility in Prince William County.

“I like the idea of regional players taking the responsibility,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “I appreciate Prince William stepping up to build their own food scrap recycling.”

Still, Braddock District Supervisor James R. Walkinshaw told Forbes the county should “aggressively” promote backyard composting. He said doing so is especially important if the county finds that a curbside collection program would increase emissions.

“I want to make sure we do that analysis before moving forward with expansion of curbside,” he said.

Likewise, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay said he appreciates the pilot programs and partnerships, but there needs to be more communication with the “average Joe homeowner.”

Forbes said his staff is looking to purchase electric vehicles for trash collection. As for educational opportunities, he said the county publishes lots of educational material and presents ways to eliminate food waste at homeowners’ association meetings.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik encouraged the county to look for year-round and seasonal farmers’ markets near apartment buildings.

“I want to make sure we are looking at equity through this issue,” she said. “Families will be happy to participate as long as we look at some of the barriers that exist.”

Photo via Seth Cottle on Unsplash

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The Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination proposed a process for establishing a five-cent plastic bag tax during the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Environmental Committee meeting on Tuesday (Dec. 8).

According to OEEC Deputy Director Susan Hafeli, legislation adopted by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year now gives the county the ability to adopt an ordinance imposing a five-cent tax on most disposable plastic bags provided by grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores.

As of right now, the state has not established specific guidelines for the creation of a plastic bag ordinance. Instead, the state intends to wait until a locality adopts an ordinance to consider guidelines, according to the presentation.

Revenue collected from the new tax would be appropriated for environmental clean-up, mitigation of pollution and litter, education, and the provision of reusable bags to recipients of a federal food support program, according to Hafeli.

The proposed plastic bag tax could generate annual aggregate local revenues of between $20.8 to $24.9 million statewide, though the tax may be more of an “impetus to behavior change rather than a revenue generator,” Hafeli said.

Across the region, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission Waste Management Board has begun exploring the issues laid out in the legislation, according to Hafeli. Additionally, Arlington County is planning to convene a public workgroup in early 2021 to discuss the adoption of a plastic bag tax and issues regarding equity in the county.

The OEEC anticipates that the process of determing whether Fairfax County should instate a plastic bag tax will occur in two phases. The first phase will focus on public engagement, which would include developing a website, holding one or more workshops for input, and releasing an electronic survey.

The second phase will focus on the development of the ordinance and would involve updating the webpage with the proposed ordinance and requests for comments, giving presentations to the board, and holding a public hearing, according to Hafeli.

Several supervisors expressed concerns about the confusion regarding state guidelines, equity issues within the community, and the ability to collect sufficient research on the topic, especially in the midst of the pandemic.

However, most supervisors agreed that the environmental issue with plastic bags is significant, and that data from other jurisdictions, including the work that Washington, D.C., has done around the Anacostia River, has shown a plastic bag tax to have positive environmental effects.

Moving forward, the Board is looking to clarify the state’s policies while working in conjunction with regional partners and plan for further conversation on how to create the ordinance.

The next Environmental Committee meeting will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 11 a.m.

Photo by Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

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Fairfax County officials are in the early phases of considering the implementation of a five-cent tax on plastic bags.

In March, the Virginia General Assembly passed a state bill that allows municipalities to collect taxes on disposable bags. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill on April 10.

Jurisdictions can levy taxes on disposable plastic bags given by grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores. Tax revenues are allocated for environmental cleanup, pollution and litter management, educational programs to reduce environmental waste, and the funding of reusable bags to recipients of federal food support programs.

The Virginia Department of Taxation estimates the tax could generate between $20.8 million to $24.9 million in annual aggregate local revenues across the state.

A board matter approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in late July also directs the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination to create a plan to implement the plastic bag fee next year.

In a Nov. 30 memo to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill said county departments are currently “exploring the issues associated with development and implementation of a plastic bag tax ordinance.” Other jurisdictions like Arlington County have cited concerns about adopting the tax amid a pandemic due to equity-related issues.

Hill noted that several ambiguities in the state’s ordinance need to be addressed.  For example, the ordinance does not explicitly define what constitutes a convenience store and offers scant information on how tax commissioners will enforce the tax and issue penalties for non-compliance.

“At least at this time, there appears to be no mechanism to contest a retailer’s categorization short of a court challenge and sufficient facts to support a locality’s different categorization,” Hill wrote.

The county anticipates launching a public engagement process, including public meetings and an online survey, to gauge input on the move.

If the Board of Supervisors directs staff to create a plastic bag ordinance, county departments would launch a second public engagement process and consult with county entities like the Environmental Quality Advisory Council prior to consideration by the board.

The board will discuss the issue at an Environmental Committee meeting tomorrow (Dec. 8).

Photo by Griffin Wooldridge/Unsplash

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Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors share numerous concerns about the environmental impact of the I-495 Express Lanes Northern Extension (495 NEXT) project.

Based on an environmental assessment released in February, the board’s comments highlight everything from traffic and transit to stormwater management, along with recommendations to minimize the impact on trees, waterways, streams, historic properties and noise.

“The Board requests that VDOT continue to allow time for the public to provide feedback on the project prior to executing a final contract,” Chairman Jeffery McKay said in a letter to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine that the board is scheduled to approve when it meets today (Tuesday).

The project is intended to add more capacity to I-495 to take some of the cut-through traffic off nearby McLean streets, but without expanding the American Legion Bridge and I-495 on the Maryland side, some are concerned the express lanes will only push the bottleneck further north.

A traffic analysis found that generally, travel time along the Capital Beltway corridor will improve in both 2025 and 2045 once Maryland completes their managed lane system.

Until Maryland completes its improvements, the analysis predicted delays along general purpose lanes going north on I-495. In response, the board urged the Virginia Department of Transportation to shorten the time between the opening of the two projects.

“It is critical that VDOT address the temporary impacts of opening prior to Maryland’s managed lanes,” they said.

As part of the 495 NEXT project, VDOT has committed to building a major regional trail in accordance with Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan. The Board of Supervisors is requesting that the trail continue through Tysons instead of ending at Lewinsville Road.

They also urged VDOT to find money to promote transit access along the corridor, which will help reduce single-occupancy vehicle ridership and encourage sustainable transportation system.

Stormwater management ranks among Fairfax County’s top environmental concerns for 495 NEXT. Noting that flooding has particularly been an issue in the McLean area, the board wants VDOT to meet county requirements, rather than being grandfathered into lenient state standards.

“If meeting our local stormwater management requirements is not attainable, VDOT should implement requirements to the maximum extent practicable and provide documentation demonstrating that the technical requirements are not fully feasible,” McKay said in the letter. Read More

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