Newsletter

Bring out the tote bags, Wegmans shoppers.

The grocery store chain announced this morning (Monday) that, starting on Dec. 1, it will no longer offer single-use plastic bags at its four Fairfax County stores, including the one at Capital One Center in Tysons (1835 Capital One Drive South).

Plastic bags will also be removed from stores in Fairfax, Alexandria, and Chantilly.

The move comes in anticipation of Fairfax County’s new 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags, which will take effect on Jan. 1.

Wegmans will still have paper grocery bags available for a 5-cent fee that will be donated to the nonprofit United Way and each store’s food bank, according to the news release.

“We’ve always understood the need to reduce single-use grocery bags,” Jason Wadsworth, Wegmans packaging, energy, and sustainability merchant, said. “By eliminating plastic bags and adding a charge for each paper bag, our hope is to incentivize the adoption of reusable bags, an approach that has proven successful for us in New York State and Richmond.”

Since introducing reusable bags in 2007, Wegmans has stopped using single-use plastic bags in New York and, as of 2019, at two stores in Richmond.

Local grocers took different stances at a public hearing before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a plastic bag tax ordinance on Sept. 14. The county was the first locality in Northern Virginia to implement the new tax but was soon joined by Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.

Enabled by a state law passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2020, the measure is also being considered in the City of Falls Church and Loudoun County.

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Morning Notes

Editor’s Note: Tysons Reporter is following a lighter publishing schedule today (Friday) for Veterans Day weekend.

Falls Church Police Seek Man in Sexual Assault Case — “The City of Falls Church Police are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying the pictured individual who was in the area at the time of an assault. Late night on Wednesday, November 10, an adult female was sexually assaulted in the vicinity of 444 W. Broad St.” [City of Falls Church]

County to Add Veteran Services Coordinator — “Today, I’m excited to share that we will be hiring a Veteran’s Services Coordinator to improve the well-being of veterans in our community. This person will help vets access resources and advocate for new tools to help our veterans. Thank you to our vets for your service!” [Chairman Jeff McKay/Twitter]

See Marshall HS Veterans Day Display — “Students, staff, and parent volunteers at Fairfax County’s Marshall High School set up close to 400 American flags outside the school on Wednesday afternoon. The display is a tradition at Marshall, installed twice a year ahead of both Veterans Day and Memorial Day.” [ABC7]

County Adopts Plan to Eliminate Waste — “On Nov. 9, the Board of Supervisors adopted the Fairfax County Government and Schools Zero Waste Plan. This sets county government and Fairfax County Public Schools on a path toward zero waste by 2030 with two goals: diverting 90% of waste away from landfills or incinerators and decreasing the total amount of waste generated by 25%.” [Fairfax County Government]

Meadowlark Replaces Korean Bell Garden Totems — “Four freshly carved wooden totem poles — representing a king, queen, bride and groom — now stand guard over the Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in the Vienna area. NOVA Parks officials held an installation ceremony for the poles Nov. 8…Traditionally placed at the entrances of Korean villages, the totem poles symbolically protect residents from misfortune.” [Sun Gazette]

Roaming Rooster Grand Opening Tomorrow — “Great news RR Fam! Rooster #5, our first VA location, officially hatches in Tysons Corner this weekend. As part of our grand opening, we will be giving out free samples, RR merch, and $20 gift cards randomly throughout the day on Sat & Sun. Come check us out!” [Roaming Rooster/Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Metro Service Cutbacks Continue — “Reduced Metrorail service is expected to continue until at least Sunday, October 24, as the investigation into the October 12 derailment continues. Beginning tomorrow, trains will operate every 15 minutes on the Red Line and will continue to operate every 30 minutes on all other lines. Silver Line trains will operate between Wiehle-Reston East and Federal Center SW only.” [WMATA]

What to Know About COVID-19 Boosters and Vaccines for Kids — More than 45,000 Fairfax Health District residents have gotten an additional or booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The Fairfax County Health Department says  it is “actively planning and preparing for the authorization of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster doses and vaccinations for children ages 5-11.” [FCHD]

Capital Bikeshare Changes Prices — The D.C. area bicycle-sharing system raised rental prices for non-members on Oct. 1, dropping a flat $2 fee for 30-minute rides in favor of charging 5 cents per minute and a $1 “unlocking fee.” Officials say the changes will help cover increasing operational and maintenance costs as well as future improvements and expansion plans. [The Washington Post]

Local Environmentalist Dies — “McLean resident Debra Ann Jacobson, a lawyer, investigator for Congress and ardent environmentalist, died Sept. 15 at her McLean home. She was 69 and died from complications of liver cancer, her family said. ‘Debra was a champion for the environment and someone who inspired those who were fortunate enough to know her,’ said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).” [Sun Gazette]

Vienna Family Raises Funds for Child After Stroke — Vienna residents Tom and Paige Shahryary will hold their second annual James’s Promise Run at Nottoway Park on Nov. 7 to raise money for their now-2-year-old son, James, who suffered a stroke after he was born in August 2019. The family also has a GoFundMe page to raise funds for medical treatments and therapies. [Patch]

Vienna to Give Away Native Tree Seedlings — “Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Find out why and pick up a free native tree seedling this Saturday, Oct. 23 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Vienna Community Center. Town arborist Scott Diffenderfer will be on hand to answer your questions about trees.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

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Rooftop solar panel on house (via Vivint Solar/Unsplash)

On the heels of last week’s sobering United Nations climate change report, Fairfax County is beginning to implement its first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), which sets goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Fairfax County staff delivered a final update of the CECAP to the Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting on July 20. The board is expected to accept the report when it meets on Sept. 14.

The CECAP provides an inventory of current greenhouse gas emissions and recommends actions that the county and individuals can take to mitigate future emissions in order to achieve carbon neutrality within three decades.

“A lot of times, people feel like this problem is so big and out of their hands, that they feel like they can’t make a difference,” Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination Senior Community Specialist Maya Dhavale said. “I feel like it’s very timely that Fairfax County has been putting this plan and report together…We’re able to provide residents, business owners, and individuals in Fairfax County a path forward.”

Dhavale, who spearheaded the project, says staff have already begun the process of implementing the plan. That starts with community outreach, public education, and a review of existing county policies to determine how they line up with the proposed plan.

First proposed in 2018 and initiated in early 2020, the CECAP report was developed by a working group composed of environmental advocates, business representatives, civic association members, and other citizens.

As an overarching goal, the work group proposed that Fairfax County become carbon-neutral by 2050 with an 87% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels.

The Board of Supervisors has already pledged to make county government operations — including building and facility energy use and transportation — carbon neutral by 2040 in conjunction with an updated operational energy strategy adopted on July 13.

The county’s recent push to prioritize environmental initiatives comes as the U.N. continues to sound the alarm on climate change as a crisis that’s already in motion and will only get worse without a substantial shift in human behavior.

In its latest report released on Aug. 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that human activities are directly responsible for a roughly 1 degree Celsius climb in the global surface temperature from 1900 to 2019, contributing to retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Even if future emissions are kept very low, global temperatures will continue going up until at least the mid-21st century and could very likely still be one to 1.8 degrees Celsius higher than 1900 levels by the end of the century, according to the report.

“Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions,” IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai said in a news release. “Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate.”

In their report, the CECAP working group says the impact of climate change on Fairfax County is already evident in declining snowfall, more extremely hot days, heavier rainfall, and increased incidences of mosquito and tick-borne illnesses. Read More

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The nearly invisible oak leaf itch mite (via James Kalisch/University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Fairfax County residents are itching to understand the culprit behind weird skin reactions, possibly linked to bug bites, that have been reported throughout the D.C. region this summer.

As first reported by Tysons Reporter’s sister site ARLnow, people in Northern Virginia and beyond are finding itchy red marks on their skin that are not quite mosquito bites and may be linked to oak leaf itch mites, an arachnid that’s nearly invisible to the naked eye.

Dr. Amir Bajoghli, a dermatologist who sees patients in McLean and Woodbridge in his Skin & Laser Dermatology offices, says he has seen an increase in the number of patients with this kind of issue, often involving raised red bumps or tiny blisters. The bumps can look like acne and be intensely itchy, similar to poison ivy.

“Because of all the cicadas we had, [the mites] were basically feasting on the eggs,” Bajoghli said, noting the mites can fall from trees and be carried by wind. “Patients have even been telling me it’s worse than their experience with poison ivy.”

Oak leaf itch mites might cause red welts and affect people not only outdoors, but also indoors, potentially entering through window screens.

They typically feed on the larvae of small flies that form on leaves in oak trees. But local health officials suggest this year’s cicada emergence may be a factor, giving oak leaf itch mites another source of food from the cicada eggs laid in trees.

Still, Fairfax County health officials stressed that there’s no confirmation that the oak leaf itch mite is the cause of the bites, saying “it’s only a suspected cause at this time.”

“Although we are not certain what may be causing these bites, one of the suspected causes is the microscopic Oak Leaf Itch Mite,” Joshua Smith, the environmental health supervisor of the Fairfax County Health Department’s Disease Carrying Insect Program, said in a statement. “This mite has been presumptively associated with itchy bites in other regions of the U.S.”

States from Illinois to Texas have observed apparent outbreaks of the mite throughout recent decades.

“Most puzzling was the lack of any insect being seen or felt during the act of biting,” a research paper on a 2004 outbreak in Kansas noted.

Bajoghli, the dermatologist, recommends hydrocortisone as a starting point for treatment, which people can obtain without a prescription.

If that’s insufficient, doctors and dermatologists can provide prescription-strength remedies. He said over-the-counter antihistamines are also somewhat helpful.

“People can best protect themselves by limiting their time from under infested trees and by immediately removing and laundering clothing and then showering,” Penn State Extension researcher Steve Jacobs wrote in a patient-focused guide.

Whether the skin reactions involve that mite or something else, the Fairfax County Health Department has several recommendations for steps people can take to prevent problems with mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests:

  • Use repellents. Products registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have active ingredients that include DEET, IR3535, picaridin, and more.
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts outdoors.
  • Shower after outdoor activities, washing away crawling ticks as well as doing a tick check.
  • Launder clothes worn for outdoor activities. Ten minutes in the dryer on high heat will kill ticks on clothing.
  • Avoid scratching bites. A cold compress or other products may help relieve itchiness.

People with questions and concerns are encouraged to talk with their health care provider.

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Fairfax County is looking at imposing a tax on single-use plastic bags (via Daniel Romero/Unsplash)

Fairfax County took a first step yesterday toward potentially taxing plastic bags used by grocery stores and other retailers.

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 yesterday (Tuesday) to direct county staff to draft an plastic bag tax ordinance, but even supporters of the measure allowed that there remains some uncertainty around how exactly the tax would be implemented if approved.

“Let’s definitely try this, but we may end up back in the General Assembly in the foreseeable future to try to get clarification,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said, noting that the county is subject to the Dillon rule. “…This is probably a prime example of when we probably need a little more flexibility, but I’m all for it.”

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation during its 2020 session giving localities the authority to impose a five-cent tax on disposable plastic bags, starting on Jan. 1, 2021.

Roanoke became the first jurisdiction to take advantage of the new law when it adopted an ordinance in May that’s set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

Under House Bill 534, which was identical to Senate Bill 11, cities and counties can tax each disposable plastic bag provided to customers by grocery stores, convenience stores, and drugstores. The tax would not apply to plastic bags designed to be reused, garbage bags, bags used to hold or package food to avoid damage or contamination, and ones used to carry prescription drugs or dry cleaning.

The legislation allows retailers to retain two cents from the imposed tax on each bag until Jan. 1, 2023, when the amount that goes to retailers drops to one cent.

That “dealer discount” provision is intended to help offset additional expenses retailers might incur from adjusting their operations, but it also puts added pressure on localities to adopt an ordinance as soon as possible, according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

“We want to start the process of the ordinance review, looking at the language, the public input, because the clock literally is ticking,” McKay said.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Virginia Department of Taxation has not yet released guidelines clarifying what a plastic bag tax ordinance should look like, leaving questions around the definition of a grocery or convenience store, how the tax will be enforced, and other issues, County Executive Bryan Hill told the board in a Nov. 30 memorandum.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who introduced the board matter on Tuesday, said the draft guidance that county staff has seen and provided input on through the Northern Virginia Regional Commission will clear up many of those questions.

He hopes the guidelines will be finalized soon so county staff can incorporate them into the ordinance that they have now been directed to draft and present to the board in September.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the lone Republican on the board, opposed the board matter, taking issue with the timing of the proposal. Read More

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Morning Notes

PIVOT Grant Application Deadline Today — This is the last day for hotels, restaurants, and other local businesses affected by the pandemic to apply for COVID-19 relief funding from Fairfax County’s PIVOT grant program. The application portal will close at 11:59 p.m. [Fairfax County Government]

COVID-19 Mostly Spreading Among Unvaccinated People Now — “From December 29 to June 25, 99.7 percent of new COVID-19 cases have occurred among unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Virginians, according to VDH. Those residents made up 99.3 percent of hospitalizations and 99.6 percent of deaths over the same time period.” [Virginia Mercury]

McLean Nonprofit to Raffle Off Nats Memorabilia — “The McLean area branch of the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) used-book sale, its annual charitable fund-raiser, has been postponed again due to lingering effects of COVID-19. Instead, the group will hold a substitute fund-raiser featuring [Washington Nationals pitcher Max] Scherzer memorabilia, along with a request for contributions to support education and local scholarships for women.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Help Clean Up Nottoway Park This Weekend — “Join us at Nottoway Park on Saturday, July 10th, to celebrate Latinx Conservation Month, and help manage invasive plants, visit some sheep, and learn how to care for plants. Nottoway Park is located at 9537 Courthouse Road in Vienna, VA.” [Palchik Post]

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Solar panels (via Minoru Karamatsu/Flickr)

Fairfax County is continuing its efforts to transition to renewable energy with the installation of solar panels on county government and public school buildings, but it will now do so with a different vendor.

The county ended its contract with the company Sigora Solar yesterday (July 1), about 18 months ahead of schedule.

Sigora Solar is one of three vendors awarded contracts to install, manage, and maintain solar energy infrastructure for county government and school buildings in December 2019, when Fairfax County announced what it said was the largest solar power purchase agreement initiative by a Virginia locality to date.

The original contracts with Sigora, Sun Tribe Solar, and Ipsun Power were set to run through Dec. 31, 2022.

However, the county amended its contract with Sigora on June 10 to state that it would be “terminated for convenience” effective July 1. Sigora was designated as the primary contractor for roof-mounted solar panel projects.

Moving forward, the county will now work with Sun Tribe Solar, the secondary contractor for roof-mounted panels and the primary contractor for carport or canopy-mounted panels.

“Under the terms of the agreement, the county leases space on its buildings for the companies to install solar panels that those vendors will own, and the county buys the energy generated by the panels at a fixed price,” Brian Worthy, a public information officer with Fairfax County’s Office of Public Affairs, said.

“However, these companies have the right to decide whether or not to install panels at any buildings identified by the county,” Worthy said. “During the past year and a half, the county selected 30 buildings for solar panels, and we are eager to move forward with these projects.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved leasing necessary roof space at two batches of county-owned properties so far. The first round of eight sites came on Oct. 20, 2020, and another 22 sites were added on March 9.

The sites approved for solar panel installations in the Tysons area are:

  • McLean Government Center and Police Station (1437 Balls Hill Road, McLean)
  • Wolf Trap Fire Station #42 (1315 Beulah Road, Vienna)
  • McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue, McLean)
  • Thomas Jefferson Library (7415 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church)
  • Providence Community Center (3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax)
  • Merrifield Center and Kerrifield Center Garage (8221 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, Fairfax)

Under the solar power purchase agreements, the installed solar panels will be owned, operated and maintained by the contracted vendors, rather than the county. The county will simply purchase electricity produced by these panels over time.

When the contracts were announced in 2019, the county estimated that the initiative could potentially yield over $60 million in electricity cost avoidance over the terms of the contracts. Additionally, it was projected that approximately 1.73 million megawatt hours of renewable energy could be generated at the county’s facilities.

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A former state legislator has convinced the Town of Vienna to save some trees by an iconic preschool that’s slated to become a new housing development.

A developer is turning Parkwood School into a housing subdivision called Parkwood Oaks that could have up to nine homes, according to engineering notes for the developer in a plan on file with the town.

The son of Parkwood School founder Clarene Vickery, Raymond “Ray” Vickery Jr. sent a letter to the town council on June 11 asking them to save several trees, including a large oak, on the edge of the property at 601 Marshall Road SW near the Ware Street SW intersection.

“We want to particularly save the big oak my dad planted about 60 years ago at the corner of Ware and Marshall,” Vickery told Tysons Reporter.

Clarene Vickery, 101, died in 2019 after founding Parkwood School in 1956 and spending most of her life as director of the preschool, which has served over 10,000 kids. She lived in the upstairs part of the home, which also served as part of the school with its lower half.

Vickery’s father, Raymond Ezekiel Vickery, was a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army and died in 1987 at age 77. The couple is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton said in an email that trees located next to an existing sidewalk needed to be removed because the town requires sidewalks to be upgraded to a new code when there’s a new home or development building.

But Vickery argued in his letter to the town that “slight deviations could be made to save the large oak and other trees that mean so much to the citizens of Vienna who live in the 601 Marshall Road vicinity.”

It worked: Vickery connected with the town, which agreed to save a few key trees there next to a sidewalk, including the oak his dad planted.

However, some trees will still have to be removed, said Scott Diffenderfer, an urban arborist for the town.

“On the other hand, the developer is saving a lot of trees, and there’s going to be trees planted as the development progresses,” Diffenderfer said.

A property sale closed last Monday (June 21), and buyer John Sekas of Sekas Homes Ltd. has agreed to erect a historical marker there, Vickery said.

Vickery has also offered to donate Japanese cherry trees to be planted along Ware Street in honor of his parents.

The preschool had multiple single-family dwellings for its campus, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it used virtual programming instead of in-person activities.

According to Vickery, Malisa Eaton, the school’s executive director, has taken over Parkwood School and is looking for new premises. She didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Vickery, who served in the Virginia General Assembly from 1974 to 1980, says he plans to go the town council’s July 12 meeting to address the town’s tree ordinance, highlighting how trees help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and protect the ozone. The latter benefit is particularly important to him as someone who has been affected by skin cancer.

“The ordinance, though, is written so that trees, even though they’ve been marked and identified, can — can be taken down and replaced with saplings that’ll have 20% cover in 20 years,” he said. “And my perspective is if you have coverage there of existing trees…you ought to save existing trees.”

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Save those rotting veggies and bits of meat left over from last night’s dinner, because Fairfax County is expanding its composting program.

As of yesterday (Wednesday), residents can now bring their food scraps to four county farmers markets for composting. The locations include the Mosaic District Farmers Market, which operates year-round from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Food scrap composting turns waste into a resource. Those wrinkling carrots or uneaten bread crusts can be transformed over time into natural fertilizer, putting nutrients back into the soil.

Proper composting can also prevent food waste from ending up in landfills and streams, taking up space and potentially damaging the ecosystem.

“The county is working to divert as much waste from disposal as possible,” Fairfax County Department of Public Works spokesperson Sharon North said in an email. “In the past few years, we have focused on glass recycling and reducing contamination to improve single stream recycling…Providing food scraps drop off locations will help divert this compostable material from disposal.”

North says food scraps can account for as much as 20% of waste, but nearly all of it can be composted, including meat, bones, dairy, vegetables, fruit and bread.

Some food-related paper products, such as paper plates, paper towels, and napkins, can be composted as well, as long as there’s no cleaning products or bodily fluids on them. Plastic bags, dryer sheets, yard waste, fats, oils, grease, tin foil, and foam containers, however, should never be composted.

Fairfax County first implemented a composting pilot program in November 2020 at two larger locations: the I-95 Landfill Complex in Lorton and I-66 Solid Waste Transfer Station in Fairfax.

North says the initial pilot program was a success, prompting county leaders to discuss options for an expansion.

“One of the main things we learned is that our residents are willing to separate out food scraps and bring them to compost drop off locations,” she writes.

The I-95 landfill and I-66 transfer station will remain permanent composting drop-off sites. The four farmers markets that are now part of the program’s expansion were specifically chosen due to their accessibility and central locations within the county.

Three of the chosen markets are seasonal and managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Mosaic District farmers’ market is a year-round, private market operated by FreshFarm.

“Making locations more accessible throughout the county at Farmers Markets will allow for more opportunities to drop off food scraps for composting rather than having that material in the trash,” North said.

The compost program is expected to cost the county an estimated $50,000 annually.

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