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April 6, 2020

Amid Pandemic, RiverRenew Forges Ahead

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the RiverRenew Program is still on track to meet its legislative mandate of completion by July 1, 2025. Critical to improving the health of Alexandria’s waterways, RiverRenew consists of a tunnel system and upgrades to Alexandria Renew Enterprises’ (AlexRenew) wastewater treatment plant to capture and treat millions of gallons of combined sewage that would otherwise pollute local streams and rivers during rain events.

The Tunnel System Project is currently in the second step of its procurement process, which calls for confidential meetings with the Shortlisted Design-Build Teams. One of these teams will eventually partner with AlexRenew to design and construct the Project. Keeping the procurement process on track is critical to meeting the goals of the legislative mandate. These meetings are normally done in-person to enable open sharing of information. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, confidential meetings have transitioned to secure conference platforms in an effort for all parties involved to communicate openly, while also staying safe. As a result, we’ve seen successful meeting outcomes and useful discussions that will inform the Shortlisted Design-Build Teams’ design and construction approaches.

To comply with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s protocol and Virginia’s Stay-at-Home order, AlexRenew has implemented teleworking procedures and team rotations to meet continuity of operations requirements for its critical infrastructure workers and keep construction work moving forward. Ongoing construction activities at AlexRenew’s wastewater treatment plant are essential to make way for the Tunnel System Project and meet the legislative mandate. To ensure that this work says on schedule and to keep staff safe, strict protocols for site access were developed, alternate work schedules for contractors and construction management teams were established, and construction operations have been confined to discrete areas on-site. Currently, it is anticipated that ongoing construction work at AlexRenew will be complete by March 2021.

“AlexRenew is adapting to the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic to keep critical construction projects on-schedule, fulfill our vital mission to manage our community’s wastewater, and keep our employees safe” said Karen Pallansch, AlexRenew’s Chief Executive Officer.

Across the country, legislative budgets are seeing massive cuts and shifting of allocated resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia is seeing similar budget impacts and it is currently unclear if additional grant funding will be available for RiverRenew over the next biennium. While AlexRenew anticipates approvals for low interest debt financing, grants from the State are important to keep sewer rate increases lower and manageable. AlexRenew has received preliminary approvals from the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund (VCWRLF) and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which will provide a large portion of RiverRenew’s funding through loans. The loans will be repaid via sewer rate increases over an extended period of time (like a home mortgage).

In a time where face-to-face meetings are critical to RiverRenew’s schedule, our teams are finding new ways to meet Program milestones, while also navigating the evolving pandemic. Once construction is complete, RiverRenew will reduce combined sewer overflow events from 70 to less than 4 per year and prevent over 130 million gallons of combined sewage from entering Alexandria’s waterways each year. Check back here for additional updates and stay connected with RiverRenew as we embrace a new way of tunneling forward.