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Push to accelerate Richmond combined sewer fix halted in House

Legislation that would have accelerated a state-imposed timeline for Richmond to finish separating its stormwater and sewer systems by five years has died after a House panel halted its progress Monday night. 

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Legislation that would have accelerated a state-imposed timeline for Richmond to finish separating its stormwater and sewer systems by five years has died after a House panel halted its progress Monday night. 

The proposal from Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, Senate Bill 354 is “dead,” Stuart’s office confirmed Wednesday. 

The bill, which would have moved up Richmond’s deadline for fixing its combined sewer overflow system from 2035 to 2030, had passed the Senate on a 36-4 vote last month, despite objections from the city that it lacked sufficient time and money to complete the mammoth project in eight years. 

“It’s a high priority for the city to make sure this happens,” Richmond Deputy Chief Administrator Bob Steidel told the House Chesapeake Subcommittee Monday. “But it’s going to take time, and I just can’t stretch time. I don’t have enough money yet.” 

The subcommittee voted 5-4 against moving the bill on to full committee, a necessary step before the full House could consider it. Two delegates — Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, and Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland — were absent at the time of the vote. 

Del. Rob Bloxom, R-Accomack, joined with Democrats on the panel to reject the legislation, saying, “I don’t like sending a bill that I think is impossible to do.” 

While the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee could have revived the legislation Wednesday, Chair Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, did not put it back on the agenda. 

A $1.3 billion lift

Stuart has become a leading voice in Richmond in support of pushing for faster fixes to Virginia’s three remaining combined sewer overflow systems, a 19th-century form of infrastructure where both storm runoff and sewage flow through the same pipes. 

In dry weather, combined sewer systems function as effectively as other systems. But during heavy precipitation, they can become overwhelmed and cause overflows of sewage into waterways. 

In Richmond, where the combined sewer system covers 19 square miles of the city, much of it containing densely packed century-old buildings, the problem has been particularly acute. Last year, almost 2 billion gallons of combined stormwater and sewage overflowed into the James River. 

Stuart has pointed to that number as the primary motivator for his effort to speed up the city’s 2035 deadline, which was put in place after extensive negotiations during the 2020 General Assembly session. The senator previously fought to accelerate Alexandria’s combined sewer deadline to 2025, a success he’s said he’s trying to replicate in Richmond.

“I’m not trying to beat up on the city of Richmond. I’m not trying to make their life difficult,” Stuart told the House Chesapeake Subcommittee Monday. “But in the year 2022, we’re not a third-world country. … I think the way we help the city of Richmond is we continue to apply pressure to get this done.” 

City officials, however, have emphasized that the challenges confronting Richmond far outstrip those faced by Alexandria and Lynchburg, the third of the state’s cities grappling with combined sewers. Alexandria’s four remaining sewage outfalls are dwarfed by Richmond’s 25, for example, and while Alexandria is working to build one massive tunnel under the Potomac to handle overflows, Richmond anticipates needing to build five. 

“If you think about what we have to build, you think about an Olympic swimming pool. We need about 760 of those,” said April Bingham, Richmond’s director of public utilities. 

The city has estimated the remaining work will cost $1.3 billion; of that, the state has promised $150 million in funding, which Richmond will match. 

“That’s the end of our debt capacity. We’re done,” said Steidel. 

Without additional funding, the city has estimated ratepayers could see bills triple, from roughly $64 to $185 per month. Officials also noted that about a quarter of Richmond residents live below the poverty line, a rate that Steidel said is “probably closer to 35 percent for those that are just on the edge of being able to have a sustainable wage.” 

Stuart acknowledged the poverty rate but said a solution was still necessary. 

“We can’t continue to not fix this problem because there are folks that it may impact unreasonably,” he said. “I would rather pursue a course to help those folks that maybe can’t afford to pay it than continue to kick this can down the road.” 

Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, said he understood the need for pressure but was “concerned about trying to go ahead and push this too far and too fast and what that ultimately does to the city’s financing.” 

I think we’ve effectively applied pressure on Richmond to do it as quickly as possible,” he said.

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Community

2nd Street Festival Cancelled Grand Master Flash Performing at Hippodrome

Although the festival is cancelled there is a least one show that will go on. Curse you Hurrican Ian, curse you.

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Sad news from Venture Richmond

Venture Richmond Events has made the incredibly difficult decision to cancel the 2nd Street Festival, scheduled for this weekend, Oct. 1-2.

Like many, the Venture Richmond Events team has watched Ian for days, hoping that it would not be the massive and potentially deadly weather event that it clearly is. While we are extremely lucky to be a few states away from the serious issues Florida is facing, we also know that this weekend promises uncertain amounts of rainfall and potential wind gusts for our area. After consulting meteorologists, vendors, contractors, security, and other event planners, and after considering the Governor’s State of Emergency, we concluded to the best of our ability, that the event, if held, would not be safe. We must put the safety of our patrons, artists, vendors, contractors, and staff foremost.

There is good news though – a portion of the party will go on indoors! Our festival headliner, Grandmaster Flash will perform indoors at The Hippodrome theater on 2nd Street in Jackson Ward on Saturday evening. This performance will be FREE and open to the public, but capacity is limited and based upon availability.

2nd Street Festival at The Hipp

A special performance by Grandmaster Flash with an opening band

Saturday, October 1, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Hippodrome Theater, 528 N. 2nd Street

Doors 4:30 p.m.

Free and open to the public with limited capacity and based upon availability.

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Community

Virginia Pridefest Festing on Brown’s Island

The Truist Main Stage headlining acts include The Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia, Leikeli 47 and Rosé from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

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Pridefest weekend features three amazing events, beginning with Pride After Dark: Animal -the official pre-Pride Party. Get your tickets for Pride After Dark at vapride.org Pridefest is Saturday on Browns Island featuring Leikeli47, Big Freedia, and numerous local performers and is free and open to all. The weekend of festivities will end at Bingo Beer Co. With Snatch’d: a Rainbow Celebration – no ticket required.

Virginia Pride is a program of Diversity Richmond, the LGBTQ Community Center for Central Virginia. A committee of volunteers oversees VA Pride’s efforts to make the Richmond Region a better place for LGBTQ people to live, work and visit.

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Community

Persons of interest in Jewelry Theft

Friday, September 16, at approximately 1:30 p.m. two individuals entered an open business and stole several pieces of jewelry before leaving the store in an unknown direction.

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From RPD

Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying the individuals in these photos who are persons of interest in a theft that occurred last Friday in the 1300 block of East Cary Street.

Friday, September 16, at approximately 1:30 p.m. two individuals entered an open business and stole several pieces of jewelry before leaving the store in an unknown direction.

The female suspect is approximately 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighing approximately 180 pounds, last seen wearing a black shirt, white pants, black sandals, carrying a black shoulder bag.

The male suspect is approximately 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighing approximately 160 pounds, last seen wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, brown shoes, black baseball style hat.

Anyone with information about the identity of these individuals are asked to call First Precinct Detective T. Wilson at (804) 646-0672 or Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones also may be used. All Crime Stoppers reporting methods are anonymous.

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