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A kid runs past Vienna Town Hall (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

With the national shortage of commercial drivers continuing to strain services from trash collection to school buses, the Town of Vienna plans to increase salaries and offer bonuses to bolster its maintenance workforce.

As part of a new incentive program, the Department of Public Works recommends that the town increase its entry-level salary for maintenance workers to $55,000 and offer a $2,000 hiring bonus to new employees with a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

Maintenance workers — who handle tasks from paving and plowing roads to maintaining sewers and parks facilities — currently get a minimum annual salary of $40,354 or $44,490, depending on the exact position, according to Vienna’s pay plan for fiscal year 2022-2023.

The incentive program would adjust the salaries of existing employees with CDLs accordingly “to address compression and years of service,” town staff wrote in a request for $80,000 to fund the plan in the FY 2022-2023 budget.

The program would also give an annual $2,500 bonus to employees who maintain a Class A CDL and $2,000 bonuses to employees who maintain a Class B license.

Per the staff memo, the proposed hiring bonuses are in line with what Fairfax County, the Town of Herndon, and other Northern Virginia jurisdictions are offering. However, they fall short of what workers can get from the private sector, where incentives range from $4,000 to $10,000.

Vienna’s public works department is seeking $80,000 for the program in a $1.28 million set of adjustments to the FY 2022-2023 budget, known as carry forwards.

“Carry forward money is available because the Town had a surplus in FY 2021-22 of approximately $720,000,” town staff said. “The surplus is due to a combination of several General Fund revenues exceeding budget plus salary savings due to position vacancies during the year.”

Intended to address needs identified after the budget was adopted in May, the package includes $100,000 for building maintenance, $15,000 for landscaping at the Bowman House, and $30,000 to switch 60 town cell phones from T-Mobile to AT&T, among other items.

Stricter regulations for massage salons that the town council approved on Aug. 29 will require a new temporary employee to help enforce the new rules, according to staff. The town estimates that the position will cost $40,000.

“During the 2024 budget cycle staff will recommend whether or not this requires a permanent full or half-time position,” the memo says.

The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed carry forward plan during its regular meeting at 8 p.m. tonight (Monday).

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Emptied trash and recycling bins by the street (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Trash troubles keep piling up with the county out of trash cans for at least another two months.

Fairfax County has “exhausted” its inventory of trash cans and won’t be able to provide new ones to residents until later this fall,ย  Dept. of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) spokesperson Sharon North told FFXnow.

“A new order already has been placed and should be in-house by early November,” she said via email.

In the meantime, North suggested that residents who are waiting on a new trash can to put their trash in a box or another container and leave it curbside on their pick-up day.

“It will be picked up, even if it’s in a box,” she said.

The missing trash can issue was brought to FFXnow’s attention by a Dranesville District resident.

About 90% of county residents and businesses have their trash picked up by private haulers, but about 10% have theirs picked up by the county. That’s about 43,000 residential units.

It’s those 43,000 that are potentially impacted by the shortage, though it only applies to those who are requesting a new trash can due to theirs being broken, moving into a new house, or are otherwise in need.

The problem started earlier this summer, North shared, when the county gained about 1,100 new customers. This created a bit of a “domino effect.” While the county’s Solid Waste Management Program put in order for more trash cans in May, those were all gone by July.

Rising costs and shortages of the worldwide supply of resin also have contributed to the lack of trash cans available to county residents, North said. The hope remains that a fresh stock of gleaming new trash cans will be available come November for new residents and those with broken ones alike.

This isn’t the county’s only recent trash trouble.

Last month, county officials addressed the “multiple complaints” they’ve been getting from residents about the performance of some contracted trash collectors in the county. Reports were coming from across the county about haulers missing pick-ups and not communicating delays all the while potentially increasing rates.

Complaints were coming in most often about American Disposal, a pattern that dated back to 2019. The company blamed a driver shortage, but Board Chair Jeff McKay told FFXnow in August that alone shouldn’t result in missed pick-ups and increasing rates.

“[A driver shortage] should not result in some of the significant problems our residents face as our haulers do not lack for resources to remedy staffing and related issues,” he said.

A number of solutions were proposed including “franchising” the county’s trash collecting and issuing fines to haulers not fulfilling their trash pick-up duties.

At a Tuesday meeting, the board approved a board matter by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw to further examine problems with American Disposalย  Services and possible solutions.

The matter was jointly pushed forward by McKay and supervisors Kathy Smith and Dan Storck. It directs county staff to update the board on efforts to address complaints about missed and late pick-ups. The matter also includes language the could allow the county to move to a different system of solid waste collection, if changes are approved by the General Assembly.ย 

County staff from the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services have done amazing work to resolve residents’ individual issues with ADS — but a better solution would be for ADS to meet the requirements of the County ordinance and keep its commitment to its customers,” Walkinshaw wrote in a statement.ย 

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Gas-powered leaf blower (via Wikimedia Commons/Cbaile19)

With fall just around the corner, Fairfax County has begun to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of battery-powered blowers.

Last week, the county announced that its Park Authority and Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) are “in the process of phasing out gas-powered blowers” in favor of “exclusively purchasing” battery-powered blowers.

“Having a gas-powered leaf blower operating in your vicinity is like inviting someone to blow a cloud of potentially dangerous chemicals, dust, and other pollutants in your direction,” the county website says. “A gas-powered leaf blower produces exhaust containing both hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides both of which are components of smog.”

The county is encouraging all contractors and residents to follow suit, saying battery-powered equipment is quieter, cleaner, and can be more cost-efficient to operate.

In November 2021, the Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly passed a board matter introduced by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw that called for a stop to the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

In a statement to FFXnow, Walkinshaw said the county is “making good on that promise.”

Last year, the Board approved my motion to phase-out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn equipment on County-owned property. Now, I am pleased to say that we are making good on that promise by replacing the existing County inventory with electric blowers and incentivizing the use of electric equipment by our landscaping contractors.

Gas-powered leaf blowers can emit 23 times the carbon dioxide of a Ford F-150 and operate at noise levels that can cause hearing damage. This is about Fairfax County being a good neighbor to those living near our facilities and helping to accelerate a shift to electric landscaping equipment. I’m hopeful that incentivizing the use of electric equipment through our procurement process will encourage more local landscaping contractors to make that shift, giving residential and commercial property owners more choices in the marketplace.

Supervisors had hoped the county’s adoption of the ordinance would encourage the Virginia General Assembly to do the same. While other nearby localities have also taken up this issue in recent years, a recent House bill failed to get out of committee.

Fairfax County’s conversion may unfold gradually. Although the process started in December, there is no concrete timeline yet for when all the gas-powered blowers will be phased out, acting FCPA Public Information Officer Roberta Korzen told FFXnow.

“The gas-powered blowers will be phased out and replaced with battery-powered blowers at the end of their life cycle,” Korzen wrote in an email. A gas-powered leaf blower can last up to 10 years with proper maintenance.

The park authority currently has only seven battery-powered blowers, compared to more than 100 gas-powered ones. That number doesn’t include contractors.

It’s unknown how many gas-powered blowers are used by county contractors, but Korzen said the county “encourages the use of battery-powered blowers by its contractors.”

FCPA estimates it will cost about $150,000 to phase out the equipment.

“As funding and supply is available we are purchasing battery-powered blowers. We have made a few purchases to date. We are hoping additional funding will be available in the near future,” Korzen said.

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Trees at the corner of Jefferson Manor Park off Telegraph Road (photo by Brandi Bottalico)

Fairfax County is looking to grow a tree planting program that has resulted in 139 trees being planted along the Richmond Highway corridor since last year.

The “Residential Tree Planting Pilot Project” is a county-run program, in partnership with the D.C.-based nonprofit Casey Trees, providing free trees to residents in census tracts with low tree canopy coverage.

The three tracts targeted for the pilot program are all along the Richmond Highway corridor and within the Mount Vernon and Franconia Districts.

Since April 2021, residents living in those areas have planted 139 free trees on their properties. While a bit short of the 150-tree goal, the county has deemed the pilot program enough of a success to make it a “recurring program,” per an update to the Board of Supervisors last month.

The aim of the permanent program is to expand the tree canopy in other census tracts. A less expansive tree canopyย often coincides with more “economically vulnerable neighborhoods,” Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson Sharon North wrote FFXnow in an email.

With that consideration, the program will be targeting census blocks in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County during its next planting cycle said North.

Money for the program will come out of the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund and will be managed by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The fund’s current balance is $208,000, North said. Any additional funding recommendations will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors as part of its annual budget process.

Nearby localities like Arlingtonย have similar programs to increase tree canopy in neighborhoods where it’s insufficient, which contributes to heat and temperature increases.

Back in 2021, Fairfax County staff identified 4,000 single-family and multi-family addresses within the three census tracts that would benefit from increased tree canopy.

Casey Trees devised a marketing campaign that sent out letters and greeting cards advertising the availability of free trees to those residents, who ultimately planted 139 trees.

That’s about a 3.5% success rate — higher than the industry average of 2%.

A majority of the trees planted were medium to large, including shingle oaks, river birches, hackberry trees, and honeylocust ‘shademasters.’

“Larger trees provide more shading, cooling, stormwater control, and related benefits over their smaller counterparts,” Casey Trees said in a report. “Not just to the property where the tree is planted but also to the neighborhood at large.”

The pilot program cost the county about $60,000, approximately $11,000 in marketing materials and close to $49,000 for the actual trees. It cost $350 per planted tree.

The report also provided a few recommendations to help grow the program.

Proposals included increasing the number of trees provided to one particular lot from three to five, noting that “residents often requested more,” as well as sending out arborists for site visits to increase education and displaying “free tree” yard signs in eligible neighborhoods.

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The proposed routes for new sewer pipelines in Tysons West (via DPWES)

Tysons is going to need a bigger sewer system.

With the population expected to continue growing over the next few decades, Fairfax County is starting to prepare now for the anticipated influx of residents — and the additional wastewater they will inevitably produce.

Over the past two years, the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has been planning upgrades to the sewer pipelines and pump station that serve the Tysons West neighborhood along Route 7 between Westpark Drive and the Dulles Toll Road.

One of several projects in the works to boost northern Fairfax County’s wastewater capacity, the Tysons Wastewater System Enhancements will replace and relocate an existing pump station, while adding more than 7 miles of new sewer pipeline.

“This project will decrease the risk of wastewater overflows and back-ups during periods of high wastewater flows by diverting flow from existing infrastructure,” DPWES said on the project page.

The department will host a virtual public meeting to discuss its proposal at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday).

According to DPWES spokesperson Sharon North, the Tysons area doesn’t currently have any issues with wastewater overflows or backups, but with the Tysons Comprehensive Plan targeting 100,000 residents by 2050, the current facilities aren’t sufficient to handle that future growth.

DPWES conducted a study that determined wastewater from the northern part of the county should be rerouted to the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant in Lorton. Read More

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White brine lines are a familiar sight on Fairfax County roads before snowstorms, such as the one that passed through the D.C. area last weekend.

Not too long ago, though, winter weather preparations involved scattering tons of dry salt and sand on streets, sidewalks, and other outdoor surfaces.

The adoption of brine to prevent snow and ice from sticking to pavement is part of a regional effort to limit the use of salt, which is effective — and cheap — as a de-icing material but pollutes the environment and corrodes infrastructure.

“What we’re trying to do is walk that fine line between protecting the natural resources, but at the same time, providing the need for public safety,” said Normand Goulet, a senior environmental planner for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC).

The Salt Management Strategy

NVRC is overseeing the implementation of a Virginia Salt Management Strategy (SaMS) that the state Department of Environmental Quality released last year as a guide to minimizing the dangers of salt.

In the works since 2018, the strategy was developed by a committee that included Fairfax County staff after a water quality report identified de-icing salt as a primary contributor to excessive levels of chloride in Accotink Creek, affecting wildlife in the 51 square-mile watershed.

According to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES), one teaspoon of salt can permanently pollute five gallons of water.

The department advises residents to shovel snow early and often, apply salt only where needed, and sweep up extra material for reuse. Viable alternatives to salt include sand, wood ash, and native bird seed.

“One 12oz coffee mug holds enough salt to treat a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares,” DPWES said by email.

Why Brine?

The SaMS toolkit encourages local and state government agencies to pay closer attention to the salt they use for anti-icing, which comes before snow to prevent accumulation, and de-icing, which removes snow and ice during or after a storm. Read More

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