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The bridge will be installed in sections on Saturday (Photo via FCDOT).

A new pedestrian bridge is slated for installation this weekend over Wiehle Avenue at the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

The installation will prompt the closure of Wiehle Avenue from midnight to 5 a.m. this Saturday (April 13).

The bridge replaces an at-grade crossing at the trail over Wiehle Avenue. Traffic will be detoured to Sunset Hills Road, Reston Parkway and Baron Cameron Avenue.

“The bridge will make it safer for walkers, bikers and drivers moving through this area,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn wrote in an email to constituents.

The project kicked off with a groundbreaking in March 2023. The bridge will be delivered in several sections and assembled in the parking lot along the north side of the existing business facilities. Assembly began in early April.

Here’s a breakdown of the planned detours:

Road Closure Hours: 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., Saturday April 13, 2024. Weather backup: 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., Sunday April 14, 2024.

A transportation management plan will be implemented for the total closure of Wiehle Avenue traffic during the bridge installation. Click here to see the Transportation Management Plan.

Police control will be provided at the intersection of Sunset Hills Road and Wiehle Avenue as well as at the intersection of Roger Bacon Drive and Wiehle Avenue.

Traffic from Wiehle Avenue will be detoured to Sunset Hills Road, Reston Parkway and Baron Cameron Avenue.

All necessary traffic control signs for the detour will be installed prior to the road closure.

Appropriate signs will be installed for the closure of the sidewalk along Wiehle Avenue within the work area.

• The crosswalk and curb ramps at the intersection Sunset Hills Road and Wiehle Avenue will be kept open.

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Repairs are needed to clear pipes that carry wastewater from McLean through Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and across the Potomac River (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 3:30 p.m. on 3/29/2024) Clogged-up pipes will force Scott’s Run Nature Preserve to close for more than a month, starting later this week.

Contractors will begin work on the “emergency project” to clear and repair wastewater pipes in the McLean park this Thursday (March 28), the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services recently announced.

The 385-acre park at 7400 Georgetown Pike will be closed throughout the project’s first phase, which is expected to take about six weeks and will remove an estimated 80 tons of sediment from the pipes, according to DPWES.

Also known as siphons, the pipes carry wastewater from McLean across the Potomac River and into Maryland, connecting to a DC Water interceptor through Carderock National Park.

“During a recent inspection two of the three pipes at the wastewater siphon were found to be non-operational,” DPWES said in a news release. “An emergency repair is necessary, as there is no reasonable bypass alternative if the last pipe fails, which would mean millions of gallons of sewage per day going into the Potomac.”

According to the project page, the park needs to close during the project so construction crews and equipment can access the trails without creating conflicts for visitors or pushing pedestrians off-trail, which would damage the natural environment.

Work will take place Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., depending on the weather. The closure will apply to all trails and the east and west parking lots.

In addition to removing sediment, which will be transported out of Scott’s Run daily by truck, the project will involve replacing valves and cleaning the siphon barrels. The siphon barrel cleaning will be done in Carderock National Park.

The Scott’s Run siphon emergency project area map (via DPWES)

A second phase of work focused on maintenance repairs is expected later, requiring another park closure, but the exact timing will be determined after “additional investigations are made during the cleaning process,” DPWES said.

In total, the work at Scott’s Run is expected to take three months, though the overall project has an anticipated timeline of six to nine months.

DPWES says no other properties should be affected by the project, and traffic into and out of the Scott’s Run parking lot will be “limited” after the contractors arrive Thursday morning.

“Materials and construction equipment for the project will be safely stored onsite,” the project page says. “Additionally, Fairfax County McLean District Police have been notified of the project and will be monitoring traffic patterns in the area to ensure safety of residents and commuters.”

The county says it’s identifying “methods to optimize and enhance its inspection and cleaning procedures to reduce the likelihood” that an emergency response of this level will be needed in the future.

Correction: DPWES says 80 tons of sediment are being removed from the Scott’s Run pipes, not 80,000 tons as first reported.

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EVgo electric vehicle chargers (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

To further its environmental goals, Fairfax County’s to-do list should include building an electric vehicle charging network, addressing “critical” staff shortages, and addressing development pressure, the Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC) says in a new report.

An employee compensation policy update to attract and retain workers in departments such as wastewater and solid waste was the top recommendation in the 2023 Annual Report on the Environment (ARE), EQAC Chair Larry Zaragoza told the Board of Supervisors during its environmental committee meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 29).

“If you had a problem in a facility or in operations that caused some other issues, the consequences could require a lot of corrective action, or they could be publicly undesirable,” he said.

Although it has seen some progress, Zaragoza said the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES), in particular, is seeing higher vacancy rates of 16 to 22%. In some “major functions,” rates have climbed as high as 32%, according to the presentation.

Zaragoza acknowledged that the recommendation to develop a network of charging stations for electric vehicles would be challenging to implement, but necessary.

“This seems to be an issue that is challenging the nation with respect to the conversion to EVs,” Zaragoza said. “People have a fear that they won’t have options for charging their vehicles.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said that, while it’s true more EV charging stations are needed, the biggest issue is maintenance, speculating that, on a typical day, about 50% of chargers don’t seem to work.

He advised the council to look into ways to address the maintenance issues, including potential legislative measures.

“The EV charging people are racing to get as much federal money as they can to install these and then don’t have anybody to come back and repair them,” McKay said. “And to me, that’s a huge threat to EV utilization because [when] you see them on a map, you expect them to be working.”

Reiterating a recommendation made last year, the report calls for the county to provide more funding for its stormwater program through either one of two options:

  • An increase in the Stormwater Service District tax in 2024 by at least one-quarter penny, from 3.25 cents to 3.5 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value
  • A change in the base property tax rate

Mason District Supervisor Andres Jimenez asked the council to keep equity and low-income residents in mind when considering these adjustments.

“I would hope that there will be something in place to ensure that the cost increases are equitable and do not disproportionately affect low-income residents,” Jimenez said.

The report also highlights a need to address pressure from development while preserving trees and minimizing ecological degradation.

“As you have development, you often have the loss of trees, you often have loss of habitat, and to the extent that it’s possible, it’s good to try to preserve as much as you can in this process,” Zaragoza said.

McKay agreed with the need to minimize environmental damage but said the council should also carefully consider how that priority intersects with the “oldest parts of the county that are in desperate need of revitalization.”

According to the report, proposed topics that the EQAC will review this year include the impacts of data centers, flood risks, and water security.

County staff have been developing guidelines for regulating noise, water pollution, power usage and other issues raised by data centers. In a new ARE recommendation, EQAC suggests that the county collect energy consumption data on its current and planned data centers, including the extent to which they utilize green energy.

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Fairfax County’s I-95 Landfill Complex (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 5:05 p.m. on 2/29/2024) Fairfax County’s supervisors believe that grassland birds deserve a safe nesting ground, even if it’s atop a former landfill.

The Board of Supervisors directed county staff on Feb. 20 to work with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia to identify areas within the I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton where mowing can be minimized to protect grassland birds during their nesting season.

Though the facility still provides waste disposal services, most of the landfill closed around the late 1980s to early 1990s, according to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck’s office.

Since then, the site has become a habitat for 100 species of grassland birds, including grasshopper sparrows, eastern meadowlarks, bobolinks and American kestrels.

“These are all birds of concern because of declining grassland habitats,” Greg Butcher, the former director of bird conservation for the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, told FFXnow in an email.

The Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) currently has an agreement with the Audubon Society to permit bird monitoring at the landfill.

Recently, the environmental organization reached out to the board, urging the county to consider restrictions on mowing during the nesting season, from April 1 to mid-July, due to its potential to destroy nests and eggs and harm fledglings and adult birds.

However, since federal and state regulations require mowing for post-closure maintenance of the landfill, DPWES and the Audubon Society must collaborate with DEQ to devise a strategy that both preserves nesting birds and ensures access to the landfill cover and gas wells, while also maintaining proper drainage.

Representatives from DPWES and the Audubon Society are set to start discussions soon and aim to formulate a plan in the upcoming weeks, DPWES Deputy Director Eric Forbes told FFXnow in an email.

“We are anticipating about a month for the development and coordination of the pilot plan to try to be ready for this season’s bird nesting,” he said. “The pilot plan would include a map showing no mow areas, access pathways to our landfill infrastructure (gas wells and stormwater conveyance), and a schedule for mowing in non-peak nesting season.”

For its part, the Audubon Society plans to send volunteers to map the locations of the birds and their potential nesting areas, Butcher says. But he noted the organization doesn’t know yet how big the “no-mow” area will need to be.

It’s also unclear how much the project will cost, but the board asked staff to provide an estimate in a report.

The county’s future plans for the now-closed parts of the I-95 landfill include a solar panel array and a potential indoor skiing facility from the Tysons-based company Alpine-X.

In addition, a public park with trails, an amphitheater and other amenities is being developed on the former Lorton Landfill across the street at 10001 Furnace Road. Owned by Furnace Associates, Inc., the private landfill stopped accepting construction and demolition debris in 2018 and completed the closure process in 2021.

Correction: This story originally conflated the I-95 Landfill Complex with the privately owned Lorton Landfill. It has been updated to clarify that the two sites are different. Image via Google Maps

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Paddle boats at the dock on Lake Accotink (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors hopes to preserve a smaller version of Lake Accotink, but a number of questions still need to be answered before it commits to a specific action plan.

At Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw’s request, the board directed staff yesterday (Tuesday) to begin a series of studies to flesh out a task force’s determination that it would be feasible for the county to save 20 to 40 acres of the Springfield lake as opposed to fully dredging it or allowing it to disappear.

“This has been closely coordinated with staff, so they’re aware of all of this,” Walkinshaw said prior to the unanimous board vote. “I believe we should proceed with the smaller lake option unless the feasibility study identifies unforeseen hurdles.”

In addition to a feasibility study that will look at the process, costs, implementation timeline and other factors of the potential project, the county will conduct a sedimentation rate study to get updated calculations of how much sediment is flowing into and out of Lake Accotink. A separate analysis will assess whether the man-made dam that created the lake meets Virginia’s current regulatory standards and the cost of any needed improvements.

To support the studies, the board told staff to develop a community engagement plan and assign a Department of Public Works and Environmental Services employee to coordinate the work, either by creating a new position or repurposing an existing one.

The county has already committed $60.5 million to Lake Accotink in its capital improvement program (CIP), according to Walkinshaw’s board matter. Approved in 2019 and 2021 to help dredge and maintain the lake, the funds will be continued in the next CIP, which is slated to be unveiled on Feb. 20 with the proposed fiscal year 2025 budget.

“I think we’re in a much better spot now than we were just a few weeks ago,” Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said. “I am very interested in the feasibility study not just looking at the initial costs of preserving Lake Accotink as a smaller lake, but also the ongoing maintenance costs and future capital costs.”

Lake Accotink Park (7500 Accotink Park Road) is one of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s most popular facilities, in part because of the boat rentals offered by its marina. However, the once-110-acre lake has shrunk to 49 acres due to sentiment transported by Accotink Creek, according to the Lake Accotink Task Force report released in December.

After previously planning to dredge the lake, a process undertaken in 1985 and 2008, county staff recommended last February that the lake instead be turned into a wetland, stating that the projected cost and neighborhood and environmental impacts no longer made dredging viable.

As community members urged the county to save Lake Accotink, the Board of Supervisors convened a task force led by former board chair Sharon Bulova to study if a smaller lake could be feasibly maintained with an initial, partial dredge, followed by regular maintenance dredges.

The task force studied the possibility of a 22-acre, 33-acre or 41-acre lake and found all of them could work, preserving the lake for recreation “while minimizing maintenance costs and impacts on surrounding communities,” Walkinshaw said in his board matter.

The smaller lake could be supplemented by trails, a managed wetland and other new amenities, the task force suggested. After the new feasibility study is completed, the park authority will restart a master planning process that was put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Depending on the exact size of the lake, the task force estimated that it could cost $24 to $34 million for an initial dredge that would restore a depth of 4-8 feet, but future maintenance costs are expected to be far lower than the $395 million that the county says it would take to preserve the full lake for the next 25 years, Walkinshaw noted.

Lingering questions include how to transport and dispose of the dredged sediment. A task force member suggested the Robinson Terminal Warehouse (7201 Wimsatt Road) as a processing site, but the property owners have made it “pretty clear they weren’t interested” when approached by county staff, according to Walkinshaw.

“Obviously, as this moves forward, all the potential processing sites will have to be reevaluated. For the time being, that’s been affirmed no,” he said.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay called the vote to initiate the feasibility study “a big step” in a discussion that’s been ongoing since 2016.

“Making sure the community knows where we’re heading is really critical here,” McKay said. “We still have some t’s to cross and i’s to dot here. This is a milestone moment, but not the end by any stretch of the imagination, and I know this will continue to be an issue of countywide importance until it’s resolved.”

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Christmas trees for sale at the Pan Am Shopping Center in Merrifield (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Christmas Day has come and gone, but the trees festooned with lights and tinsel for the occasion need to stay up for another week if you’re counting on a curbside pickup.

For the roughly 10% of residents served by Fairfax County, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services will collect live trees for recycling from Jan. 1-13 as part of its regular waste services.

Private trash companies licensed to operate in the county are also required to pick up trees 8 feet or shorter that are set outside in single-family and townhouse communities during the first two weeks in January.

“At the end of the two-week collection period, residents serviced by the County can schedule a brush pick-up for trees,” DPWES said in a news release. “Those who utilize a private company should contact their hauler with questions regarding collection of Christmas trees following the two-week period for special tree collection.”

Community members can also dispose of their trees directly at the I-66 Transfer Station (4618 West Ox Road) and I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton during their operating hours, though both have a $9 recycling fee for Christmas trees.

Trees that get recycled are turned into mulch that the county offers to residents.

Lights, ornaments, stands and other accessories must be removed before disposal.

“DPWES asks residents to dispose of tree lights in their recycling or trash because they get tangled in our machinery and their components are bad for the environment,” the department said, noting that lights can be dropped off at the county’s e-waste disposal sites or potentially local hardware stores.

For artificial trees, the county advises donating them to a charitable organization or church if they’re still in good condition. Local options include the Springfield nonprofit ECHO, which accepts Christmas trees in November and December, and GreenDrop sites, which also accept decorations.

In the Town of Vienna, curbside collection services will be provided for natural Christmas trees throughout January, and Town of Herndon residents can get trees picked up on their regularly scheduled trash day from Jan. 3-5 and Jan. 10-12.

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A restoration of a Piney Run tributary at Lamplighter Way in Reston is set to begin in winter 2024 (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County is making progress on a stream restoration project at Lamplighter Way in Reston after receiving the needed land rights to move ahead with designing the project.

The project was identified by the county’s management plan for the Difficult Run watershed and a nomination by Reston Association, which owns the land.

With the project, the county will restore about 1,200 linear feet of natural stream channel between Lamplighter Way and Woodbrook Lane, extending downstream to Piney Run.

The stream channels are severely eroded and over-widened bank, leading to further bed and bank instability, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

“Two sanitary sewer lines have been exposed by the erosion,” the department says on its project page. “This project is part of larger efforts to restore many of Fairfax County’s degraded streams while improving overall water quality and the condition of the Chesapeake Bay.”

The county will hold two public meetings on the project next month. A virtual meeting is set for Thursday, Jan 4 at 7 p.m. and an in-person meeting is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 6 at 10 a.m. Participants should meet at the park trail entrance at Center Harbor Road.

The project design is 65% complete, and plans are under review. Once the review is completed, the final design phase will begin. Construction is expected to begin in the winter of 2024.

The project costs $464,000.

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Work is underway to restore the waterways around the Fairfax County Government Center.

To support the Difficult Run stream restoration project, which began in October, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) worked with a consultant to relocate over 200 fish and eels to the pond outside the Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway).

In an approach that DPWES says is “unprecedented” for the county, the aquatic creatures were corralled using an electro-fishing boat provided by the consultant, Prince William County-based Solitude Lake Management.

A total of three eels, 49 bluegill and 145 golden shiners were moved on Dec. 5, making way for dredgings of the government center’s two amenity ponds.

“The American eel is actually an endangered species, so it’s especially good that we got them out,” Caleb Yankee, a fisheries biologist for Solitude Lake Management, said in a brief video shared by DPWES to showcase the relocation process.

According to Jonathan Witt, an ecologist in the department’s stormwater management division, electro-fishing involves electrifying the water “in the immediate vicinity” of the boat, stunning the fish and bringing them to the surface so they can be picked up in nets.

They were then put in a storage tank and transported to their new home less than a mile away.

DPWES emphasized that electro-shocking is a “sophisticated and humane technique that allows for efficient, safe fish relocation.” The county has utilized electro-shocking before, but on a smaller scale, using handheld devices instead of a full boat.

“The successful transfer of these aquatic residents to Herrity Pond signifies not only the protection of these species during the restoration project, but also the enrichment of the pond’s biodiversity,” DPWES said. “The fish have been carefully introduced into their revitalized habitat, marking a significant step towards ecological balance.”

In addition to dredging the ponds, the Difficult Run Tributary and Basins project entails restoring about 1,600 linear feet of stream, which will reduce soil erosion, shore up natural habitats on land and in the water and improve water quality, according to DPWES.

The northwestern portion of a trail on the government center campus recently reopened with the completion of the project’s first phase. Additional trail closures for the second and third phases are expected to start next week, according to DPWES spokesperson Sharon North.

“With the updated schedule, it could last [until] about May 2024,” North told FFXnow.

That would push back the end date for the fourth phase — which focuses on the streams and ponds along the property’s southeastern border — from September to November or December 2024.

After the project, the amenity ponds will be restocked with new native fish, DPWES says.

“Fairfax County residents are encouraged to participate in the final phase of the project, where they can witness the restocking of the amenity ponds,” the department said. “This event will offer a unique opportunity to observe the tangible impacts of such environmental initiatives.”

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The latest design for the new Patrick Henry Library was presented to the Vienna Town Council on Nov. 13 (via DPWES)

(Updated at 3:05 p.m.) The anticipated cost of renovating Patrick Henry Library has escalated in recent years, leading Fairfax County to seek a bigger contribution from the Town of Vienna.

The Vienna Town Council agreed on Monday (Dec. 4) to raise the town’s cap on funding for the new library’s construction to approximately $4.7 million — a $590,000 increase from the previous maximum set in 2020.

Under the existing joint development agreement, the town committed to paying up to $4.2 million or 19% of the total construction costs, along with 30% of the design costs. The project will replace the 13,817-square-foot community library at 101 Maple Avenue East with a bigger facility and a new parking garage.

The remainder of the funds will come from Fairfax County. However, an updated cost estimate completed in September found that the price of materials, labor, fuel and other factors has gone up, a trend affecting all of the county’s capital improvement projects, county staff recently told the town.

“The higher costs are attributable to the market escalation for material costs including supply chain issues, and continuing shortages in skilled labor,” Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson Sharon North told FFXnow by email.

North says more specifics about the county’s cost estimates can be shared “in the next few days” after DPWES updates county leaders on the town council’s decision.

In an email summarized by town staff, DPWES project manager Maryam Mostamandi told Vienna officials that the county’s cost estimators believe costs could continue escalating “at least through the end of 2025.”

“However, they have also cautioned that the market remains volatile, and they are finding it difficult to predict costs for the future,” she wrote.

She said plans for “aggressive” sustainability goals — including solar panels and all-electric building systems to achieve net-zero carbon emissions — have also contributed to the rising cost of the Patrick Henry project.

Those initiatives don’t affect the town’s share, which covers the 84 spaces it has been allocated in the four-level parking garage, Vienna Director of Finance Marion Serfass told the council. She said it “may not be practical” to eliminate a floor of the garage to lower costs, a suggestion evidently floated by council members in an earlier closed session.

“That would cut our number of spaces dramatically,” Serfass said. “…It would cut 68 spaces out, so we probably would not have enough garage spaces to get anything from [the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority] or to receive the grant we have agreed to, because NVTA wants to see something for their money.”

Though construction bids aren’t expected to go out until next fall, this was the last opportunity for Vienna to back out of the joint agreement. If the town took that “off-ramp,” it could’ve gotten back $331,500, or 50% of what it paid for the project’s design, according to staff.

Instead, the council unanimously voted to move forward with the project, which has been in the works since a feasibility study started in 2018.

“I hope construction costs come down, but it’ll give us the parking we need and improve the vibrancy of Vienna,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen said.

Councilmember Chuck Anderson agreed that the library is important to the community but warned county officials in the room, including Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, not to expect any additional increases to the financial cap.

According to town staff, the county gave “verbal assurances that there will be no more requests for cost increases.”

“I think we deserve the best possible library, and if there are overruns, we’ve kind of already paid for it through our regular property taxes to the county of Fairfax,” Anderson said.

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Boaters and geese can be seen in the distance on Lake Accotink (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The best path forward for saving Lake Accotink might to let it shrink, a Fairfax County task force has proposed.

Created by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in May, the 30-person group was charged with exploring alternatives to fully dredging the sediment that has accumulated in the man-made body of water or converting it to a wetland, as recommended earlier this year by county staff.

In a final report delivered to the board yesterday (Tuesday), the Task Force on the Future of Lake Accotink suggested that 20 to 40 acres of the lake could be preserved with “a program of regular maintenance dredging,” which would allow kayaking and other water recreation to continue at the popular Springfield park.

The remainder of the lake could be turned into “some combination of a managed wetland and a grassland,” the task force proposed. Originally 110 acres in size, Lake Accotink has already been reduced to 49 acres, thanks to sediment build-up from the area’s development, the report says, citing Fairfax County Park Authority project manager and senior planner Adam Wynn.

“There is no doubt that preserving a smaller lake meets significant community and social goals,” a task force subcommittee charged with analyzing alternatives to a full dredging wrote in the report. “Even a small lake would allow the maintenance of the current marina area, a community gathering place for picnics, birthday parties, and many others who enjoy the calming effects of a lake environment. And, importantly, a small lake would still preserve the beauty that so many find in a lake for generations to come.”

Frequented by over 250,000 visitors a year, Lake Accotink Park (7500 Accotink Park Road) is one of the park authority’s top attractions. It features miles of trails, a carousel, a mini golf course, a picnic area, bicycle rentals and a recently updated playground in addition to a marina, where visitors can rent canoes, kayaks and paddle boats.

However, sediment carried into the lake by Accotink Creek needs to be periodically dredged, a process undertaken in 1985 and 2008. The Board of Supervisors approved a plan in 2019 to conduct an initial $30.5 million dredging operation, followed by annual maintenance dredges that would cost an estimated $2 million per year.

But the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) and its consultant, Arcadis, reported in February that 43% more sediment would need to be removed than initially estimated, and the costs of both the initial dredgings had skyrocketed to roughly $95 million.

The first 20 years of the annual dredging program would require an additional $300 million in funding, according to the February report, which was based on data collected since 2021.

As a result, DPWES staff recommended letting the lake fill up and revisiting the park’s master plan to determine how it might be maintained in the future as a “wetland and/or floodplain forest complex” — a proposal that alarmed community members. Read More

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