Fairfax County is steadily making progress on efforts to cut its use of gas-powered leaf blowers.
By the end of June next year — the conclusion of the 2024 fiscal year — the county plans to ensure that the supply of electric blowers and string trimmers is nearly 50% electric, according to John Silcox, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination.
That means that 105 of the 217 leaf blowers owned and operated by the county will be powered by electric batteries.
“As funding allows, agencies will continue to replace aging gas models with new electric equipment,” Silcox said.
The effort is part of a countywide initiative to shift toward eco-friendly practices that reduce the county government’s carbon footprint overall.
In the fiscal year 2024 budget, for example, the county will replace 55 gas-powered leaf blowers with electric ones.
The county says transitioning to electric-powered lawn equipment will help reduce carbon emissions, noise and costs.
“Even as Fairfax County’s facilities are making the switch to battery-powered blowers and other electric equipment, we encourage residents and contractors to do the same,” Silcox said.
The effort has been underway since at least November 2021.
Photo via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons
The Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) is unveiling its first electric refuse trash truck today (Friday).
The truck will “pick up residential trash and yard waste on routes throughout the county,” DPWES announced. The county says the truck is “a move that will save money and protect the environment.”
The unveiling falls in line with the county’s strategy to make government operations carbon-neutral by 2040.
“Electric vehicles produce zero emissions, meaning cleaner air for Fairfax County. Electric vehicles are quieter, also reducing noise pollution. The electric truck saves residents money by requiring less overall maintenance and eliminating fuel costs,” the site reads.
The truck will join a fleet that already has 50 electric vehicles in operation, including four sedans used by DPWES. In addition, Fairfax County Public Schools has eight electric school buses.
Scott Peterson, vice chair of local environmental advocacy group Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, called the new trash truck a positive first step.
“We hope the trial is successful and that electric trash trucks in the county, both private and county-owned, will quickly become the new normal,” Peterson said. “Heavy trucks running through our neighborhoods won’t be polluting the air we all breathe, and they’ll be so much quieter, too.”
Charging stations have been installed at the DPWES Newington Collections facility at 6901 Allen Park Road, where the county is holding the unveiling.
“When the battery has less than 20 percent of power, it will take up to five hours to recharge. Once it’s on its route, this truck can hold up to seven tons of recycling and up to 12 tons of trash,” the county says.
The trucks cost the county roughly $350,000 and are paid for by the Department’s Solid Waste Management Program and a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality grant. The county expects to have a second electric truck in September.
The unveiling is open to the public, and several county lawmakers are scheduled to speak. The event starts at 11 am.
More reports of the spotted lanternfly are popping up throughout Fairfax County, according to local officials.
The invasive insect — which is native to China, India and Vietman — has been seen in more areas of the county, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services says.
Officials are asking the public to help kill the pest. So far, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has been working closely with the county to determine how to reduce its numbers.
After first arriving in a grocery store shipment to Annandale, the bugs have primarily proliferated in the western area of the county, including Herndon, Centreville and Chantilly. Infestations have also been reported in Burke and Dunn Loring, according to a DPWES graphic.
The insects feasts on more than 70 plant species, particularly the invasive tree-of-heaven, and is particularly problematic for Virginia, where they’re threatening the peach, apple, grape and wine industries, DPWES says.
“Spotted lanternfly has the potential to cause severe nuisance to residents by feeding on trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in unusually large numbers and leaving a sticky, smelly mess when they leave,” DPWES said. “While plant mortality is not a widespread concern, the nuisance created by these insects could cause some reactionary behaviors, leading to unnecessary pesticide use and the potential removal of valuable tree canopy and other vegetation.”
Egg masses are common in September and throughout the first few hard frosts. Vehicles help spread the pest around, particularly those near trees or the edges of a forest.
Here’s more from DPWES on how to help:
If you find spotted lanternfly, please report your findings through the mobile app iNaturalist or call 703-324-5304.
You can also report your findings by email at ReportSLF@fairfaxcounty.gov. Provide photos and an address with your report.
After careful identification, trap or kill the insect, and scrape and smash the egg mass.
Check your vehicles, trailers and mobile equipment (tractors, bobcats, etc.) before visiting other locations.
Photo via Magi Kern/Unsplash
The coming winter’s leaf collection season might be Fairfax County’s last.
The Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has proposed terminating the leaf vacuum services it provides to thousands of residents after each fall, citing rising costs and “operational issues.”
A survey seeking public input on the recommendation has launched and will remain open until Aug. 18.
“During the 2022-2023 season, the program experienced numerous setbacks including collection delays, staffing shortages, a larger volume of leaves than normal, and inclement weather,” DPWES said in a news release. “After assessing the service, County staff propose to discontinue vacuum leaf service when the upcoming season concludes, along with the tax imposed for the service.”
Approximately 25,000 residents get leaf collection service through the county, according to DPWES, whose Solid Waste Management Program staff works with private contractors to vacuum up leaves from the curb three times a season, typically between November and January.
The collection areas are established through resident petitions and supported by a special tax based on property values. The eight areas that the county currently has are concentrated in the east, including parts of McLean, Idylwood, Bailey’s Crossroads, Lake Barcroft and Fort Hunt.
Last year, the county encountered delays in its leaf collections as it wrangled with staff shortages, equipment issues and an earlier-than-usual leaf fall.
DPWES says those issues could affect its ability to provide reliable service going forward, and customers have also raised concerns about lingering leaves disrupting public safety, including by:
- Blocking storm drains, creating flooding concerns
- Contributing to pedestrian and vehicle conflicts when pedestrians are forced to walk in streets
- Creating fire hazards from vehicles parked on leaves
- Presenting slip-and-fall hazards from people walking on slippery leaves
- Reducing on-street parking
Other considerations include increased costs and environmental issues. DPWES grinds up the collected leaves into mulch that’s distributed at various sites for free.
From the press release:
The County is facing increased costs to provide vacuum leaf collection. Due to the need for an additional contractor, overtime for County employees and temporary contractors support workers, it is estimated the 2023 season will incur an approximate $900,000 deficit and another predicted $400,000 deficit at the end of fiscal year 2024. The service also conflicts with the County’s adopted sustainability policies to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
The upcoming 2023-2024 collection season will take place as scheduled, since residents were already charged back in January, DPWES says.
In addition to filling out the survey, residents can weigh in on the proposal to end services by leaving a voicemail or texting “leaf collection” to 703-890-5898, Project Code: 2159.
A final decision will be made this fall by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Lake Accotink is off limits entering the Fourth of July holiday weekend after an upstream sewage spill potentially contaminated the water.
Fairfax County has shut down all activities on the North Springfield lake, including fishing and boating, while the water is tested for bacteria.
The closure took immediate effect and will remain in place “until further notice,” the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) said in a news release:
The Fairfax County Wastewater Management Program has identified a sewage spill upstream of Lake Accotink. Out of an abundance of caution, immediate closure of lake activities is recommended for activities involving contact with the lake, such as swimming and fishing, as the water may be contaminated. The closure is in effect until further notice.
Bacterial testing of the water is underway, and results are expected within 24 hours. Updates will be provided when the analysis is complete.
Precautionary signage is being placed near the area of the spill.
According to DPWES, the sewage spill came from “a blockage in a pipe carrying untreated sewage to a treatment plant.”
“As soon as the spill was detected, staff cleaned up any untreated sewage identified,” DPWES spokesperson Sharon North said, noting that the cleanup was completed by 12:30 p.m. “Follow-up testing is done in waterways to determine if downstream contamination occurred and to confirm when surface waters recover from spills.”
The closure comes as the community grapples with long-term threats to Lake Accotink Park, one of the county’s most popular recreational destinations. A task force charged with determining whether to maintain the lake through dredging, convert it into a wetland or develop a hybrid option met for the first time on Monday (June 26).
The park’s playground is also out of commission while the Fairfax County Park Authority installs new equipment, replacing a facility that was deemed unsafe.
Updates will be provided when the analysis is complete.
— Supervisor James Walkinshaw (@JRWalkinshaw) June 30, 2023
A hole was recently found in a sewer pipe along Shreve Road in Idylwood, necessitating emergency repairs that started yesterday (Wednesday).
The issue was discovered during a “routine inspection” of the pipe, which carries wastewater from 34 homes and Shrevewood Elementary School, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.
DPWES described the defect as a visible “hole void.”
Identified by the department’s Wastewater Collection Division (WCD) last week, the defect is severe enough that “immediate action” was required to repair the pipe and prevent it from collapsing, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said yesterday.
“WCD is initiating an emergency response to perform the point repair,” Palchik said in a tweet. “The work will be performed with Utilities Unlimited and is anticipated to start TODAY and be completed within one week.”
According to DPWES spokesperson Sharon North, the actual pipe repair is expected to be finished this week, but more time may be needed to repave the site, depending on whether the Virginia Department of Transportation allows crews to work over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
“We anticipate the pipe repair will be completed this week, but site restoration (repaving) may need to be completed next week pending VDOT decision,” North said. “When the work commences, since the sewer is in the middle of the road, the repair will require some traffic lane closures with flaggers directing traffic to safely perform the work.”
The pipe has the capacity to convey approximately 1.4 million gallons per day of wastewater flow from residents and the school, according to DPWES.
The sewer line was already scheduled to undergo “trenchless” cured-in-place pipe rehabilitation — a type of repair for pipe lining that can be implemented without digging up the pipe.
That rehabilitation work will now begin after the emergency repairs are completed, Palchik said.
WCD is initiating an emergency response to perform the point repair. The work will be performed with Utilities Unlimited and is anticipated to start TODAY and be completed within one week. Following the repair, the entire pipe will be rehabilitated using trenchless CIPP method.
— Dalia Palchik (@SupvPalchik) June 28, 2023
In an effort to reduce heat islands in vulnerable communities, the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has applied for millions of dollars in grant funding to establish a street tree planting program.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the department’s request on Tuesday (June 6) to apply for a $11.5 million Inflation Reduction Act Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) grant from the U.S. Forest Service.
“The grant period is five years from the award date which is anticipated to be October 2023,” the board meeting package said.
Department of Public Works and Environmental Services spokesperson (DPWES) Sharon North told FFXnow the department is proposing to plant 1,000 trees over a five-year period. Although the county is looking at vulnerable communities, she said “no decision on the grant recipients will be made until October.”
The Forest Service announced the funding opportunity back in April. The UCF program received $1.5 billion under the Inflation Reduction Act to support urban tree planting and forest planning and management in at-risk communities.
“The Resilient Fairfax Plan notes that 91 percent of vulnerable households are in areas identified as having a significantly high urban heat island effect and that vulnerable populations are more likely to be impacted by extreme heat,” the package said.
Factors considered by the county’s vulnerability index include household income, education, English proficiency, health insurance and the percentage of the population that owns a home or vehicle.
If the county is awarded the funds, the program will also promote tree planting through partnerships with the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Fairfax County Park Authority, Fairfax County Public Schools, and nonprofit organizations.
The county also identifies specific activities that will receive the funding:
- identifying areas in the county that are heat vulnerable low tree canopy and/or areas where green infrastructure would provide additional community and resilience benefits
- planting and maintaining up to 5,000 native and/or climate-resilient street trees over five years in neighborhoods and within the right-of-way and on public property
- educating and engaging the public on the benefits of green spaces and trees
- expansion of a green workforce to maintain existing and new street trees.
The county launched a pilot program in 2021 that provides free trees to residents of areas with minimal tree canopy coverage. The program initially focused on the Richmond Highway corridor but was expected to shift to Bailey’s Crossroads this year.
Troubled trash company Haulin’ Trash has closed its bankruptcy case, leaving thousands of Fairfax County residents unable to get refunds for missed or delayed services.
Back in December, the trash collecting company Haulin’ Trash permanently shuttered after missing a series of collections due to staff shortages and “financial difficulties.” The company had operated in the county for about a year and served approximately 3,000 customers.
To help those residents, Fairfax County temporarily waived landfill disposal fees for former Haulin’ Trash customers.
Fairfax County received more than 300 complaints about the company during its one year of operation, including 147 to the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) and 188 to the Department of Cable and Consumer Services (DCCS), per officials.
In March, the company officially filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The case was closed early last month, with the company not having enough funds to provide refunds or credits to customers.
“On April 5, 2023, the bankruptcy trustee issued a report of No Distribution-No Funds, and the case was closed on April 6, 2023. No credits or refunds will be issued to affected residents/customers,” DPWES spokesperson Sharon North wrote FFXnow. “To date, Haulin’ Trash has not been responsive to the consumer complaints sent from the County. Because the bankruptcy case is now closed, Fairfax County Consumer Affairs is unable to mediate further.”
DPWES does have a list on its website of other providers for impacted residents.
Haulin’ Trash’s demise came as the county grappled with trash troubles that date back to at least 2019 but worsened during the pandemic. About 90% of residents and businesses are served by private collection companies like Haulin’ Trash.
Last fall, DWPES had American Disposal enter into a consent agreement that asked the company to hire more drivers and customer service personnel, increase salaries, and credit customers for missed pick-ups. It also imposed a $5,000 fine on the company.
Since that time, customer complaints against American Disposal have significantly decreased, the county says.
“American Disposal Service has met the requirements of the 2022 Consent Agreement,” North wrote. “Complaints for haulers which operate in Fairfax County are currently at satisfactory levels.”
Only four complaints have been made to DCCS about American Disposal since the beginning of the year, per a spokesperson from the agency.
Despite short-term service problems appearing to be resolved, the county is still looking to make big changes to its solid waste management model.
“DPWES staff are in the process of scoping a major revision to our solid waste management plan to meet state and board directives,” North said. “During this time we will look at alternative options for waste management.”
Beginning May 1, the facilities will reduce hours for dropping off household hazardous waste (HHW) and electronics waste. The changes are ushered in by staffing shortages and are intended to maintain a “consistent quality service,” according to the county.
Currently, four of the seven total positions for environmental technology are vacant — positions that are hard to fill internally and externally, says Sharon North, a spokesperson for the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES).
“They require specific training and knowledge to work with such materials, per federal and state regulation,” North told FFXnow. “The training is focused on packaging, labeling, and marking shipping containers and drums, as well as basic knowledge of chemical, environmental and health hazards, plus hazardous waste emergency response methods, procedures and regulations.”
Private contractors that the county typically relies on to supply field chemists and other staff have also been hit by similar labor problems.
“These challenges are not unlike what we are seeing throughout our DPWES operations with regard to frontline field personnel,” North said. “The most challenging positions are drivers, operators, technicians, maintenance and trades personnel, safety specialists and general labor.”
A breakdown of the new hours is below:
*The new I-66 HHW drop-off hours will be:
Monday and Friday: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tuesday and Thursday: noon to 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
*There are no HHW drop-offs hours on Wednesday.
*The new I-95 HHW drop-off hours will be:
Wednesday: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
*There are no HHW drop-offs hours on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Sunday.
*The new I-66 electronics waste drop-off hours will be:
Monday: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tuesday: noon to 5 p.m. (half day)
Thursday: noon to 5 p.m. (half day)
Friday: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
*There are no electronics drop-off hours on Wednesday.
*The new I-95 electronics drop-off hours will be:
Wednesday: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
*There are no electronics drop-off hours on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Sunday
Maintenance work on the Circle Woods stormwater pond in Oakton will have to wait until this summer — or until the hawks nesting in a nearby tree take their leave.
The Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) shared on Monday (April 3) that its contractor had encountered an “active hawks nest” in a tree that has been slated for removal.
The birds and their nest are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treat Act and a nationwide permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to the county.
“The construction team and our Fairfax County Park Authority partners made the decision to pause active work to limit disruption that could impact the nesting birds and ensure we maintain compliance with the permit and federal law,” DPWES said in an update on the project page.
DPWES spokesperson Sharon North confirmed that only one nest has been found, but it’s unclear how many birds are using it. At least two hawks have been photographed in the area.
Work will resume after the nesting period, which is expected to last through early June, or once the project team determines that the nest is no longer being used.
Construction on the pond was scheduled to begin on March 3, according to Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik. Some initial setup and tree-clearing activities had gotten underway when workers found the hawk nest.
@ffxpublicworks completed survey, permitting, design, & support services for the Circle Woods Pond Improvement Project to perform necessary maintenance on an existing stormwater detention facility & make improvements within the pond floor and at the outfall. pic.twitter.com/eyjNWzUdv4
— Dalia Palchik (@SupvPalchik) February 21, 2023
DPWES says it initiated the project after maintenance workers detected “dam and control structure deficiencies” with the detention pond, which is located near East Blake Lane Park.
In addition to making “necessary repairs” to the dam and replacing the control structure, the project will involve the removal of sediment and an “extensive” tree root structure that has begun to encroach on the dam embankment, according to the county.
With a total budget of $685,000, the project was expected to be finished in November, suggesting that if construction work doesn’t resume until June, it will now continue into 2023.
Once construction restarts, the East Blake Lane Trail will be closed between Vaden Dr. and Route 29 will be closed throughout the project.