A combined sewer overflow outfall on the James River near downtown Richmond. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)
Earlier proposals to put an additional $100 million in state funds toward upgrades to Richmond’s combined sewer overflow system got edged out of this year’s budget deal to fund other initiatives, top budget negotiators said Wednesday.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin as well as the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Democratic-controlled Senate all included the funding in their budget proposals this winter and spring.
Richmond needs roughly $1 billion to complete a $1.3 billion project to upgrade its 100-year-old system, which filters stormwater and sewage through the same pipes. While the system functions effectively during dry weather, heavy rainfalls cause sewage to overflow directly into the James River.
State law requires the city to separate out its stormwater and sewage systems by 2035. Smaller-scale but still expensive separation projects have occurred in Lynchburg and are ongoing in Alexandria, which must complete its work by 2025.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, said in an interview with the Mercury that Richmond’s CSO project has already received $100 million in the 2022 biennial budget, while Alexandria and Lynchburg’s projects received $40 million and $25 million, respectively.
In the current budget deal, “we wanted to put more into education, things like that,” Knight said. “Everybody doesn’t get everything they want.”
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Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee Co-Chair Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said on the floor that the funding “could be put easily in the caboose bill by the governor.” The caboose bill is a small budget bill that amends the last biennial plan to reflect actual revenues for the last few months of the biennium.
Members of Richmond’s state delegation said they were disappointed by the budget deal’s exclusion of the funding.
“We did not have input on that,” said Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, who voted against the deal, citing legislators’ lack of review. “Clearly not helpful for Richmond, and [it] is incredibly disappointing.”
Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, said he “can’t think of anything, any capital project, ladies and gentlemen, that is more important for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren than to keep our iconic rivers and Chesapeake Bay clean and pure.
“I’m hoping that in the future that we can get that money put back into the budget,” he said.
In a statement, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said Richmond “stands committed to modernizing our sewer system, but cannot ask our residents and businesses to shoulder the cost of this approximately $1 billion project on their own.”
State and local officials are trying to reduce the flow of combined storm runoff and sewage into the James not only because of public health concerns but because of the need to reduce stormwater pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. Data from the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership for cleaning up the Bay, shows that stormwater contributes 17% of nitrogen, 17% of phosphorus and 9% of sediment flowing into the Bay.
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