A neighborhood working group has formed to work on issues that have come up as DC Water proceeds with its sewer rehabilitation project in the Soapstone Valley.
The group’s members are ANC 3F Commissioner Dipa Mehta; Josh Savitch, a Soapstone neighbor who had been watching the project develop and asked Mehta how he could get more involved; Mitch Baer, another Soapstone neighbor and retired federal worker with decades of experience in air quality regulation; and Marjorie Share, a community activist who was the first to raise concerns about the process DC Water intends to use to reline the century-old sewer pipes.
In the weeks since DC Water’s last public presentation, during ANC 3F’s July 19th meeting, the working group has been kept in touch with DC Water and the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) on issues including air quality monitoring, public information and communication about the project, and noise from water pumps used to divert Soapstone Creek from work sites.
Air quality issues
One area of concern is the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that will be released during the process of lining the aging pipes with resin and hardening them through a process called cured-in-place pipe, or CIPP. Another concern is the emissions from the boiler truck that will produce the steam required for the curing process.
Stephen Ours, DOEE’s air quality permitting branch chief, plays an important role in both. Ours told Forest Hills Connection in an August 26th email that IPR Northeast, the DC Water contractor performing the Soapstone sewer work, had submitted an air quality permit application for the boiler, and that the application was under review. And he updated the working group on September 9th with the news that the draft permit had been released for public comment, and a virtual hearing was set for October 11th.
A bigger concern of the working group is VOCs traveling through sewer lines connected to nearby houses, apartments and a preschool, potentially impacting their indoor air quality. Ours said DOEE had not yet approved DC Water’s air quality monitoring plan. He said DOEE was waiting for DC Water to “describe any proposed changes to the plan” based on feedback from the working group during a July 15th meeting “and potentially subsequent communications from community members.”
Who’s watching the watchers?
The air quality monitoring system is of particular concern to Marjorie Share, who in her digging into steam and hot water CIPP alternatives found that materials safety data sheets provided by CIPP manufacturers often do not list all the chemicals created and released during the process. Also, according to peer-reviewed research, the instruments proposed to be used in the monitoring process can be unreliable.
Share and ANC 3F Commissioner Mehta are also concerned about the formal connections – and the lack of acknowledgement about the connections – between top officials at DC Water, AECOM, and the Water Research Foundation. AECOM is the contractor DC Water brought in to draw up the air quality monitoring plan. The Water Research Foundation is an Alexandria-based nonprofit that will hire a university to conduct the testing. David Gadis, the CEO and general manager of DC Water, and Beverly Stinson, executive vice president of AECOM, both sit on the Water Research Foundation board of directors.
Since mid June, residents of Park Van Ness have been hearing what one described as “intolerable” noise, for as many as 12 hours a day, from water pumps used to redirect Soapstone Creek at the project’s Site 1, behind the Connecticut Avenue apartment building (see the map below). One pump was moved at the end of July, but DC Water project manager Peter Tinubu told Josh Savitch on August 23rd that the second pump was to return to Site 1 at the beginning of September. Tinubu said DC Water was working on insulating the pumps for noise reduction and to address residents’ complaints.
Site work continues
While CIPP work is still weeks away, stream restoration work is ongoing. The stream work serves the duel purpose of repairing years of stormwater erosion, and protecting the rehabilitated sewer infrastructure against future damage. The work is now under way at what DC Water calls Site 4, to the south and east of the Linnean Avenue and Audubon Terrace dead ends.
At Site 1, stream restoration work has started up again and will continue for the next three to four months. This will include work on the storm sewer outfall (F-117 in the image above) underneath Connecticut Avenue at Albemarle Street. The work includes cutting down two trees and cutting back the pipe under Connecticut to create a larger pool of water. This will slow the stormwater and reduce its impact on the stream during large rain events.