The Wash
At Prince Street bicycles were submerged underwater after historic flooding in Alexandria on Friday. A couple took the opportunity to go canoeing. (Muhammed Al Refai/The Wash)

Alexandria City Council approves $60M in grant applications amid worst flooding since ‘03 Hurricane Isabel

Just three days before historic flooding, Alexandria City Council approved $60 million in grant applications to go toward the Waterfront Flood Mitigation Project.

Three days before the Waterfront experienced the worst flooding since 2003, Alexandria City Council approved $60 million in grant applications to be used for the city’s flood mitigation projects.

On Friday, the Potomac River reached almost 6 feet above sea level, submerging several blocks of Old Town near the waterfront.

“We were completely surrounded by water and so we were forced to close down,” Chris Shell, the manager of Chart House said.

Shell said the restaurant, on Cameron Street, closed down during high tide at around 3 p.m. on Friday when the water had surrounded the base of the restaurant. He said restaurant staff couldn’t leave until about three hours later when the water had finally subsided.

The flood on Friday was caused by heavy rainfall in the north and east which flowed into the river causing it to swell over its banks during high tide. According to the city, Alexandria is prone to flooding from heavy rainfall and tropical storms which create overbank flooding from the Potomac River.

“Whenever it rains a lot either it floods the night it rains or all the extra water comes in the morning,” said Hailey Baldwin, a lifelong Alexandria resident.

At King Street, a trash can is submerged under water due to tidal flooding of the Potomac River. According to the National Weather Service, the highest observed tide in the Potomac River at Alexandria was 5.99 feet on Friday. (Muhammed Al Refai/The Wash)

The city provided free sandbags to residents and businesses on Friday, ahead of high tide when the flooding was at its peak.

Sean Hall, manager of Chadwick’s on Strand Street, said despite being prepared with sandbags, some water still seeped into the restaurant.

Hall, who has been at Chadwick’s since 1998, said that a little bit of flooding is nothing new, but the amount of flooding on Friday was unusual.

The last time Hall saw water enter the building was in 2003 during Hurricane Isabel. “The water was over the bar,” Hall said.

Hall said he was impressed with how the city handled the flooding. He said when he was opening the restaurant at 10 a.m. on Saturday, the city streets were completely cleared of debris.

“This is hands down the best I’ve seen them do as far as pre-warning and post-clean up, really very impressive,” Hall said.

Hall said police put up roadblocks to stop large vehicles from driving through the flooded streets. He said when large vehicles pass through the floods, this can cause wakes that rise over barriers that residents and businesses put in place to protect themselves from flooding.

At Prince Street residents came out to look at the effects of the flooding. Although it was not raining heavily at the time, the tidal flooding occurred due to the timing of high tide and heavy rainfall in other areas which flowed into the Potomac River. (Muhammed Al Refai/The Wash)

The city has had ongoing discussions about mitigating the effects of flooding from the Potomac river.

On Oct. 26, the city council approved the first grant application for $50 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Grant Program. The awarded grant money will go toward the Waterfront Flood Mitigation Project.

The amount of funding the city receives will depend on how many points it scores in accordance with FEMA’s scoring methods.

City Manager Mark Jinks said BRIC funding would also be dependent on the total number of applicants nationwide as well as the kinds of projects those applicants are looking to fund.

“There’s some categories where this project just doesn’t score points because it doesn’t have the features that get those points,” Jinks said at the council meeting.

Two other grant applications were approved for a total of around $10 million from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Resources Authority for the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund Grant Program, which would also go toward the Waterfront Flood Mitigation Project.

On Oct. 4, the Waterfront Commission Flood Mitigation Committee presented a variety of flood mitigation plans which include improving streetscape, stormwater and pump station infrastructure.

ALXnow reported that the presented plans would reduce stormwater overwhelming existing infrastructure and would stop the river from backing up the sewer system.

But neither would fully fix the overtopping from the river — nor have prevented Friday’s historic flooding.

Back at Chadwick’s, manager Sean Hall said he’s used to some flooding but floods of this caliber tend to be much rarer.

“Usually, we don’t take it that seriously, but this one, this one obviously came up a little more than usual.”

Muhammed Al Refai

Muhammed is a graduate student at American University, reporting on community news for the city of Alexandria, Virginia.

He is a technical communicator who enjoys breaking down scientific topics into digestible, engaging chunks for people to enjoy and understand.

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