(Oct. 15, 2018) Catherine Read interviews State Senator Scott Surovell (D-36), in a discussion ranging from transportation to predatory lending to environmental reforms regarding coal ash. Sen. Surovell represents the 36th district, including parts of southeastern Fairfax, eastern Prince William and northern Stafford counties. Surovell is a native Virginian and graduate of West Potomac High School, James Madison University, and University of Virginia Law School. He is proud to represent the area in which he grew up.
Throughout his tenure in the Virginia General Assembly, Surovell has worked hard to expand opportunities and help solve problems for his constituents. He was first elected to office as a Delegate in 2009, followed by a successful bid for the state Senate in 2015. He recognizes the great disparity and income inequality in his district, which very much mirrors what is happening throughout Northern Virginia.
One of the areas that Sen. Surovell has paid particular attention to is the Rt. 1 Corridor, stretching through the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County. Year ago, this corridor used to be a vibrant commercial district, but has been left behind as much of the rest of the area experienced economic growth. The result is that these neighborhoods are now some of the poorest and are home to some of the most vulnerable residents of Fairfax County.
Starting in 2009, Surovell brought his big ideas to VDOT regarding redevelopment along the corridor. He successfully lobbied VDOT to fund a study of the area south of the Huntington Metro. This led to a set of recommendations that were given in 2015 to ultimately widen Rt. 1 to 6 lanes and to institute a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system to facilitate traffic flow. Accordingly, the land needs to be rezoned along the corridor to allow for increased density. In order for the region to qualify for grants through the Federal Transportation Administration, the number of residents needs to increase from 40,000 to 100,000 in order to support the investment in transportation upgrades.
One of the biggest concerns that surround a redevelopment project of this scope is to ensure that residents are not displaced during the construction of the project. There is already a shortage of affordable housing in the area, and when planning the redevelopment it will be crucial to ensure that affordable housing remains available. In order to qualify for the federal funding, there is a provision that there is no net loss of affordable housing after the project is complete. Additionally, public officials need to be very careful that communities are not displaced and torn apart.
As part of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) Act that passed in 2013, which raised the gas tax and grantors tax in order to fund local transportation initiatives, the Rt. 1 corridor is finally seeing some money flowing down to fund projects. The NVTA is making a $370 million down payment to begin the work on this development. The process of getting this work done is long and complex; Surovell said we can expect to see a shovel in the ground in 2026.
Additional projects in his district include widening of Rt. 1 in Dumfries and the bottleneck of traffic on I-95 South when crossing the Occoquan. The hangup with that particular project includes having to renegotiate the contract with Transurban, who maintains the HOT lanes on I-95, as they will suffer in lost toll revenue if the road is being worked on.
Sen. Surovell has worked hard over many years to bring reform to the power industry in regards to how they dispose of coal ash. Coal ash is the residue that is produced after burning coal for power. For years, standard operating procedure allowed Dominion Energy, the state’s main power provider, to bury this coal ash in the ground. Holes were dug, filled with water and the ash was dumped in them. Several years ago those coal ash “ponds” burst, and that coal ash flowed into the adjacent rivers, polluting the Potomac, Occoquan and James Rivers. The EPA then ordered the state to shut down the practice and clean up the sites, which all show evidence of arsenic, cadmium, lead and hexavelant chronium, mercury and selenium. Up to this point, Virginia was the only state that did not require power companies to recycle coal ash.
The good news about this is that the coal ash that is being dumped is a key ingredient in the production of concrete. So much so, that the concrete companies are actually importing coal ash from Italy in order to meet their supply needs. Dominion will eventually be able to sell this as a product to the local concrete companies. The ash that needs to be cleaned up could also be marketable, however the challenge is that the coal ash that the ash will need to be dried out and the problem chemicals will need to be extracted from the ash before it can be sold.
The question faced today by lawmakers is how much will this process cost, and how much can Dominion will be allowed to hike rates to cover their costs. There are currently a small group of delegates and senators who are working on coming to a consensus on how to best handle this multi-billion dollar issue.
Another very prevalent issue in Sen. Surovell’s district is the practice of predatory lending. There is a high concentration of predatory lenders located in the Route 1 Corridor, including a variety of Pay Day and Car Title loan companies. Over the past several years there have been numerous restrictions on these practices, and it seems like each time there are rules put in place to curb the practice, new companies pop up in a different iteration with another way to scam borrowers.
In 2009 the state put a 36% rate cap on payday loans. Then, in 2010 the car title companies showed up to offer an alternative to those in need. In 2011, the laws put in place were not well constructed, which opened up the door for these companies to lend to car title holders in MD and DC (where this practice is greatly restricted) for up to 267% APR. The people who are seeking these loans are desperate and often do not understand the implications of what they are doing. They often borrow to pay off other loans, and the situation can tend to snowball for them. If you have feedback for Sen. Surovell he is open to hearing from constituents, and would like to work with his colleagues to curb these practices.