Elected leaders are celebrating the end of an era in Alexandria as a decades-old, coal-fired power plant in the city officially closes.
With the infamous smokestacks rising in the distance, elected officials gathered Monday in a parking lot near the Potomac River Generating Station to declare victory. After more than a decade of effort, the coal-fired power plant officially shut down MOnday.
"The largest source of air pollution in the D.C. region will be no more because of citizens involvement," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).
The fight to shut down the Potomac River Generating Station started with the citizens, who were concerned about a thick film collecting on their cars and window sills. One of those citizens is Poul Hertel, who, with other neighborhood residents, started asking questions years ago.
"It quickly became apparent that, yes, there was a lot of pollution coming into the neighborhood. And it was coming from somewhere, and the question was what?" Hertel says. The answer was the power plant, built in 1949.
Hertel and his neighbors gathered scientific data that was used to help persuade city leaders to join the fight. Eventually, a settlement agreement was negotiated to improve air quality. But Houston-based GenOn ultimately concluded that it wasn t worth the money.
"I think anyone who looks at this has to think that GenOn at one point had to make a business decision," said Alexandria City Council member Paul Smedberg. "Particularly with the prospect of having to make significant improvements to the plant to get up to even minimal EPA standards."
Whoever purchases the site will gain 25-acres of waterfront property, but the new owner will also be responsible for cleaning up after decades of pollution.
"For the first time since 1946, the residents of the neighborhood can actually breathe a sigh of relief without fearing what comes down from the power plant," says Hertel.
What comes next is a mystery. Whoever purchases the property will have a time-consuming and expensive duty of cleaning up the heavily polluted site in exchange for 25 acres of waterfront property.