Brown water was just the start: A year of misery next to Virginia hospital construction project

People living near Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington have noticed murky water and can’t park in front of their homes. (WTOP/John Domen)

Living across the street from a hospital undergoing a major expansion project will cause headaches and inconveniences. Brady Haynes knew it, and he was OK with it.

He said he knows that once the expansion of Virginia Hospital Center, in Arlington, is complete, it’ll be a benefit to the community.

But right now, he said, the work to get there is a major detriment to him and his neighbors, and anyone who could be in charge of making things better doesn’t seem to care.

Earlier this spring, Haynes and some of his other neighbors threatened to go to the media if things didn’t get better. And when they didn’t, they started sharing their story.

Already he’s seeing signs of progress, even though the problems aren’t going away.

The most notable, and grossest complaint, has been the water, a problem that was first raised in an Arlington Now article — brown, murky, rust-filled water that Haynes says looks like urine and has ruined clothes, stained bath tubs, and, he expects, will hasten the breakdown of appliances.

The Arlington County Department of Environmental Services told WTOP in a statement that water main construction has stirred up sediment and minerals that have accumulated in existing mains for decades. They said it was harmless, though it can change the color and taste of the water.

 

The department said it’s been working since February to flush service lines and pipes. When it started getting complaints again in March, crews began daily flushing of the main. The department added that residents should be transferred to a new water main this week, “and we expect to resolve these concerns for our residents.”

For the first time since June of last year, the water is less brown now that a newer, bigger water main has been put in place and activated. And while the county said it spent four months addressing the issue, Haynes said that makes him wonder what was going on the eight months before then.

But that’s just one example, he said.

“The problem has been the lack of accountability to all of the discussion that we’ve had.” More than once, he added, “The community expressed ‘We don’t want certain things to happen,’ and many of those things have occurred. No one seems to be holding the hospital and the contractors accountable to their end of the bargain.”

Murky water has been coming out of spouts in homes bear the Virginia Hospital Center construction project in Arlington. (WTOP/John Domen)

From there, Haynes began going through a long list of hassles that, cumulatively, he says can’t be allowed to continue for the 18 more months the construction is expected to take.

“We can’t park in front of our house, I can’t get in and out of my driveway sometimes; they close it off,” said Haynes. When his street is closed off, he has to park five to six blocks away, he said.

“We’ve had issues with them working past the designated hours that they said that they would work. They come and work on the weekends at all hours. They said that they would let us know when they were doing that; they don’t let us know,” said Haynes. “They run generators at all hours in front of the houses and they have big flood lights on.”

Tanya Graham-Kirkland, who lives a few doors down, said media attention on the project is making a difference.

“This is the first in maybe two weeks that they’re actually done by 5 or 6,” she said. “It’s usually 9 p.m., sometimes maybe later.”

But now, long-term, expensive problems are also starting to appear.

“They’ve caused settling of my house,” said Haynes. “I have cracks in my ceilings and my walls and everything as the construction across the street has caused a large amount of movement of earth. I know a few of my neighbors have placed claims with the general contractor’s insurance company over that.”

“I think we’ve had a lot taken from us,” Graham-Kirkland said, “but nothing given, or any type of return for us,” she added.

That includes money spent on pest control after mice started infesting nearby homes, something Graham-Kirkland says began after crews started digging across the street.

“No one volunteered to pay for that,” she lamented.

Haynes described the process as a constant runaround.

“Instead when we raise issues it’s ‘Oh we’re not doing that to you, that’s not our fault, that’s not our problem,'” he said.

For its part, the county said it’s conducting oversight of the project in a way that looks out for those kinds of problems. Haynes also said after the media began showing up in the neighborhood he’s noticed a change.

He added that some county employees have tried to be helpful when they’ve been sent out.

“The problem is they only know what they’re told; they only know the information that they’re provided,” said Haynes. “The issue is that someone needs to be figuring out what are the problems, how do we take care of these people, and then give guidance out to the workers to go get it done.”

Instead, he said, the hospital has stopped caring about anything that happens off the hospital’s property and he says the county tells him it has limited oversight over the project since it’s a private project.

WTOP has reached out to Virginia Hospital Center for comment.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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