Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Reminder: Tap Water Change Today — “The District of Columbia, Arlington County and northeastern Fairfax County will clean out their tap water network starting Monday — a safe, annual process. Service continues uninterrupted during the process, which runs from March 30 through May 4. During that time, drinking water in the may taste slightly different. But the purification process remains unchanged and the water is essentially unchanged.” [ARLnow]

Jail Takes Extra Precautions — “We have created a unit that is strictly for all new individuals that are committed to the jail. These individuals are ‘quarantined’ from the rest of the population for an initial 14 days and checked daily by our Medical Staff. With the Detention Center population being low, we were able to move inmates around, creating the safest environment for those individuals that have been remanded to our custody and for new individuals entering the facility.” [Arlington County]

Human Services from a Distance — “Arlington’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is taking steps to provide services that don’t require in-person visits in an effort to contribute to the community slowdown of the spread of COVID-19.” [Arlington County]

Post Editorial Assails Arlington Judges — “Parisa Dehghani-Tafti last fall ran for commonwealth’s attorney on a promise of criminal justice reform, and voters in Arlington County and Falls Church chose her — and that platform — over the longtime, tough-on-crime incumbent. Now her efforts to deliver on her promise of progressive justice have run into opposition from judges who have taken highly unusual — and some say inappropriate — steps to undermine her discretion as the jurisdiction’s top elected prosecutor.” [Washington Post]

Shirlington Circle Closure in Place — “The northern section of the Shirlington Circle bridge over the general purpose and express lanes on I-395 will close from 10 p.m., Sunday, March 29 until midnight, Wednesday night, April 1… Travelers driving north on the I-395 general purpose lanes will not be able to access Shirlington from Exit 6.” [Press Release]

New Cap Gets Arlington Orientation — “When trying to adjust to life in a new city, it can be nice to have a familiar face around to help you. That’s exactly what Brenden Dillon had after he was traded to the Capitals in Joel Ward… Dillon and Ward were teammates in San Jose for three seasons from 2015 to 2018. Dillon credited Ward for helping him get acclimated to Arlington, Va. and the Washington area.” [NBC Sports Washington]

Tree Advocates Worry About Fate of Big Oak — “In the latest in Arlington’s tree wars, homeowners at 5920 N. 35th St. joined with passionate volunteers from the Arlington Tree Action Group to sound alarms over the threat to a towering water oak outside their home of 28 years, which might soon be a tear-down… The owners believe it is Arlington’s tallest outside the national cemetery.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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Good news: you’re not going to get coronavirus from the tap water. But you could cause a big clog if you don’t watch what you flush.

That’s the message from the people who keep the water running in Arlington.

The county’s Dept. of Environmental Services is upping its public outreach to join other municipal water agencies in urging people not to flush wipes or anything else that is not “pee, poo or toilet paper.”

More from DES:

Plumbing and sewer lines – kept healthy – provide vital service to any community. Now more than ever, it’s essential to have such infrastructure flowing in Arlington.

When it comes to toilets, only three things that should ever be flushed. Two are those familiar human waste products. The other is genuine toilet paper.

Flushing down anything else threatens your home’s plumbing and, farther into the line, Arlington’s sanitary sewer system.

Disposable cleaning wipes, dental floss, cigarette butts, cat litter and more should always be thrown away. Those supposedly “flushable” hygiene wipes should also never be flushed. They fail to break down and can cause massive clogs.

Even paper towels and facial tissue can create jams because of their particular composition. Throw them away. Don’t flush them.

County spokesman Peter Golkin says no major clogs have been reported in Arlington so far, but the danger remains as people continue to use wipes amid a toilet paper shortage. And that’s not to mention disinfectant wipes that are unadvisedly disposed of in the toilet.

DES is also reminding residents to avoid sending fats, oils and grease down the sink, which coats and clogs pipes.

“Folks just need to take some simple steps to protect their own plumbing and the county’s,” said Golkin. “Put a trash can in the bathroom if you don’t have one and keep an empty metal can beside the stove for fats, oils and grease. Let it cool. Throw it in the trash.”

Separately, officials are assuring residents that Arlington’s tap water is safe, even during the outbreak.

There is no risk of virus transmission through the region’s public water systems. Disinfectants used in the region’s water treatment, like chlorine, neutralize the virus that causes COVID-19. Conventional water treatment methods also use filtration.

The region’s drinking water continues to meet all safety standards established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Department of Health.

Also, a reminder: the annual spring water disinfectant switch will be happening next week as scheduled. From DES:

The District of Columbia, Arlington County and northeastern Fairfax County will clean out their tap water network starting Monday — a safe, annual process.

Service continues uninterrupted during the process, which runs from March 30 through May 4. During that time, drinking water in the may taste slightly different. But the purification process remains unchanged and the water is essentially unchanged.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Washington Aqueduct  performs the temporary disinfectant switch from chloramine to chlorine to help clean the pipes and maintain system flow. Washington Aqueduct continues to add a corrosion inhibitor during the process to reduce the potential release of lead in system pipes throughout the region.

During the cleaning, local water authorities will continually monitor the drinking water for safe chlorine levels as well as conduct system-wide flushing to enhance water quality. Concurrently, staff will start systematically flushing fire hydrants. This process is repeated nearly every spring, in the region and across the nation. Crews operating hydrants are a normal part of this routine.

This temporary cleaning often brings with it a new smell to tap water. If customers opt, they can run the cold water tap for about two minutes, use a water filter or let water sit in a container in the refrigerator to remove chlorine taste and odor.

Customers who take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water should continue such methods during the temporary switch to chlorine. As always, those with special concerns should consult their health care provider.

The Washington Aqueduct is the wholesale water supplier for the District of Columbia, Arlington and northeastern Fairfax County.

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It’s not a zombie apocalypse, but surely some have wondered about the lights staying on during the coronavirus crisis.

Good news: those who generate your electricity, treat your water and collect your trash are still working, even as many Arlington residents — with the notable exception of healthcare workers, public safety personnel and grocery store employees, among others — stay at home.

There are plans for keeping these unsung heroes safe and on the job, officials say.

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, which is responsible for waste collection, water service, road maintenance and other critical infrastructure, says it is implementing plans drawn up for disaster situations.

“We have implemented a continuity of operational services plan (COOP) to ensure operations and critical services continue, and are practicing social distancing to protect staff, including staggering start times to avoid large groups,” DES spokeswoman Katie O’Brien tells ARLnow. “Crews are also being encouraged to follow CDC guidelines like washing hands for 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based sanitizer when water isn’t available.”

Waste collection workers are keeping their distance from one another, when possible, and wearing more protective gear, O’Brien said.

“Residential trash, recycling and yard waste curbside collection is expected to continue,” she noted. “Currently, our hauler has suspended bulk curbside collection for residential customers until further notice. This includes furniture, mattresses and any appliances larger than a standard microwave.”

To keep water infrastructure — everything from water mains to sewer lines to the county’s water treatment plant — running at a time when everyone is being encouraged to wash their hands frequently, planned maintenance involving water outages are being avoided.

DES has “limited or postponed planned water shutdowns to minimize service impacts on customers and focus our resources on maintaining our systems,” O’Brien said.

Other mitigation steps in place include modified schedules and rear boarding for ART buses, and reduced staff and schedules — but continued operations — for traffic signal maintenance and repairs, sign fabrication and repairs, markings, and meter repairs.

Dominion Energy, meanwhile, says it is prepared for situations like this.

Customers “can expect continued, reliable service,” said spokeswoman Peggy Fox. “Our crews are standing by to respond to any customer-service issues.”

That includes outages, like the one the Ballston area experienced earlier today.

“Our line workers will still be responding to service interruptions,” Fox said. “If you experience a power outage, the best way to report it is online or through our mobile app.”

On the electricity generation side, power plants are still humming and Dominion says procedures are in place to ensure employee safety and continuity.

“We are staffing our power stations to ensure we continue to provide our customers with reliable energy 24/7 [and] have adjusted our staffing plans so employees who perform the same roles are spread across different shifts or days of the week,” she said. “For employees who cannot work remotely, we are sanitizing our facilities at the end of each shift and encouraging safe hygiene practices. To limit exposure, we have restricted access to our facilities.”

As for Dominion workers who become ill with the virus, Fox said that they will be told to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Other employees will step in to ensure essential work gets done, just as they do when a colleague goes on vacation,” she said.

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Morning Notes

Man Arrested After Door Incident at DCA — “A passenger on a flight operated by Frontier Airlines was taken into custody at Reagan National Airport Saturday, after allegedly using the emergency slide to exit the airplane, officials said.” [Washington Post, Twitter]

Metrobus Rides Are Free, For Now — “To help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, Metrobus riders will be required to board using the rear doors and will not have to tap their fare cards, according to a letter sent to employees Sunday.
The change, which begins Tuesday, means rides essentially are free.” [Washington Post]

Don’t Flush Wipes Down the Toilet — From Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey: “Do NOT put wipes, paper towels etc in the toilet! They severely damage water treatment.” [Twitter, CNN]

County Trying to Help Small Businesses — “To mitigate some of the challenges and hardships experienced by small businesses as a result of COVID-19 related closures and modifications, Arlington County is finding new ways to reach out to business owners with counsel, resources and other options.” [Arlington County]

County Offers Help with Utility Bills — “If you are struggling to pay a County utility bill (water/sewer/refuse) at this time, please call the DES Customer Contact Center at 703-228-5000, Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. You may be eligible for special payment arrangements without accrual of additional late fees.” [Twitter]

Coronavirus Fraud Task Force Formed — “In response to the increased threat of fraud presented by the coronavirus, federal and Virginia state law enforcement leaders announced today the formation of the Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force.” [Press Release]

Marymount Mulls Commencement Alternatives — “This Wednesday, Marymount University announced to students, faculty and staff that the online-only class period that started this week will be extended through the end of the spring semester, including final exams. It was also decided that the traditional commencement ceremonies scheduled for May 2020 would be canceled.” [Press Release]

Overnight Lane Closures in Rosslyn — “N Lynn St, SB Lee Hwy and the ramps to and from I-66 in Rosslyn will see overnight work requiring lane closures or full closures Mon night 3/23 – Thu night 3/26 in relation to the Lynn St Esplanade project.” [VDOT, Twitter]

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The timing could hardly be worse: during the coronavirus outbreak, as people are urged to frequently wash their hands, Wakefield High School is experiencing water pressure issues in bathrooms.

Emails sent to parents and staff report occasional but recurring water pressure problems that affect second and third floor bathrooms in particular. We’re told the issues cropped up again earlier this week.

As a result, school officials say they’ve propped open bathroom doors — so users don’t have to touch handles — and put hand sanitizer in place. The school is also awaiting delivery and installation of a “booster pump” to help solve the issue.

Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia suggested it’s an issue with water pressure from county pipes.

“We have identified the problem and are working on a solution,” Bellavia told ARLnow. “The problem is occurring because Wakefield sits at a high point at the end the line.”

Wakefield Principal Chris Willmore sent the following email to parents last night.

Good Evening Wakefield families,

I wanted to share with you recent steps we have taken to protect against the coronavirus.

We are aware of the urgent issue related to low and inconsistent water pressure on the second and third floors and are working closely with Facilities to address it as quickly as possible. Please note that this issue related to water pressure does occur on the first floor occasionally as well, but not as often as the upper floors. While there are no problems with the water pressure on many days, there are days in which it will disappear for 5-20 minute periods of time. This fall and winter, APS Facilities staff repaired or replaced all broken sinks, faucets, and dead batteries and looked closer into the water pressure situation. Facilities is expediting the purchase of a “pump booster” that will supplement the pressure when there is not enough when water enters the building from the county lines. We do not have an estimated delivery or installation date yet and will keep you informed.

In the meantime, we are continuing to work with the Facilities department to identify interim solutions to ensure students can practice good hand-washing hygiene while we await the installation of the booster pump. As an immediate first step, we have secured bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizer that we will place outside the administrative offices on the second and third floors and at the welcome table in the Town Hall. If there is no water pressure, staff and students can go get hand sanitizer. While it is not convenient, since many times there is water pressure on the first floor, coming down to a bathroom is also an option.

We have also ordered additional door stops for all student bathrooms so that students will not need to touch door handles as they enter or exit.

I appreciate your patience and understanding as we work through this challenging time. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns.

Best,

Chris

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Morning Notes

Elite Yorktown Swimmer Has Bright Future — “So far during her three-year high-school swimming career, Victoria Huske has never lost an individual race. Included in Huske’s victories for the Yorktown Patriots’ standout are six individual state championships in various strokes and she has been a member of five winning relays with one close second.” [InsideNova]

Fairlington Bus Stop Getting a Roof — “Arlington County anticipates beginning work on enhancement of the bus stop at the corner of S. Buchanan Street and 30th Street S., which include installation of a weather shelter, the week of March 9th.” [Twitter]

New Tech Helps County Explore Pipes — “With no interruption to service, our new high-tech pal PipeDiver today explored key Arlington water supply pipes, gathering a wealth of unprecedented data to assess conditions now and for long-term planning.” [Twitter]

Whitlow’s to Serve Beer with Your Face on It — “Ever wanted to drink your face? Well join us [Thursday] night from 6:30pm-8:30pm! @guinness will take your [photo], and in less time than it takes to pour a perfect pint, the 3D Malt Printer puts your face in your beer.” [Instagram]

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Morning Notes

Amazon Buys Pentagon City Site — “Amazon.com Inc. has quietly purchased the 6.2-acre Pentagon City site where its first pair of HQ2 towers will be built. Acorn Development LLC, an Amazon subsidiary that is often listed when the company files for permits or makes land acquisitions, purchased the Metropolitan Park site on Jan. 15 from JBG Smith Properties (NYSE: JBGS) for $154.95 million, according to Arlington County records.” [Washington Business Journal]

Waverly Hills is Hot — “‘Hot’ is a subjective term in any context, including real estate. While it’s possible to measure the number of sales, price increases and how quickly homes sell, what draws one buyer doesn’t always appeal to other buyers.
According to Redfin real estate brokerage, Willowsford in Ashburn, Va., and Waverly Hills in Arlington are the No. 1 and No. 5 hottest neighborhoods in the country.” [Washington Post]

Next Step for GMU Expansion — “University officials released a request for proposals Tuesday, looking for developers interested in teaming up with Mason to build a new home for the Institute of Digital Innovation on its Virginia Square property. The building is set to include a mix of uses across its 460,000 square feet, with room for classes and research labs alongside space for companies big and small looking to partner with the university.” [Washington Business Journal]

High Water Bill Saga Continues — Residents are still seeking answers to the recent spate of high water bills, even though it appears that the drought — and outdoor irrigation — during that time period is to blame. The COO of Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services “said about 3,900 people, 11 percent of the county’s residential customers, had their bills double. He said during the 2016 drought that number was about 2,000 to 2,500 people.” [WUSA 9]

Macy’s to Close Stores — Facing major retail headwinds, Macy’s is planning to close 125 of its stores, nearly a fifth of all of its current stores, over the next three years. So far the exact location of most of the closures have not been announced. There are two Macy’s stores in Arlington, at mall in Pentagon City and Ballston. [Wall Street Journal]

Va. Lawmakers Considering Stronger SLAPP Law — “Many states have enacted tough laws making it harder to get away with so-called SLAPP suits: nuisance litigation designed to bury its targets in paperwork and fees. Virginia, however, is considered friendlier to those kinds of filings, and some experts and advocates say that has become a problem.” [Washingtonian]

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The Arlington County Board this weekend is set to consider a $4.5 million contract to rehabilitate an out-of-service water main in the middle of N. Glebe Road.

The 36-inch transmission main — the same size as the large pipe that burst and shut down N. Glebe Road near Chain Bridge in November — was placed out of service in 2013 due to concerns about a catastrophic failure. A transmission line was built parallel to it after a major water main break on N. Old Glebe Road in 2009 and is currently providing service to the area.

County officials say rehabbing the old main, which was built in 1972, will help provide redundancy in the county’s water system. Arlington’s water comes from the Washington Aqueduct in D.C., by way of pipes that cross the Potomac River at Chain Bridge then branch out to various parts of the county.

The project will run along N. Glebe Road from Old Glebe Road to Little Falls Road — a distance of about 0.8 miles. Residents should expect lane closures and daytime water service interruptions during the course of the project, the county staffers said in a report to the County Board.

The Board is expected to vote on the contract at its meeting this Saturday.

More from the staff report:

This contract is for the rehabilitation of a transmission main built in 1972 in the right-of-way of North Glebe Road between Old North Glebe Road and Little Falls Road. The transmission main was placed out of service due to a catastrophic failure in 2009. The proposed rehabilitation work will prevent the likely future failure of this transmission main and bring it back to service which will provide redundancy for the water main network.

The proposed transmission main rehabilitation is part of the Water Main Rehabilitation / Replacement program outlined in the Capital Improvement Plan. Inspection and evaluation of the existing transmission main subsequent to the November 2009 break revealed that the transmission main was subject to failure. Therefore, a 36″ transmission main was installed in parallel and the existing failing transmission main was placed out of service in 2013. The proposed rehabilitation work consists of lining the existing transmission main that was placed out of service and replacing some portions of it. The overall goal for the proposed rehabilitation is to reinstate the transmission main which is currently out of service and provide the required redundancy to meet water demand in the area. […]

The scope of this project involves the rehabilitation of existing infrastructure along the same corridor and the construction will cause some water services disruptions throughout the duration of the project. These disruptions will not be for an extended period. Traffic flow will be maintained throughout the project duration by keeping at least one lane open each direction during working hours throughout the project duration. The traffic impacts of the project have been communicated via the project website and through Civic Association presidents. Progress updates regarding the construction of the project will continue to be regularly provided to the communities via the two channels noted above.

Upon contract award and before the start of construction, a detailed letter about the project and construction schedule will be sent to the presidents of both Civic Associations and then be distributed to residents who will be directly impacted by the project. Additionally, water service disruptions will be coordinated with the affected residents in advance of any shutdowns. All shutdowns will be limited to construction hours during the work day.

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Local listservs and Nextdoor networks in Arlington have been abuzz over high water bills, but officials say there’s a very simple explanation for it.

Many residents — including at least one ARLnow staffer — saw a 40%+ jump in their most recently quarterly water bills.

“I’m seeing on NextDoor many people complaining about high Q4 water/sewer bills,” Noah, a local resident, said in a tip to ARLnow earlier this month. “Ours for example indicated a 50% increase in daily consumption over same period last year.”

“Many, many Cherrydale residents got enormous water bills this quarter double and triple their normal bills,” said June, another Arlington resident. “Our listserv is loaded with comments.”

But Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services says it has not found any systemic problem leading to high water bills. Instead, officials suggested, an extended drought led to more outdoor watering and thus higher water usage by those with yards and outdoor vegetation.

“From what we’ve seen in our data so far, there was some increase in usage in the September time frame,” Mike Moon, the Chief Operating Officer for DES, told ARLnow this morning. “We attribute that mostly to the drought… Sometimes there are issues with meters, [but we’re] not seeing any systemic issues this time around.”

DES says it saw a 14% increase in water usage in September, as the drought intensified.

In an email to ARLnow, one local resident wondered whether online forums were leading people to draw false conclusions about the higher bills.

“Can you investigate the Arlington buzz about unusually high water bills?” asked Betsey. “Places it’s been discussed [include] Ashton Heights, Cherrydale, Lyon Village, and a few complaints from Bluemont.”

“Either it’s a real problem,” she continued, “OR the power of the Internet is breeding a false problem.”

statement to water customers released by DES is below, after the jump.

Read More

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Arlington County is working to fix a pair of water infrastructure issues ahead of an expected evening snowstorm and freezing overnight temperatures.

A six-inch water main burst on the 1600 block of N. Jackson Street in Lyon Village this morning, potentially knocking out water service to some 70 customers. Repairs are expected to wrap up by 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, a valve leak on the 4800 block of 1st Street S. in the Arlington Forest neighborhood is affecting the water service of up to 50 customers. Repairs are expected to be complete around 3 p.m.

In both instances, traffic is blocked around the water work; drivers should expect detours.

Map via Google Maps

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Libby Garvey was selected by her colleagues as Arlington County Board Chair for 2020, following a tradition of the Board member up for reelection serving as chair.

Garvey, who’s facing another primary challenge this year, outlined her priorities at the County Board’s annual organizational meeting last night, calling for a focus on “equity, innovation and resilience,” amid the growth of Amazon’s HQ2 and a continued challenges with affordable housing.

More from Garvey’s speech:

We’ve been managing change and growth for some time, and doing it well, but the arrival of Amazon has made the scope of our current challenge large and clear. We need to change a paradigm: the paradigm that the most vulnerable in a society are the first to suffer from change and the last to gain from it — if they ever gain at all. Economic change tends not to be equitable. That’s the old paradigm. We want a new one.

We want to be a model of progress and growth with equity. That’s a tall order. I think focusing on three areas in 2020 will help.

First, Equity. We must commit to an Arlington where progress benefits everyone, not just some. That especially includes our older residents, the people who built the Arlington we have today.

Second, Innovation. We need to double down on innovative thinking. We can’t always keep using the same solutions.

Third, Resilience. The solutions we find must not only be equitable, but they need to last over time.

So, as Board Chair, I will continue to focus on equity in 2020 like our Chair did in 2019. We have a lot of work to do. It is outlined in the resolution we adopted and includes 4 simple questions: Who benefits? Who is burdened? Who is missing? How do we know?

Specific policy focuses for 2020 include affordable housing, cooperation with neighboring jurisdictions, and stormwater management.

“Our July 8 storm showed clearly that our 20th-century infrastructure and approaches will not work well for 21st-century storms,” Garvey said. “When we begin work on our Capital Improvement Plan budget this spring we should see some very different solutions to stormwater management.”

Garvey, who faced a backlash from the local Democratic party after her vocal opposition to the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar and support for independent County Board member John Vihstadt, took a moment after her selection as chair to support another embattled County Board member: Christian Dorsey.

“Christian is a real asset to this board, to this community — we’re lucky to have you,” Garvey said of Dorsey, who last month told ARLnow that he regrets not informing the community that he had declared bankruptcy before the November election.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Erik Gutshall — who is up for reelection in 2021 and is next year’s presumed chair — was selected as Vice Chair. The priorities Gutshall outlined include making changes to Arlington’s zoning ordinance so as to encourage the creation of additional homes.

More from a county press release:

Amazon’s arrival requires an increased focus, or “leveling up” by the County “how we grow matters.” Arlington’s next level of managed growth, he said, “will focus beyond first-order urban design principles of sidewalk widths, building heights, and traffic circulation, and instead level up to an essential focus on equity, infrastructure like schools and stormwater, and a broader definition of quality of life and livability.”

To achieve that sort of managed growing, Gutshall said, “will require new tools and a modernized zoning ordinance to expand our housing supply in a way that enhances the livability of our existing neighborhoods.” It also requires the development of a long-range, comprehensive Public Facilities Plan “to guide the collaborative, creative, timely and efficient siting and development of County and Schools facilities.” Gutshall said he looks forward to continuing to work with County and APS staff, and the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission to begin drafting the plan by July 2020 and looks forward to working with County staff to achieve the ambitious goals of the County’s updated Community Energy Plan and to conduct a campaign to highlight and profile small businesses.

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