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VDOT Draws Residents' Wrath

Outdoor Meeting Illustrated Lack of Sensitivity, Concerns

July 25, 2002

The residents at both Hunting Towers and Hunting Terrace continue to be angry with the Virginia Department of Transportation over rent increases and, what residents perceive to be a lack of sensitivity on the agency’s part to their safety and security.

VDOT had an opportunity to allay some of those fears at a July 17 meeting but failed to do so, according to some residents.

The “Pardon Our Dust” meeting was held outside, underneath one of the buildings at Hunting Towers. Heat and traffic from the Beltway made it nearly impossible to hear what was being said.

“We have many elderly and disabled residents,” said Ardith Dentzer, the president of the Hunting Towers Hunting Terrace Tenants Association. “It was a Code Red day for poor air quality and many people just couldn’t hear what was going on. Why didn’t they hold the meeting indoors?”

Others asked the same question. “They could have worked with the city and used one of the rooms at the Lee Center,” said Councilman William D. Euille, a member of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force. “Instead they just added to the residents’ perception that they are insensitive to the needs of the tenants. It was unfortunate but the tenants did get to ask some questions.”

One of those questions was about a safety plan for residents. “We are going to have 25 trucks each day coming in and out, removing debris from the demolition,” Dentzer said. “Old Dominion, the company that will be demolishing the structures, will apparently use 220,000 gallons of water each day as mitigation when the asbestos is being removed from inside the Tower. They told us at the meeting that they would use some Potomac River water for this. I can just imagine the smell. They have safety plans for the workers but what about the residents?”

Euille heard this concern. “We are going to make a safety plan for the residents a requirement of the permit for demolition,” he said. “The demolition plan is in draft and changes will be made before the permits are issued.”

Reed Winslow, the city’s Wilson Bridge Project Director, agreed. “The contractor presented a draft plan about a month ago,” Winslow said. “VDOT and the city met with the contractor and suggested several changes to the plan. The contractor has resubmitted another draft to VDOT that the city has not yet seen. Once VDOT has accepted the new plan, we will review it and make comments. Once we are satisfied that the plan includes everything we need, the permits will be issued.”

WINSLOW SAID that the permits will be handled individually – one permit for each structure that is to be demolished. Demolition is scheduled to begin in mid-August. The first structure to go will be the old Seaport Foundation building in Jones Point Park.

“This structure will be taken down so that a parking area can be built there,” Winslow said.

After the Seaport Foundation building is demolished, demolition will begin on the two parking structures to the east and west of the East Tower at Hunting Towers. This will be complete by the end of September. In October, demolition is scheduled to begin on the East Tower.

“The Tower will be demolished one wing at a time,” Winslow said. “The contractor will use a wrecking ball to crush the first four stories. That debris will be brought to the ground and a ramp will be built so that crews can get close to the building with excavators that will chew the building into pieces. The process has been described as being like packman.”

The concrete will be “chewed” into an aggregate that can be used to surface the parking area in Jones Point Park. “The contractor plans to use as much of the material as possible,” Winslow said.

DURING DEMOLITION, all safety precautions will be taken, according to Winslow. “The site will be fenced so that no unauthorized person can enter,” Winslow said. “The contractor must adhere to all city ordinances and state and federal law with respect to the asbestos removal and all other parts of the demolition process. Our code enforcement people will monitor the situation closely to ensure that the contractor adheres to all conditions of the permit. I believe that the residents will be safe if everyone just obeys the rules.”

The residents are not so sure. “A few months ago I was optimistic that the influx of people and equipment would be smooth and only moderately disruptive,” said Jerome Cordts, a resident at Hunting Towers. “As of today, my impressions have changed. The situation is unfair. Although my friends and neighbors may not like my saying this, I believe that this situation is fast approaching a point where consideration should be given to vacating the center building at Hunting Towers.

"My river view has been one of the most peaceful a resident of the Washington area could enjoy. For years I have watched the eagles and herons and dozens of other marsh birds and song birds from my window. This is what I paid for over 10 years ago and the value of my dollar is now virtually lost. A pack of humans now controls my landscape, what I see and what I hear.”

Scott Bornstein is concerned about the asbestos. “Isn’t it quite ridiculous to think that, as the building lays as a pile of rubble when demolition begins that the pile will not include any traces of left-over asbestos,” he said. “The wind, along with the movement of the ruble by heavy equipment will cause much dust including lead and possibly asbestos to enter the air that we all breathe. We all should have been given the opportunity to be relocated out of this haven of disruptions, inconvenience and possible dangers. Unfortunately, VDOT only offered the relocation packages to tenants in the buildings slated for demolition – another blunder in a long list of blunders.”

AS SOON AS THE city issues the permits, the demolition will begin, probably by mid-August. “I expect that all of the demolition work will be completed by mid-December and that the site clean-up will be finished by the end of January,” Winslow said.

Residents are hoping to get a clearer timetable on demolition in the near future. “We were told that we would have better information in a newsletter that would be out at the end of last week,” Dentzer said. “That hasn’t happened.”

Euille agreed that VDOT has to do a better job communicating with residents. “I certainly think that VDOT should have a way of communicating with residents on a regular basis,” he said. “Once the permits are issued, there should be another meeting. There should be regular meetings to update everyone on the progress of the demolition. I have certainly encouraged VDOT officials to take these steps.”