Neal Sigmon has seen problems on the banks of Four Mile Run. Native species of plants and animals used to flourish in the frequently flooded stream.
Now, through some stretches of the 20-square-mile watershed, people bathe in potentially polluted pools, and invasive plants threaten to choke out the natural habitat.
Ironically, floods that destroyed property along the South Arlington waterway throughout the 1960s and 1970s didn’t cause the problems seen today – it was the flood control measures that followed.
This week, Sigmon, co-chair of the Four Mile Run Task Force, began rejuvenation efforts on the stream, along with staffers from the county and the City of Alexandria, and the Army Corps of Engineers. “The outlook is just terrifically positive,” said Sigmon, although he admitted challenges lie ahead.
After seven major floods in the ‘60s and early ‘70s wreaked havoc on landowners along Four Mile Run, the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in. They built a 2.3-mile flood control channel beginning at the mouth of the stream and widened the channel downstream.
To protect what the Engineers had built, officials from Arlington and Alexandria agreed to keep vegetation cleared from the stream banks.
“The problem is, when you clear the vegetation, it looks like a drainage ditch,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), who secured about $2 million in federal funds for the upcoming restoration effort.
NEW EFFORTS COME as a joint venture between the county and City of Alexandria. “It’s going to take a lot of partnership and teamwork to get this done,” said Paul Ferguson, chair of the County Board.
Arlington’s Parks Department will act as the chief managing unit, and county staffers will oversee distribution of the project’s funds, which include a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and budgeted funds for the Corps of Engineers.
Experts will guide and oversee the project to make sure revitalization efforts don’t compromise flood protection, said Maj. David Peterson, from the Corps of Engineers.
If the project is successful, residents could see an improvement in water quality as well as new wetlands habitats and a greener, more appealing Four Mile Run.
But those changes could take some time. “Today is just the start,” said Ferguson Monday. “It’s going to take years, and it’s going to take some local funds.”
He stopped short of naming a dollar figure but said he will push others on the board to approve extra spending. “I really have concerns about the water quality here,” he said.
This week marks the beginning of a three-year study phase, which will cost the Corps of Engineers, Arlington and Alexandria $3.6 million. Moran said an additional $400,000 of federal funds could be on the way soon.
CITIZEN TASK FORCE members met for the first time Tuesday, July 8, after press time. Sigmon, who co-chairs the task force with Alexandria resident Judy Guse-Noritake, already has a number of ideas, and concerns.
“We’ll have to work carefully with all the landowners,” he said. Residential developments, a water treatment plant and a Metrobus barn located along Four Mile Run all create concerns.
But urban and suburban development shouldn’t mean the destruction of natural resources, Sigmon said--Four Mile Run can, and should be an “urban amenity.”
“I see a lot of good things,” Sigmon said.