An infusion of more than $2 million in federal funding will provide the means to clean the stream and give the land along Four Mile Run a face lift.
U.S. Rep James P. Moran (D-8) spearheaded the effort to obtain the funding. “I’ve been involved with Four Mile Run since the ‘70s, when the flooding was so severe,” Moran said. “Then, the Army Corps of Engineers did such a good job with the flood control project in 1983. I guess we have been looking at what to do now for the past six or seven years. The study that we have gotten funding for is going to take about three years and, I would think it would take about five years before people see any real changes.”
The project will be jointly sponsored by Arlington and Alexandria since both jurisdictions have land along Four Mile Run. Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, hosted this week’s kickoff.
“Four Mile Run has always been an important part of both of our communities,” he said. “This federal funding, along with some local money, will help us to make Four Mile Run the kind of resource that all of the people who live along it can enjoy.”
Paul Ferguson, chair of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors, stressed the cooperation between the two jurisdictions.
“It’s going to take a lot of partnership and teamwork to make this happen,” he said. “We want to thank Congressman Moran for obtaining the lion’s share of this funding but we also want to thank the Army Corps of Engineers. Often the Corps is derided for a lack of sensitivity on environmental issues, but this is an example of environmental sensitivity where the Corps is helping localities not just clean up the water but making it look better and helping to make it more enjoyable for the people who live around it. This is a pledge by both Arlington and Alexandria to clean this water up and today is just a start. It’s going to take years and it’s going to take some local money also…”
THE FOUR MILE RUN watershed consists of 20 square miles in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church. Nearly 200,000 people live in close proximity to its banks. Due to seven major flood events in the 1960s and 1970s, Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to design and construct a flood control channel here. Constructed in the late 1970s, the flood control project begins at the mouth of Four Mile Run and continues upstream 2.3 miles.
The project channelized, widened and armored lower Four Mile Run with rock and concrete and Arlington and Alexandria agreed to keep all vegetation cleared from the stream bed to ensure adequate capacity for flood control.
The result was a loss of both aquatic and riparian habitat. About three years ago, during discussions about the Potomac Yard Development, citizens from Arlington and Alexandria began to discuss environmental and aesthetic enhancements to Four Mile Run.
Judy Guse-Noritake co-chairs the citizen task force that will work with the Corps and local government officials to plan and implement the project.
“Four Mile Run used to flow further north and the Arlington County line went down the middle of the channel,” she said. “When it was straightened, the county line stayed north, so Alexandria actually owns most of what you would think of as the Arlington shore of Four Mile Run. Arlington wanted to do something with the shoreline because it was their only waterfront. We called Congressman Moran’s office and got them involved.
“Even before today, the staffs from several departments in both jurisdictions, along with folks from the Corps have been sitting down and talking about the scope of the project and we have established the task force that includes nine members from each jurisdiction. The members represent different groups of people who are directly affected by Four Mile Run,” she said.
WHAT IS THE role of that task force? “This project, because it is a federal project, is going to have to have community outreach, by law. The task force will set up those community meetings. Also, we really want people to be creative about what can happen here. We’re going to give every member of the task force a camera and ask them, as they travel around the country, to look and see what other communities have done with waterfront property and we are going to draw from those ideas,” Noritake said.
Claire O’Neill, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers explained the study component of the project. “We’re going to look at the project and determine whether it has too much flood carrying capacity or too little and if it has too much, are there things we can do inside the stream that are more compatible with fish and vegetation,” she said.
“We’re going to see if there’s any way to improve the environmental habitat there and in doing so, the aesthetics. At the same time, the county and the city are going to be working with the land outside the stream corridor and we’re going to try and tie all of that together. We’re also looking upstream in Arlington County to see if there’s anything we can do to make it have better aquatic habitat."
Arlington County has been placing trout in Four Mile Run for some time to determine their viability and will continue to do so. “We want to see fishing in Four Mile Run and maybe even have some gondolas,” Moran said. “There are all kinds of possibilities if we are creative.”
THAT CREATIVITY is also going to require public education and participation. “We understand that one of the things that the task force is going to have to do is public education,” Noritake said. “The Four Mile Run watershed is a lot smaller than the watershed of the Potomac or the Chesapeake Bay but everything we do on land flows into the Potomac and thus, into the Bay.
"What we do in our yards and along the shoreline is going to have an impact throughout the watershed regions. We need to educate people about that fact and get them to take responsibility for making the changes that are necessary to keep the water clean and improve the environment so that we can have aquatic life and vegetation along Four Mile Run,” she said
The task force met for the first time on Tuesday night and will meet regularly throughout the life of the project.