From hard steel and concrete to soft mud and environmentally correct plants. It's all part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. But the latter, which will long outlast the former, no matter what the human expertise, practically goes unnoticed.
In order to correct that deficiency, the project held a press conference at the Hunting Tower/Hunting Terrace wetlands restoration and improvement site last Wednesday. There, they explained how they are transforming the ecological DNA of this 1.9-acre site with the help of 12,000 plants.
"We are putting in plants that are more native to this area," said Mike Baker, the project's environmental construction manager. "The more exotic invasive plants that had been brought into the area over the years have all been removed. The new plants, which are supplied by local nurseries, will provide a cleansing agent for water flowing from Hunting Creek into the river."
The plants range from sea grasses to trees depending on where on the site they are located. The plants in the flood plain will be those that survive in both a submerged and mud flat environment. On the periphery there will be trees.
"We are planting two dozen different species. The new plants will recolonize this area," said Tim Morris, environmental mitigation engineer for the bridge project. "The environmental impact of this entire project stretches into Maryland all the way to the Chesapeake Bay."
Baker noted, "The green reach of this project is far and wide. And, we are working closely with Alexandria and Fairfax County on all these areas. We have a whole stack of permits, over 1,000."
Morris admitted, "We are going to have unavoidable environmental impacts in certain areas. But we will monitor these areas for the next five years." The whole Wetlands Mitigation Program covers more than 100 acres on both sides of the river.
FOR EVERY ACRE that is adversely impacted by the bridge construction project, "we are replacing two acres," according to Baker. He also assured that "no endangered plants or wildlife have been impacted. We just copy nature."
The restoration effort is costing approximately $50,000 an acre Morris said. The South Washington Street site, opposite Porta Vecchio condominiums, enjoys a perpetual easement owned by VDOT, Morris verified.
In addition to the wetlands projects, John R. Undeland, public affairs director, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, pointed out, "We have also made provisions to recreate Jones Point Park. There is a complete environmental team that plays a vital role in the entire bridge project."
Along with the various wetlands endeavors, the project is replanting underwater grasses and thousands of trees, according to Undeland. At the Hunting Creek site there were more than a dozen workers putting in the new plants during low tide.
The vegetation planting and wetlands creation at the South Washington Street site are part of a multifaceted package of environmental mitigation efforts being carried out, according to the project managers. These efforts to protect the natural environment are intended to compensate for construction impacts within the work zones of the $2.5 billion project, they noted.
THE ALEXANDRIA site is just one of eight mitigation projects associated with the bridge construction. Others are as follows:
* North Fork and Cider Run Mitigation Bank - purchased nine acres of created non-tidal wetlands;
* Hart Property and Four Mile Run Mitigation Contract - involves both tidal and non-tidal wetlands as well as stream bank stabilization encompassing more than six acres;
* Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge and State Park Mitigation Contract;
* Aquia Harbour and Silver Property Mitigation Contract - total creation and preservation of nearly 106 acres of tidal wetlands in Stafford County;
* Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Mitigation Contract - planting two acres of submerged aquatic vegetation;
* Belle Haven Mitigation Contract - one acre of tidal wetlands enhancement;
* Cameron Run Mitigation Contract - 1.6 acres of tidal wetlands creation as part of the Telegraph Road Contract.
Other environmental efforts include an 84-acre bald eagle sanctuary and the construction of "fish ladders" enabling spawning fish to cross 25 man-made barriers throughout the region. The river grasses to be planted will cover 22 acres in the lower Potomac River. They will serve the dual purpose of providing fish habitat and cleaning the water.
Overall, the total package of environmental projects is valued at approximately $50 million.