0
Votes

Frustrations Boil Over

Town Meeting draws officials and citizens together.

A force of several hundred citizen activists made a full frontal attack on the U.S. Army Monday night. And it wasn't a simulated drill.

It occurred in the Hayfield High School cafeteria, where concerned residents of the Mount Vernon and Lee districts congregated for a town meeting to discuss transportation issues relating to Fort Belvoir, including current efforts to offset the closure of Woodlawn Road.

Serving as moderator, Mount Vernon District supervisor and vice chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Gerald W. Hyland (D) initiated the two-hour dialogue by explaining, "The genesis of this meeting was a meeting Dana [Lee District supervisor Kauffman] and I had with Congressman Jim Moran [D-8th] several weeks ago. At that time he suggested a town meeting between the citizens and the Army."

Joining Hyland, Kauffman, and Moran at the verbal free-for-all were U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-11th); State Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36th); state Del. Kristen J. Amundson (D-44th); chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Katherine K. Hanley (D); Providence District supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D); Fort Belvoir Garrison commander Col. T.W. Williams; Diane M. Devens, director, Northeast Region Office, Installation Management Agency; Lt. Col. Kevin Tate, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Belvoir; and David Hand, Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.

Although the primary purpose of the event was to allow citizens to vent their frustrations on the closing of Woodlawn Road, it also encompassed how that action by the military has adversely impacted the future of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. This brought a confrontation between Kauffman and the hospital's administrator, Susan Herbert, and a promise by one citizen "never to use the hospital again."

DURING THE CITIZEN comment period, Howard Van Winn announced, "I had surgery at Mount Vernon Hospital this morning, and I almost didn't make it there due to Woodlawn Road. This closing is going to put the final nail in the coffin of that hospital at that location."

When Herbert came to the microphone, she revealed that the closing of Woodlawn Road "has dried up about 3,000 hospital visits a year."

She also acknowledged, "Mount Vernon Hospital has watched the use of the facility decline over the years. We have been trying to support it with a lot of alternatives. But for us it has been a declining situation."

When she completed her comments, Kauffman asked her to convey to Knox Singleton, president and CEO, Inova Health System, "how disappointed I am that Inova Health System has not sent a representative to this meeting.

"I met with him last week, and he assured me he would send a representative. Since they are not represented here, it is one more indication that Inova has already made up its mind to close Mount Vernon Hospital. Please tell him that for me."

Herbert replied that she would convey his message. Then she accused Kauffman of exacerbating the fear in the community about the possible closing of the hospital "by making remarks like that." She insisted no decision has been made, referring to both the ongoing study of the Southeast Health Planning Task Force and the full-page advertisement in Sunday's Washington Post signed by her and Singleton explaining Inova Health System's position on the hospital's future.

Hanley came to the microphone to assure the crowd that "the Board of Supervisors has to approve whatever happens at the hospital." She based this assertion on the fact that "the hospital is where it is because of a lease with the county."

IN HIS REMARKS, Moran said, "The Woodlawn closing has caused so much disruption. Traffic congestion is not the only problem. There are a number of economic problems as well. Mount Vernon hospital is one of them."

He then referred to his proposal to have veterans and their families use Inova Mount Vernon Hospital rather than DeWitt [hospital] on Fort Belvoir, and for military physicians, at both Bethesda and Walter Reed, to benefit from Mount Vernon's expertise in joint replacement. Tying the hospital's financial troubles to the Woodlawn Road closing, Moran insisted, "The current situation is not acceptable."

Dr. Khosrow Matini, a plastic surgeon and former president of the medical staff at the hospital who also serves on the Task Force, asked Moran, "Why have you never heard from Inova about your proposal?"

Moran explained, "What we got from Inova originally was a perfunctory, two-page response. However, we now have a much more detailed plan from Inova, which we got this week, and a response from the military."

In defending the closing of Woodlawn Road, Col. Williams noted, "When 9/11 happened, we were in the process of upgrading our master plan." He acknowledged that the impact of the closing "is very important," but "we have to follow procedures. That's just the way it is."

As one citizen pointed out, the closing of the road was already being planned when the attacks came on Sept. 11, 2001.

THE AUDIENCE expressed its greatest frustration with the fact that the military would not give an accurate time estimate when either Woodlawn Road would reopen or a viable alternative route would be available. This was punctuated by Davis, who said, "At this rate we'll be back here in two years in the same place."

Amundson echoed his assessment by noting, "The one subject people bring up to me more than any other are issues about Fort Belvoir. The good-neighbor relationship between us and Belvoir has eroded over the years. That relationship between the base and the surrounding community is as bad as I can ever remember."

Col. Williams kept going back to the actions of U.S. Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., in getting approval of $5 million to develop a solution to the Woodlawn Road problem. "Sen. Warner has approved this money to study the situation," Williams said.

Richard F. "Rick" Neel, president, Southeast Development Corp., and chairman, Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, pointed out, "The reason Sen. Warner put $5 million into the appropriations was to get a solution. We need to know how the Army is going to fast-track the development of an east/west access road."

This was answered by David Hand, representing the Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, who explained, "We are working with Fairfax County, the Army, and others on alternative routes. Our time line is we are trying to present alternatives by the end of the year for further studies."

Hyland expressed disbelief, stating, "I thought this was to be done by August, not the end of the year." That's when a citizen came to the microphone to exclaim, "That money being used is taxpayer money. We want it to be used for our benefit, not ongoing endless studies."

ADDRESSING SECURITY concerns for the base, both Moran and Davis emphasized "that all roads in the District of Columbia are open to the public" except for Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. "Both Independence and Constitution avenues and the streets around the Capitol are open. They are far more subject to attack than Fort Belvoir," Davis said.

Williams said the "Woodlawn Road closure is based on the security of the country."

Moran countered that traffic is flowing on Route 110, which runs next to the Pentagon.

Devens pointed out that "studies are ongoing at the Pentagon to change traffic patterns."

Moran rebutted this argument saying, "The federal government is going to pay for a new road at that site," implying it should also finance an alternative to Woodlawn Road.

Frank Cohn, vice chairman of the Stakeholder Participation Panel appointed by Hyland to address the Mount Vernon Circle dispute last year, suggested that an advisory group be appointed to take a similar approach to solving this controversy.

"Perhaps a similar result can be achieved where all the parties come to a mutual agreement," he speculated.

Picking up on the idea, Davis proposed that a small task force be formed "to meet with federal representatives to get this solved very quickly." He projected a time frame of "the next couple of weeks."

Davis told the crowd, "We would like to get a small group to meet with the supervisors and us [Davis and Moran] to move it up the line. This way we can get a much more rapid response."

Hyland announced at the end of the evening, "On the subject of the Woodlawn ball fields, we are moving toward a solution that should make everyone happy. We will be having a meeting with the County Park Authority on Wednesday, and we hope to have a decision following that."

The other subject that drew a number of comments from the political contingent was the delay in completing the Fairfax County Parkway in the area of the Engineer Proving Grounds. Accentuating this issue was Puller, who admitted, "I've been very frustrated in how hard it is to get across the county."

Kauffman, who is involved in a variety of transportation issues, assured, "We are making progress on the missing part of the Parkway. We finally got the Army on board, then VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation] went back to sleep on us."