Since 1977 the 2.3-mile section of Four Mile Run that is shared by Arlington and Alexandria has not flooded. However, the stream has little to recommend itself as Arlington's only waterfront. One million dollars in federal funds is about to change that, as the environmental restoration of the Four Mile Run watershed enters a new phase.
Four years ago, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8) responded to a joint request from Arlington and Alexandria residents and obtained funding to study options for the environmental restoration of Four Mile Run. "We want to find a way to retain the flood control that the Army Core of Engineers designed 30 years ago but return the stream to something that is attractive and environmentally appropriate," Moran said. "I am looking forward to seeing the design for the project."
A joint task force comprised of city officials, staff and residents from both Alexandria and Arlington are in charge of the project. They are working with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"I WAS INVITED to sit on a design panel in Arlington when they were looking at their part of Potomac Yard," said Judy Noritake, who co-chairs the task force with Neal Sigmon from Arlington. Both are members of the parks and recreation commissions in their respective communities. "I asked why they were thinking about building an upscale development facing Four Mile Run. When they told me that this was their only waterfront, it really made me start to think about the possibilities."
The part of Four Mile Run that is being restored runs from just south of National Airport where it flows into the Potomac, north to I-395. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, seven major floods caused $40 million in property damage. In 1974, Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to design and construct a flood control channel which would contain the increased surface water flows from the watershed.
"This is a highly urban area," Noritake said. "It was perfectly appropriate for when it was designed but if we were trying to solve the same problem today, we would do it very differently."
According to the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, "With respect to aesthetic and environmental attributes, the channeled section of Four Mile Run leaves much to be desired. The maintenance requirements for the channel have meant yearly thinning of vegetation and periodic excavation of the sediment that deposits on the channel bed. The nearly uniform trapezoidal shape of the channel does not offer the riffles, pools and shady areas needed to sustain much of the aquatic life once found in Four Mile Run. Such aquatic life not only is representative of stream health, it can also function to enhance stream health and water quality."
TO THAT END, a request for proposal was written by members of the task force and released. "We have selected a firm and are now in negotiations with that firm," Sigmon said.
That contract will be approved at the September meeting of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors. "The consultant will run the public process, which will include a series of meetings where we will get input from residents of all of the affected neighborhoods," Sigmon said.
The consultant will then take information gleaned from these meetings and develop a comprehensive plan for restoring this section of Four Mile Run. At the end of the process, in addition to the comprehensive plan, there will be a demonstration project. "We will design that demonstration project and build it as part of that master plan," Sigmon said.
The master plan will include natural wetlands areas such as can be found near the Cora Kelly School and hardscapes nearer Potomac Yard. "We want to look at ways to use the concrete bridges," Noritake said. "There are four or five concrete railroad bridges that could be used for things like tennis courts, playing fields, picnic areas and just places for people to congregate for various reasons, for example. There are lots of possibilities if we just think creatively."
The task force will provide some of that creative thinking. There are 18 members who were appointed by Alexandria's city manager and Arlington's county administrator. Former Alexandria City Councilwoman Claire Eberwein was appointed by Moran.
"It is our job to take a stream that has been neglected and make it into a people gathering spot," she said. "We can improve the stream by what we do along the banks, which will affect the quality of the Potomac and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay."
Community meetings will begin in late September. Task force meetings are held every couple of months and are open to the public.