Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille opened the Nov. 16 meeting of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Neighborhood Task Force with the announcement, "The major item we are going to talk about tonight is Jones Point Park." That seemingly benign statement set off an immediate firestorm.
Yates Gardens Civic Association (YGCA) representatives attending the meeting, held in City Council workroom at City Hall, immediately accused Ronaldo T. "Nick" Nicholson, VDOT manager, WWB Project, of "deliberately ignoring" their suggestions for future Jones Point Park parking in his recent communication with the National Park Service.
"I feel very strongly that there is a lot of shadow dancing going on here. We need a level playing field," said Teresa Miller, task force member and former YGCA president.
"I would like to have a meeting within the next week to find out why the Yates Gardens proposal was not included in recommendations to the Park Service. I have repeatedly asked Nick, eyeball to eyeball, how we can be included. I don't want to be this disappointed again," she said.
The cause of Miller's anger and frustration was a Nov. 1 letter from Nicholson, in his official capacity, on Virginia Department of Transportation stationary, to Audrey F. Calhoun, superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway, National Park Service, offering only VDOT's proposals for future parking in the park.
It omitted a plan developed by YGCA unveiled at an Oct. 27 meeting at Lyles Crouch School. That meeting was attended by not only a large contingent of Old Town/Yates Gardens residents, but also by representatives of the City of Alexandria, WWB Project, and Calhoun.
IN AN ATTEMPT to answer Miller's objections to Nicholson's action, Euille said, "Council will act in January or February on recommendations for parking in Jones Point Park. Then there will be public hearings, then formal action on a recommendation by Council. First we have to have recommendations from the Park Service and the Project."
Euille also said, "What Nick said to [the City] was that VDOT had to get something to the Park Service by a certain date. This does not preclude other plans being considered. Council's plan will go directly to the Park Service in addition to VDOT's proposal."
Miller said, "This is very poor public relations on the part of VDOT. We need to have specific timelines." Her objections were buttressed by Richard Campbell, YGCA's present president.
NICHOLSON, IN DEFENDING his actions, said, "I'm very disappointed at the sentiment around this table. I was very clear about the 30-day deadline for submissions by VDOT. The submissions are only VDOT submissions."
He assured Task Force members and City officials, "The Yates Gardens' proposal will get full consideration. The letter I submitted did nothing but start the process. This process will take nine to 12 months. We were forced to start this process by the National Park Service."
Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services Department, said, "If the City's and Yates Gardens' and other proposals were to go to the Park Service we were hoping they would all be submitted together. We feel that now our (City) proposals and Yates Gardens' and others won't carry as much weight with the Park Service."
Elements of Nicholson's letter seemed to highlight Baier's concerns. In urging the Park Service to consider the VDOT proposals, Nicholson's letter said, "These concepts were developed with input from the NPS and the City of Alexandria. The concepts were presented to the Neighborhood Task Force, the Jones Point Park Stakeholder Participation Panel and the Yates Garden Civic Association ...
"As a result received from the meetings with the community groups and the City, ... VDOT suggests that the National Park Service pursue the remaining three Access Options..." None of these included either City or Yates Gardens options.
Nicholson concluded his letter to Calhoun, who also had attended the Yates Gardens Lyles Crouch meeting, with, "Each of these access options has its own merit. Each is worthy of being further developed so that better comparisons of impacts may be made and decisions reached on the preferred alternative.
"[VDOT] look forward to receiving your concurrence and are ready to support your recommendations and efforts necessary to carry these three access options forward through the Supplemental EA process."
In Nicholson's last paragraph, he wrote, "...
it is essential that the Supplemental EA process begin without delay. Based on the current .... (construction) schedule, it will be necessary to close Jones Point Park Drive to public vehicular access on or about May 16, 2006. It is urgent that the NPS complete the environmental process to allow the Project to advance design and construction of a selected access option ..."
VDOT HAS BEEN touting the fact that the project is ahead of schedule and on budget. Delay in agreeing upon the parking issue for Jones Point Park could alter that.
Another prime concern at the Nov. 16 meeting was the delivery of 120 steel beams, to support the new outer loop span, "between now and April." They are coming from Manassas, according to Euille.
"We are not talking ordinary flatbed trucks. We are talking huge trucks. This will affect many things along the route," Euille said.
"Deliveries are set for eight trucks a week. Four of those will be at night. All those deliveries after 10 p.m. are to be completed by midnight," he said.
However, as Euille stressed, "There are no guarantees on the actual time of deliveries due to Fairfax County regulations" dealing with the movement of such vehicles. There are a variety of other concerns dealing with delivery of the beams, which vary in size from 59 feet to 115 feet in length.
The largest truck to transport the beams is roughly one and one half times the length of a normal semi-detached tractor-trailer, Nicholson said. The primary concerns associated with night deliveries are trucks changing gears while traveling through intersections within neighborhoods, coupled with trucks idling overnight at the construction site. No beams will be unloaded at night following their arrival at the site.
The group was assured that every effort would be made to minimize the noise and potential air pollution. Since each truck would be accompanied by a lead and follow vehicle, it was suggested that drivers could be taken home after their deliveries, thereby alleviating the necessity to keep the engines running overnight during winter weather.
OTHER ITEMS of concern discussed at the meeting were:
* The existence of lead shell casings throughout the park area as a result of the site being used as a military firing range in years past. This, coupled with natural flooding of the area, due to its topography, makes it unfit for use as a soccer area, Campbell said.
* Installation of the first segments of the new sound walls will begin in January in the Church Street area.
* Lack of meetings with tenants of Hunting Point Towers and Terrace to address their various grievances. Nicholson attributed the breakdown in those meeting to the fact that their was a pending law suit against VDOT by residents. This was denied by Ardith Dentzer, Hunting Point representative to the Task Force. Nicholson maintained VDOT was conducting discussions with some residents not party to the alleged law suit. He based his rationalization on advice from Virginia's attorney general. Euille advised him to reestablish a dialogue with all Hunting Point residents.