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Votes

Park Authorities Stand United

Issue joint resolution against Tri-County Comp. Plan alignment

Under blazing 90-degree heat, Friday morning in Bull Run Regional Park, Bill Dickinson and Hal Strickland stood shoulder to shoulder and firmly denounced the Tri-County Parkway alignment that would decimate a large area of that very park.

CHAIRMEN OF the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) and the Fairfax County Park Authority, respectively, they announced a joint resolution passed by both their boards opposing this alignment that's on the county's Comprehensive Plan.

"These are normally nonpolitical bodies," said county Park Authority spokesman Judy Pedersen. "But when it came to this alignment, these boards felt obligated to speak out about the impact it would have on living things, as well as the risks it poses to historical and cultural resources, wetlands and the county's water supply."

"It's our business to protect the parkland," said Dickinson. "And this highway would be a mile of six-lane roadway through the center of the park, with a right-of-way of 200 feet."

Strickland said it's difficult to imagine anything that could be more of a threat to Bull Run Regional Park than the Tri-County Parkway. And, he stressed, "We cannot stand by and allow this threat, or others that may appear in the future, to rob us of these unspoiled and critically important lands."

The idea behind the Tri-County Parkway is that joining Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties with this road — as well as Manassas with I-66 and the Dulles Corridor — will improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. And sometime this fall, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) is expected to choose the specific route it will take.

Three possible alternatives are on the table. Two travel west of the Manassas National Battlefield Park, and the one on Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan (CP) cuts a swath through Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville.

ITS ROUGHLY 10-mile alignment through Fairfax County goes south of Route 29 in Centreville, takes a nearly 90-degree jag eastward and then turns south again to bisect Bull Run Regional Park and the residential area along Bull Run Post Office Road north.

Paul Gilbert, executive director of the NVRPA, said all three routes meet the parkway's stated goal. "But in every, single category they looked at in the draft environmental impact statement [DEIS], the [CP alignment] has significantly more impact."

He emphasized that the CP route would affect five times the acres of land as would the other routes, 10 times the floodplain area and twice as much stream habitat — and would be three times as expensive [$547.8 million] to build. Therefore, he said, "One has to scratch his head" in wonderment at why anyone would choose the CP alternative for this road.

"It would cut through the woodlands and through the bluebells — which are absolutely phenomenal in the spring," said Dickinson. "They're the largest stand on the East Coast." He said the Tri-County Parkway would be "devastating" to the park's natural and cultural resources.

"In addition to providing recreational opportunities, the park provides significant protection to the water supply and the Occoquan Watershed," he said. "And it contains numerous acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands and floodplain along the banks of both Cub Run and Bull Run."

He said this park was to be a buffer zone to help preserve the watershed and abundance of wildlife found within its borders. "This is the most incredible park, carved out of a highly developed area," said Dickinson. And if the CP alignment were chosen, he said, it would be tremendously detrimental to the ecological balance that's been achieved there.

Charles Smith, senior natural resource specialist with the county Park Authority, noted that since parks don't contain residential areas, they could be viewed as "the path of least resistance." But in this case, he said, the CP alignment "also happens to be the worst possible alignment in Northern Virginia."

He said the other routes cross streams, but this one runs along the Cub Run, Bull Run and Flat Branch streams. "It runs along their confluence for three solid miles, displacing a lot of flood plain that wouldn't [otherwise] be silted out so quickly," he explained. "Normally, [this flood plain] absorbs and filters out pollutants."

Because Bull Run Regional Park is "essentially, one huge flood plain," said Smith, placing a six-lane highway through it "will have a direct impact on the drinking water. Road-surface [pollution] — oil, pieces of tire, etc. — will flush directly into the streams and into the Occoquan Reservoir."

HE SAID the Tri-County Parkway wouldn't be able contain its own stormwater impacts in the park because it would already be in the floodplain. Consequently, he said, "It will cause flooding in Prince William County. And since Elk Lick Run drains into Sully Woodlands and Cub Run, it would also impact Loudoun County."

Furthermore, said Smith, instead of hearing the sounds of nature and children's laughter, "If this road gets built, you'll have constant road noise. This park will never be the same."

He also held up a stuffed gray fox and a wintering owl to show some of the wildlife that makes its home in the park. "Right where this road is aiming is where this owl lives," he said. "So it's not just the physical cost [at stake], it's the life-cycle cost, as well, and the disruption to wildlife in this region."

Strickland quoted former President Lyndon Johnson, who said, "Conservation is ethically sound. It is rooted in our love of the land [and] our respect for the rights of others." And, said Strickland, the beautiful surroundings and leisure opportunities afforded by Bull Run Regional Park and Sully Woodlands — which includes this park — represent "a legacy for our children and the promise of recreational use and preservation of natural and cultural resources in this region."

He said the Park Authority's worked hard to gather all its properties, fund their purchases, accept proffers and find innovative ways "to ensure their survival, despite the pressures of growth." That's why, he said, there's too much of value that would be lost for the sake of a road.

"As chairman of the Fairfax County Park Authority Board, I can state that our full board will not abandon our responsibilities and obligations as stewards of the land by favoring the so-called Comprehensive Plan alignment for the Tri-County Parkway," said Strickland. "We are not the decision-makers in this matter, but we hope that our joint resolution and requests for additional studies will clearly demonstrate the significant impact on these properties and the wisdom of making alternative choices in this matter."

He spoke of the rare species of trees and plants harbored in this park, plus a wide array of birds, fish and mammals. "The whole spectrum is at risk," he said.

"Renowned naturalist John Muir said, 'When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world,'" said Strickland. "I believe that, what we do here will impact not just the lands within our purview, but will inevitably alter the balance that allows living things to prosper and a balanced environment to thrive in this most unique area."

AGREEING, Bull Run Civic Association President Judy Heisinger said, "We have wildlife corridors so, when you begin to break them up, it has a ripple effect."

"We ask the public to join us in our joint opposition to the Comprehensive Plan alignment of the Tri-County Parkway," said Strickland. "And we ask the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to reconsider this alignment in future revisions of the Comprehensive Plan and consider taking off the alignment from the Plan."

He urged local and state decision-makers to, instead, "consider less intrusive and expensive alignments. We understand the need for transportation improvements in this region. Build the roads you need to build, but don't build them through our parks. Don't do harm to our natural and cultural resources, our drinking water or public parkland."

Sandy Stallman, long-range planner with the county Park Authority, also noted section 4(f) of the federal Transportation Act of 1996. It stipulates that the Federal Highway Administration "will not approve any program or project that requires the use of any publicly owned park, recreation area, wildlife refuge or historic sites unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative." So, she said, "This [alignment] will have to meet that requirement to be successful."

Dave Sanders, of the Northern Virginia Coalition of Equine Associations, said he heard the Board of Supervisors will possibly meet in September to take a position on a parkway route and forward it to the CTB. After Friday's presentation, he said, "It seems like it would be almost irresponsible of them to continue to support [the CP alignment]." Replied Park Authority spokesman Judy Pedersen: "We believe they're going to do the right thing."