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Navy Postpones Public Event at Model Basin

Proposed wetland site not ready for planting; conservation groups pull out.

A public wetland planting event scheduled to take place at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division July 16 has been postponed because officials say the site is not ready for the planting.

The planned event was seen as a capstone to the almost 15-year contaminant cleanup at the Potomac site, formerly known as the David Taylor Model Basin.

The planting was slated to take place on the former base landfill site. Contaminated fill and soil has been excavated and shipped out of the base and the area has been graded to be filled in as a wetland area connected to Rock Run, which passes through the base. The Navy opted to install the wetland area for aesthetic and security reasons, and civilian members of the Restoration Advisory Board — which has monitored the cleanup — suggested bringing in the public to participate.

“The public [was] going to show up there with sneakers on, but what they would have to do is walk through a mudflat, six inches of mud, for 50 feet,” said Andrew Gutberlet of Naval Facilities Command Washington, which oversees and operates the Potomac site. Instead, Navy contractors will put in upland plantings this weekend, let them establish root systems and begin to raise the water level over the next month, then invite the public to do additional planting around the wetland area.

The planting will be rescheduled for late August or September Gutberlet said.

“They’ve done a good job of cleaning up all the waste and hazardous stuff that was there. This was going to be an added benefit to create a wetland,” said Burton Gray, a member of the Advisory Board and a board member at the Potomac Conservancy, who proposed the public planting event at a Jan. 18 Advisory Board meeting. “I’m encouraged that they’re still planning to go forward with it. This was actually never a critical aspect of the cleanup. It’s really an added bonus.”

Gutberlet said that the site cleanups concluded on schedule last month and that only a sign-off from the Maryland Department of Environment remains before Navy officials sign closeout documents stating that all cleanup activities at Carderock are complete.

“We’re shooting for, crossing our fingers, before the end of September,” Gutberlet said.

IN 1991 NavSurf Carderock (then David Taylor) conducted a preliminary assessment of possible contaminated sites in response to federal requirements established in the 1980s. It identified nine sites that were contaminated or likely contaminated based on historical records and sampling.

Between 1991 and 1995 NavSurf Carderock conducted significant cleanups at many of the nine sites, culminating in the complete removal of the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-contaminated scrap yard. Work stopped for six years.

But 2001 brought renewed calls for cleanup so Naval Facilities Command staff went back to the nine trouble spots to review the situation.

In the process, it found 42 new sites that posed possible hazards — like a former sewage treatment plant and a defunct pistol range that had left lead-contaminated soil.

After an initial review, 31 of the sites were dismissed, and remediation work began on the remaining 13, which were tacked on to remnant issues at several of the original nine sites, including the landfill.

The Advisory Board, which comprises of Navy officials, residents of neighboring communities, and representatives of groups like the National Park Service, has made recommendations on the cleanup.

“As far as cleanups go, this one really worked pretty well. I’ve seen some others where it hasn’t worked well, where there’s been a lot more uncertainty” and because of the greater stresses involved in working with hazardous materials at sites where weapons were tested or developed, Gray said.

The Carderock Cleanup has focused on trace metals and contaminants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), but the lead-contaminated soil from the pistol range was the only EPA-labeled hazardous material to leave the base.

CONSERVATION GROUPS including the Potomac Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited had signed on to help facilitate the wetland planting, but pulled out after a walk-through of the site.

“The Potomac Watershed Partnership and the Potomac Conservancy basically have some project criteria for any project we get involved in that just weren’t being met,” said Jen Schill, director of communications and membership for the Conservancy. “We removed ourselves from being involved.”

Petty Officer Jake Joy, a spokesman for Naval District Washington, pointed to the Conservancy’s pull-out as part of the impetus for postponing the event. It is not clear whether the Conservancy or other groups would still participate in a public even in the fall, if the site is prepared for a more meaningful restoration.

Gray said that in light of the Conservancy’s position, postponing the planting was “the right thing to do, at least according to folks who know what a wetland should look like.”

He remains hopeful for a later event. “It seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up,” he said.