It's a dirty job, but can the county wait until it's done?
A 1-acre section of land, owned by the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, may be responsible for a re-routing of a proposed expansion of the Fairfax County Parkway because it has not passed the health and safety standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to a Sept. 26 letter written by Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald "Gerry" Connolly (D-at-large), the plan to build a two-mile extension of the Fairfax County Parkway through the Army's former Engineer Proving Ground was put on hold in May "pending resolution of several environmental issues." The potential 900 days it would take to clean up the contaminated area, known as M-26 "creates an unacceptable continuing delay" that may force the county and Virginia Department of Transportation to redesign the project.
"The Board of Supervisors and the Army are equal partners in their eagerness to get the road built," said Don Carr, a spokesman for Fort Belvoir. If it were up to the Army, Carr said, construction on the road would begin as soon as possible.
The EPG is an 800 acre parcel of land formerly used by the Army for training but which had been turned over to the county for the expansion of the Fairfax County Parkway, Carr said. Before the road could be extended, the Department of Defense was required to clean the area of all explosives or other traces of pollution that may have infiltrated the soil and ground water in the area to be used. "The Army spent $10 million over two years cleaning up the site," said Carr, "and cleared off what most people know as UXOs, or unexploded ordinances."
The majority of the clean-up was completed in April, Carr said. "The Army gave the area a clean bill of health that included eight of the 10 solid waste management units on the site," he said.
However, when the EPA tested the soil in the area known as M-26, where two ramps would be built in the parkway expansion, it was discovered that the levels of petroleum in the soil and ground water were too high to allow construction to begin.
The problem with starting work on the extension "is defined a little differently depending on who you talk to," Carr said. "The question being asked from the Army is why not start building the road while the site is being cleaned," he said. "The Army's Center for Health Promotion and Prevention conducted tests on the groundwater at M-26 and found no health risks to construction workers even after an extended period of contact," he said.
Additionally, the Army would be responsible for any health problems or concerns that arise from the site "forever," Carr said.
THE PROCESS for cleaning the area as outlined by the EPA could take up to 900 days as a "worst case scenario," said Carr. The Army's position is that the delay shouldn't prevent work from starting.
With both Army and civilian employees being moved to Fort Belvoir with BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission) changes, said Carr it was in the Army's best interest to get the road started. "We have people who live and work at (Fort) Belvoir who would benefit from having the Parkway finished," he said. "The Army is right there with the county and state in terms of wanting to get it built."
It is "premature" to know how much work needs to be done to declare the site clean and safe, said Bonnie Smith, a spokeswoman for the EPA's Mid-Atlantic regional office in Baltimore.
"We have been doing an investigation at Fort Belvoir for a year and a half as required by their permit," Smith said. "We recently received a report on this investigation and once we have completed the review of that report, we will discuss what we find with the state. It is premature to know how long anything will take without knowing what the conditions are like on the site," she said.
Until the level of contamination in the area is known, it is not possible to know how much of a reduction is necessary, Smith said. "We will have that information eventually, but we're not at a step in the process to know what that would be."
If the county and VDOT were to sign contracts with engineers and developers to get work started and any project deadlines were missed, "VDOT would be liable for any fines incurred," said Chris Reed, a VDOT spokesman.
"We were in the process of procuring a design build team and reviewing cost proposals when we found out the site didn't pass the EPA inspection," said Reed. "In May, it became obvious that the site wasn't going to be cleaned up and, as far as I know, there's still no agreed-upon schedule for it to be cleaned."
According to Reed, VDOT decided to withhold signing contracts to begin work on the project without a clear schedule for when the clean up of M-26 would be completed.
"This is a $90 million project," said Reed. "We stopped the project and will continue to monitor it on a month-to-month basis until the schedule for cleaning up the site is something we're comfortable with, but the problem still boils down to not knowing when everything will be cleaned," he said.
THE BOARD OF Supervisors and VDOT are currently looking into alternative routes for the roadway, said Reed, adding that four possible actions are currently being considered .
"The Secretary of Transportation will be receiving a letter from the Board of Supervisors asking us to come up with a way to move the project forward," said Reed. "He will make a suggestion for changes to the project, if any, and then we'll have a decision on that matter if there hasn't been one already."
Two ramps are planned for the area the Army calls M-26. Building them would require the contractors to cut into a hill, exposing workers to any chemicals buried in the earth there, said Reed.
Members of the Board of Supervisors share Connolly's frustration with the stalled momentum of the project.
"We have to go around the site and redesign it to get this done," said Supervisor Gerald "Gerry" Hyland (D-Mount Vernon). "It was a shock to all of us [that the clean-up wasn't completed] and we're all very disappointed to get the news now."
Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) echoed Hyland's anger.
"The major concern here is that after a number of years of fighting to move this project forward we have hit a wall, or rather a series of holes, with ordinance that is holding this project back," said Kauffman. "We've proposed a way to get around the obstacle rather than engage in finger-pointing as to who's to blame or who's on first — and that's critical because if we continue to point fingers, the folks who want this road so badly will drive over the rest of our body in quest of said roadway."
Kauffman said he and the two other supervisors who oversee that area of the county, Hyland and Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), signed the letter that Connolly sent to VDOT on Sept. 26. They are "linked to push for this project any and every way we can out of determination to see the project completed," Kauffman said, "for the riding public, come late 2007 or early 2008."
As for McConnell, she believes the blame for the lack of movement on the roadway lies with the state.
"The state is the one holding this project back," she said, adding that she's already sent one letter to Senator Mark Warner and is in the process of writing another letter to the governor about her concerns.