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Jones Point Park: History, Fields or Nature?

City to seek additional mitigation funds if NPS plan prevails.

If the National Park Service bases its final decision for the development of Jones Point Park on testimony offered during its Sept. 13 public hearing there will be no athletic fields north of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Those supporting NPS's position outnumbered those opposed by a margin of 24 to seven.

For more than two hours speaker after speaker came to the microphone in the Roosevelt Room of the Old Town Radisson Hotel to express their agreement or disagreement with NPS's Environmental Assessment for the future development of Jones Point Park which had been released Aug. 18. The public comment period will close on Oct. 18.

"We have carefully considered many different options and alternatives since we began this process in 1998. With this in mind, we propose a plan that balances active and passive recreation, and includes the protection and interpretation of historic, cultural and natural resources," David Vela, superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway said in his opening remarks.

Identifying Alternative Four as NPS's preferred alternative, Vela listed the advantages to that scheme in contrast to the others in their analysis. They include establishment of an 81-space parking area close to the river; a multi-use athletic field south of the new bridge; rehabilitation and protection of historic Jones Point Lighthouse and the D.C. South Cornerstone; enhanced interpretive displays of the park's historic and archeological resources; maximum protection of park cultural and natural resources "by protecting existing wetlands, woodlands, and historic resources"

PRIOR TO the first speaker, Vela announced that protocols for the hearing established a three minute limit for all speakers, except members of City Council and Mayor who would be allotted five minutes.

Both lead off speakers, Alexandria Mayor William Euille and Kathleen Pepper, chair, Alexandria Archeological Commission, spoke in favor of Alternative One, the city's preferred plan for the park, calling for two full-size athletic field north of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge abutting the wetlands.

City Council has voted in favor of that alternative three times over recent years, as noted by Councilman Paul Smedberg in a recent Council session. However, that has always been a split vote.

"With the loss of the two athletic fields, the loss of parking under the bridge, and the loss of approximately 1,100 square feet of the community gardens, the National Park Service plan falls far short of what was promised by the federal government," said Euille in "speaking for City Council."

In line with the decision made by Council at its early September meeting, Euille also informed Vela that the City will be seeking further mitigation monies "for the loss of fields, parking and open space" if the NPS alternative prevails. He noted Council has scheduled two additional sessions on Jones Point Park, Sept. 26 and Oct. 10.

The only other member of City Council to speak at the hearing was Councilwoman Redella "Del" Pepper who offered only a brief comment clarifying that she "had distanced herself from the mayor's testimony" because "I voted against the City Plan." She stated she would be submitting her full testimony in writing.

Archeological Commission chair, Kathleen Pepper, centered her testimony on opposition to any established athletic field south of the bridge. "We support the city's plan," she said, noting that any active recreation south of the bridge could adversely impact prehistoric archeological areas.

Her testimony was buttressed by that of Ellen Stanton, chair, Alexandria Historical Commission. "The southern portion of the park has been more impacted by the bridge than the northern portion. Having a formal field south of the bridge is our concern," she said.

Prior to the new bridge there was no bridge over the open space area of the park. The old bridge was a single span paralleling Jones Point Road covering hard surface parking. The new bridge is a twin span with the south span passing over turf parkland.

NPS's Preferred Alternative calls for one 80-by-40 yard multi-use field south of the bridge approximately in the area where such a field has existed for decades and where events, such as the city's Independence Day celebration, were traditional held prior to commencement of the bridge replacement project.

Speaking for herself and not in her role as chair, Alexandria Park and Recreation Commission, Judy Guse Noritake said, "The National Park Service must back Alternative One. That plan is backed by the city and many groups."

Those groups, which have expressed support for the two field concept north of the bridge throughout discussions on this subject, are primarily composed of active recreation supporters. They are composed of a variety of sports organizations, backers, and parents.

One of those to testify at the hearing was Janice Grenadier, a self-described soccer mom. "Sports is all we have and the fields are very important. I understand the importance of parkland and the animals. But, sometimes we have to understand the importance of our children," she stated.

That testimony was countered by a virtual solid phalanx of speakers supporting the NPS plan and praising Vela's leadership in coming forward with "a plan that offers a compromise solution" to the opposing interests.

They include:

"Old Town Civic Association agrees with the National Park Service which emphasizes preservation of the park. Any loss of trees and other vegetation will only increase possible flooding to nearby neighborhoods already impacted by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project," Townsend Van Fleet, president, OTCA.

"Conservation should be predominant. I am quite sympathetic to the city's need to increase mitigation as a result of changes since 9-11. But, I do not believe it is the responsibility of the National Park Service to replace the city's shortage in athletic fields. That is the responsibility of city government," Richard Miller, volunteer coordinator, Lee Street Community Gardens.

"We only have to look back a few years to see the advantage of the wetlands in preventing flooding. We have plenty of places in this city to put athletic fields," Bill McCue, 32-year city resident.

"We are committed to the National Park Service philosophy and wholeheartedly back Alternative Four. We do not need further tampering with the wetlands," Susan Kopki, Sierra Club member.

"The Potomac River Basin is very complex. Any wetlands disturbance can activate the flooding potential," Nancy Pomerleau, resident.

"We are opposed to cutting any trees north of the bridge. Trees serve as a filter for noise and what spews off the bridge every day," Jon Wilbur, Lee Street resident and civic activist.

"The Settlement Agreement with the city was intended as mitigation against the negative effects of constructing the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge. If a plan should be approved that does indeed place athletic fields north of the bridge, then the local community would face the rather bizarre and perverse situation of having federal mitigation funds employed in a manner which does not protect the local community, but rather do further harm to it and Jones Point Park," Teresa Miller, Yates Gardens resident and member WWB Neighborhood Task Force.

THE OVERWHELMING SUPPORT for NPS's alternative was probably best summed up by two very short statements offered by Brenda Doherty and Suzanne Innes. "Thank you for protecting the wetlands," said Doherty. She was followed by Innes who assessed the NPS proposal as, "This is the closest to a compromise."

Vela concluded, "There is no question folks are very passionate. This hearing gives us the opportunity to hear more perspectives."

Following the Oct. 18 public comment period closure, NPS is scheduled to issue their final recommendation. That document will be sent to the National Capital Region Director for approval and signature. However, no future development of the park will commence until completion of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project.