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Letter: Violating Scenic Easements

To the Editor:

Last Month, I appeared before the City Council to venerate the George Washington Memorial Parkway. So you can imagine my disappointment about the following proposal, apparently being pushed by the City and according to National Park Services, quite forcefully.

The City has approved a plan for Metro on the Potomac Yard, and is looking to implement it. As part of the solution, they are looking at several alternatives for the Metro Station. One is to build on the original site that was approved, one is to build on Potomac Yard itself, one is a no-build option, and the last option, which is the source of my concern. This option not only moves the Metro station closer to the GW Parkway, which affects the view shed, but there are also some very detrimental and far-reaching side effects.

The alignment moves the tracks closer to the parkway, further impacting the view shed. Furthermore, this proposal is recommending that construction take place from the GW Memorial Parkway, and that the wetlands adjacent to the parkway be filled in and used as a staging ground for construction. In addition, a right-in right-out access road is to be built onto the parkway to accommodate the trucks.

The concerns are threefold; first, this proposal needs a lot of airing. An intrusion into a scenic easement on the parkway is a citywide concern. Secondly, once built there, it will stay, as witnessed by the City Staff telling me they want, and some of the Council members pushing for, a bridge over the memorial parkway at that spot. Third, the developer of the potential metro station strongly prefers this option and the City seems to be pushing it as well.

The City is making the case that the wetlands will be rebuilt. As you approach Alexandria heading south from Reagan National, the state of the wetlands adjacent to the parkway on both sides is alarming and at the same time, tragic. Just as I was told that all the dust in our house was caused by our poor housekeeping practices when we initially complained about the then Mirant Power Plant, I have heard that the condition of the wetlands is all due to the work of beavers. At times, these wetlands look like a setting for a Gothic horror novel, complete will rotting trees, brackish, undoubtedly polluted water, and fallen fences. There was evidence of some beavers there, but could it be that the City miscalculated the area of the wetlands they allowed the developer to fill in for development? Whatever the cause, there is an oversaturated run off containing highly polluted waters.

The fact that the proposal has gotten so far without farther review says a lot about where we as a community are heading. The venerable Ed Braswell taught me many things; most significant of which was that as the George Washington Parkway goes, so goes Old Town, and this alternative is an ominous sign.

Trampling on the historic to achieve a developmental leg up is what we have become if you allow this particular project to go forward. I can hear the voices of Ellen Pickering and Jean Caldwell telling us that we can do better, much better. And, we must do better for the environment, for the region and for the George Washington Memorial Highway. Not everything needs to be an engineering exercise, some things really should matter.

Poul Hertel

Alexandria