Letter: Greening of The Waterfront

Letter: Greening of The Waterfront

To the Editor:

Over the last week, the media and local activists have tried use an environmental group’s ranking of the Potomac as “America’s #1 Endangered River” as evidence against the City’s Waterfront Plan. To set the record straight: the Waterfront Plan comprehensively addresses the major threats to the health of the Potomac River. In fact, each of the Plan’s major initiatives will substantially reduce, not increase, negative impacts on the environment.

The changes proposed in the Plan combine government actions and requirements on private development to significantly reduce pollution caused by stormwater runoff and improve the quality of the water that enters the Potomac.

Just in the Waterfront’s “core area,” from Robinson Terminal North to Robinson Terminal South, 8+ acres of riverfront land will see major improvements in how stormwater is handled. Here’s how:

  • The Plan turns pavement into parks.

The Strand parking lot, which is more than an acre of asphalt, drains directly into the Potomac. The Plan calls for this lot to be replaced with a park with much less pavement and improved stormwater handling.

Prince Street ends at the river’s edge. The Plan calls for the last block of Prince Street, as well as a small portion of Wolfe Street, to be turned into parks.

Over the long term, and through negotiation with the Old Dominion Boat Club, the Plan calls for the Boat Club’s parking lot to become a park.

  • Redevelopment allows strict controls on runoff to be applied to the major development sites.

Today, the three development sites — Robinson Terminal North, Robinson Terminal South, and major portions of the Cummings/Turner block — are entirely covered by either pavement or a building. Rainfall on these properties can quickly find its way into the Potomac. The Plan will improve the situation in several ways:

Reducing overall pavement coverage on the sites. At least 25 percent of each site must be open space, a portion of which will replace pavement with soil.

Pulling development more than 100 feet from the river. The Plan calls for moving development away from this most environmentally sensitive area of the shoreline. The Robinson Terminal buildings are as close as 50 feet from the river.

Through strict controls on stormwater from each site. These rules were in place before the Waterfront Plan was approved, but without redevelopment the requirements do not go into effect.

Through green roofs and other new approaches. More than five acres on these redevelopment sites are covered by roofs. “Green roofs” incorporate plants to detain and clean stormwater before it leaves the roof to enter waterways.

Through the City’s Green Building Policy, whereby new buildings are subject to multiple standards for energy use and environmental impact.

Requiring each redevelopment site to contribute to on- and off-site public benefits, including environmental improvements, above and beyond the minimum required.

  • The Plan makes existing parks even better for the environment.

The Plan calls for replacing the “rip-rap” shoreline in most Waterfront parks with a more natural shoreline that includes native plants that interrupt and help clean stormwater before it enters the river.

The Plan includes a new wetland feature in Oronoco Bay Park — an area that was marshland when the City was founded — that will also help clean stormwater.

The Plan calls for new or replaced hardscape, wherever possible, to use material that allows water to filter into the ground, rather than run off into the river.

  • Sanitary sewer flows generated by Waterfront Plan redevelopment will be conveyed directly to the sewage treatment plant and cannot overflow into the Potomac.

All new development will be served by a trunk sewer that is now using about 15 percent of its capacity. There is more than enough capacity in this trunk sewer to handle all of the flows from new development.

Portions of Old Town to the west of the Waterfront Plan area are still on a combined storm and sanitary sewer system, which can periodically result in sanitary sewer overflows into the river. The ultimate solution to this problem lies in the areas of the City where these systems are still combined. However, the Waterfront Plan calls for any remediation actions that can be accomplished in the Waterfront area to be pursued.

As Mayor of an Eco-City and a supporter of clean water initiatives, including the Clean Water Act, I stand behind this Plan and am confident in the environmental improvements it will bring to our City, its residents, and visitors — and to the life of the Potomac River.

William D. Euille

Mayor, City of Alexandria