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Letter: BRAC Questions Still Unanswered

— To the Editor:

Thank you for Michael Lee Pope’s excellent article, “The BRAC Five” in the Sept. 20 issue. I’m delighted to see the BRAC 133 disaster brought back to life after vanishing from the public eye many months ago. I figured Mayor Euille and his council cronies had pulled the wool over our eyes once again.

As an Alexandria resident since 1978, I can’t recall a more incompetent, inept and “curious” handling of a high profile development project as important to our community and critical to our national security as BRAC133. Check out this series of goofs.

  • Our paid elected officials, — including the Mayor, current Council members, Del Pepper and Paul Smedberg, and former Council members, Tim Louvin and Justin Wilson, all running for re-election or election revival again — claim ignorance at how the Department of Defense selected the Mark Center as the site for the Washington Headquarters Services and its additional 6,400 employees, even though the DOD request for proposal specifically required the site to be built within one mile of a Virginia Metro station and have the capability for handling the increased traffic. Mark Center is four miles away from the Metro station and lacks the necessary road infrastructure.

  • We, the Alexandria community, lost $6 million in annual tax revenue when DOD bought the Mark Center property. As a Federal government department, DOD does not pay property tax. Nor does its construction adhere to local city restrictions. So DOD built a huge, vulnerable 1.4 million-square-foot building complex alongside I-395.

  • We, the citizens of Alexandria and Virginia, are now stuck with an estimated $100 million bill to build the infrastructure (widening Seminary Road, new access ramps, security for a building vulnerable to a terrorist attack) for BRAC 133, while the developer, Duke Reality, gets off free and clear of any infrastructure obligations.

  • We learned that Mark Jinx, our deputy city manager, assured DOD officials in an August 2008 letter that a new transportation study — (paid for by Duke Reality, the new owner of Mark Center property and developer) — determined that the developer’s Seminary Road improvements would be sufficient to handle the increased traffic and “no additional transportation studies are warranted.” Even though previous independent studies found that this was not true. Folks, are you beginning to smell something fishy here?

  • Thanks to Pope’s informative article, we learn the city planning staff assured the mayor and his council cronies, in the words of the naïve Councilwoman Pepper: “it’s in the bag and we shouldn’t worry. That was the advice we got. No member of council was doing the negotiating, incidentally.” So our trusting leaders did nothing. Then they were shocked to discover Alexandria lost $6 million in yearly tax revenue forever.

So I would like to make the following suggestions for your consideration.

First, if you like incompetence, vote for the same characters who gave us BRAC 133.

Second, it’s time the city planning staff leadership is held accountable for its recommendations and its secretive way of doing business. Not just BRAC 133 but also the Waterfront Plan.

Third, stay with this story, Alexandria Gazette. It has all the elements of a blockbuster Pulitzer Prize nomination if you can decode these clues. For example:

  • Why did DOD seal and deep six all records/memos about this project?

  • Why did DOD ignore its own RFP guidelines about proximity to a Metro station?

  • Who is Duke Reality, and how did they pull off this coup?

  • How come they are free of any infrastructure obligations?

  • How could Jinx justify writing a letter to DOD, using information from a Duke Reality-funded study that clearly contradicted the findings of 21 previous independent studies?

  • And why did he say “no additional transportation studies are warranted”?

  • Why were Mayor Euille and his council cronies so passive?

  • Didn’t they know millions of dollars in city tax revenue was at stake?

  • What’s going on with the city planning staff? Are they in the hip pocket of developers?

Be assured, more clues will appear as you follow the money. Or even better, discover another “Deep Throat.”

Thanks again for your coverage. I look forward to the next chapter of BRAC 133, the unsolved mystery of “Battleship Galactica” on I-395 and Seminary.

Martin Walsh

Alexandria