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Letter: Unaware of Federal Law?

To the Editor:

Your story of June 20 by reporter Michael Lee Pope, headlined “An Alternative for Alternative B,” raises some very serious concerns about the planning process in Alexandria. For months city officials have pushed for “Alternative B” as the site of the Potomac Yards Metro Stop, apparently assuming they could use George Washington Parkway land as a staging area and the parkway itself for accommodating construction truck traffic. Now the National Park Service has pointed out that federal law, specifically Section 106 of the Transportation Act, forbids the kind of uses that would have been required.

The federal law in this instance is not a secret. A simple inquiry months ago to the Park Service would have revealed this obstacle. As a result of this unexplained ignorance by Alexandria officials, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been delayed by many months while adjustments are being made in its contents.

As a participant in one of the “consulting parties” meetings some weeks ago on the Metro siting, a consultation required under Section 106, I, along with others present, were aware of the federal law and its provisions. Why weren’t responsible local authorities similarly aware?

My surmise is that city officials were hoping to bring pressure through U.S. Rep. Jim Moran on the Park Service to achieve their objectives. Mr. Moran, to his great credit, has stood by the Park Service and the law. As a result, no GW Parkway land will be used as a construction site, nor will construction vehicles be rumbling down the parkway itself. This is a positive outcome.

Still to be decided, however, is the fate of an adjacent parcel of land that is owned by the city but was given to the Park Service as a “scenic easement” some time ago in part to help shield the roadway from visual “pollution” from Potomac Yard. Sight line experiments show that building a Metro Stop at Alternative B clearly would intrude visually on the parkway. This and other issues undoubtedly will be discussed extensively when the EIS finally is issued, presumably this fall.

We are left, however, with the nagging question: What didn’t city officials know and, for goodness sake, why didn’t they know it?

Jack Sullivan

Alexandria