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Letter to the Editor: Steer Away From Option B

To the Editor:

Soon the Potomac Yard Metrorail Station environmental impact statement (EIS) will be issued in draft form. This draft EIS contains four alternatives: 1) No build, 2) Option A, a site that is closest to Alexandria, 3) Option B, that is somewhat further north, and 4) Option D, which is even further north and somewhat more expensive. Option B, it should be noted, would require building in part on land that has a scenic easement held by the National Park Service intended to protect what is now part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a National Park operated by the National Park Service. Option B also would require using a major piece of parkway land as a staging area for construction. It also likely would shut down lanes of that major artery in and out of Alexandria for the months construction was occurring.

Given those liabilities, one might think that Option B would almost automatically be “off the books” as a site for the Metro stop. But no. Prior actions by Alexandria officials have in a sense “cooked the books” to point directly to this option. If Option B is chosen, developers would be allowed 4.5 million square feet of additional density on Potomac Yards and the developers, in turn, will contribute $75 million toward the building of the Metro stop. No similar arrangements have been made for the other two options. That deal, done with virtually no public input, significantly skews the decision toward Option B.

As part of the EIS process, the Metro folks recently convened two “consulting parties” meetings under the terms of Section 106 of the Transportation Act. We the undersigned were representatives to that body, attended the meetings, participated in the discussions and have reviewed documents involved. It is clear that federal law protects federal parkland from being taken for the purposes described above. Even if the Park Service were inclined to agree — and indications are that it is not — taking parkway land, using park wetlands for staging equipment and breaching it with a construction road would potentially violate Section 106 and be subject to one or more lawsuits.

As a result of what we have learned, we strongly believe that Option B is not a viable choice and that Alexandria officials should return to bargain with developers on the Metro location with both the density and the developer contribution on the table. To do otherwise is to make a farce of the notion of a real choice among options. Moreover, selection of Option B would open up a legal “Pandora’s box” that could delay construction of the station for years.

Finally we should note that the EIS draft will not contain any information on the effects of the construction — wherever it occurs — on lanes of the George Washington Parkway, a richly historical roadway that is a major artery into and out of Alexandria. Bumper to bumper during rush hour, the parkway is heavily used throughout the day. Imagine it shut to one lane while heavy trucks, now forbidden on it, pound its pavement hour after hour.

We suggest that citizens, once alerted to this situation, should make it clear to the mayor, City Council, and others in City Hall how they feel about this threat to the GW Parkway. They also can weigh in by comments on the draft EIS when issued.

Paul Hertel

Jack Sullivan