The Potomac Yard Metro plan moves forward with the release of a draft Environmental Impact Statement developed by the City of Alexandria alongside the Federal Transit Administration and the National Park Service. The plan details some of the difficulties the project may encounter with some of the plans placing the new development on national park land.
The Environmental Impact Statement does not come to any conclusions about the project, but describes the impact of each of the five alternative Potomac Yard Metro plans being considered by the City, including the no-build option as a continuation of the status quo. The discussion by the City and citizens focused on plans A and B.
“Plan B-CSX (one of the five alternatives) would require infrastructure changes, you’d have to straighten out a portion of the rail,” said Ramond Robinson, Chief of Transit for the City of Alexandria. “There are mitigating aspects, but Plans B and A are more fiduciarily palpable than the others. With Plan B you get more mitigation activities and scenic areas. It’s more costly, but plan B is projected to produce more ridership.”
Plans A and B, in addition to being the lowest costing potential stations, at $209 million and $268 million respectively, have the added benefit of not requiring any nearby residences or businesses to be displaced, while Alternative B-CSX and Alternative D would require the movie theater in the Potomac Yard Shopping Center to close.
The Environmental Impact Statement report indicates that Alternative B would have a greater impact on the nearby park land, while Alternative A would impact residences more.
According to the report, Alternative A would impact 1.16 acres of City owned park land, while Alternative B would impact 3.01 acres of Alexandria park land. Alternative A does not impact the Greens Scenic Area easement, a National Park Service-administered easement in Potomac Greens Park. Alternative B would impact 1.71 acres of that easement area. Alternative B also impacts 1.22 acres of U.S. Army Corp of Engineers-regulated wetlands in the area and 1.28 acres of National Park Service-regulated wetlands. Alternative A’s impact on the local wetlands was negligible. Overall, the Environmental Impact Statement estimated that Alternative B would result in 2.58 acres of natural habitat loss.
However, while the report said both Alternative A and B would have an equal noise impact on nearby residences, Alternative A would have an additional vibration impact on residences near the station. According to the Environmental Impact Statement report, Metro noises such as door chimes, train conductor announcements, station public address announcements, and brake noises would be audible in nearby communities. These noises are not expected to exceed noise impact limitations, though further evaluation will be done during the final design stage and noise mitigation features will be considered.
AN OPEN HOUSE held in the City Council Workroom on March 31 focused on the Land Use and Hazardous Materials piece of the Environmental Impact Statement, and was followed by a meeting of the Potomac Yard Metrorail Work Group in the City Council Chamber.
Alternative B would require a transfer of 0.16 acres of National Park Service land on the George Washington Memorial Parkway to Alexandria for the Metro station to be built. John Thomas, the Director of Major Capital Projects for WMATA, said the city was considering possible compensations to the National Park Service for the land lost along the parkway. Among these was the creation of a new wetland site to act as an area of mitigation for wetlands area lost.
Lee Farmer, Potomac Yard Projects Manager, said that for the National Park Service to exchange a parcel of land along the parkway would require a net benefit agreement with the City of Alexandria, which in short means the city would have to leave the parkway area better than it was before the project started. Farmer said the most direct way to offer the National Park Service a net benefit was to commit to a land exchange, possibly offering the rest of the scenic easement property completely over to the park service. It currently shares joint custody with the City. Farmer said this plan came with the additional benefit of finally settling whose responsibility the beaver infestation in the area was.
According to Farmer, another alternative net benefit agreement could involve the city helping to fund renovation of nearby Daingerfield Island, an addition to the Mount Vernon Bike Trail, or a contribution to storm-water management improvement for the parkway.
However, during the public comment section of the meeting, local resident Poul Hertel raised objections that the “net benefits” offered by the City to the park service don’t actually benefit the parkway, namely that the Metro station is visible from the main road.
“The George Washington Parkway was created with a very specific [scenic] intent that isn’t fixed with this mitigation,” said Hertel. “[Funding] Daingerfield Island doesn’t make the parkway whole.”
Like Hertel, Alexandria resident Jack Sullivan argued that the reparations offered to the National Park Service as a result of Alternative B’s development on park land were insufficient.
“Option B takes 1.28 acres of park land and disturbs the view of the parkway; the station would be very visible,” said Crawford. “You say that what is going to be done by the City to mitigate this problem creates a better parkway, [but] what is going to be offered in exchange is chump change. We’re not offering anything near the cost of that park land.”
Others at the meeting spoke in favor of Alternative B, particularly opposing Alternative A’s impact on the nearby residences.
“Lights from trains and construction noises will hit residents,” said Foster Henderson, who lives on the nearby Potomac Greens Drive. “Illumination in that area, at night, will be tough [on residents].”
As for disturbing the view of the park land, Henderson noted that many of the trees in the easement are between the planned Potomac Yard Metro station and the parkway are dead anyway, and advised that planting new trees could help obscure the view of the station.
The public comment period is open until May 18. The next community Open House focuses on the surrounding wetlands and park area and will be held Wednesday, April 8, 6:30 p.m. in the Charles Houston Recreation Center. The Public Hearing for the Environmental Impact Statement will be held Thursday, April 30, 6:30 p.m.at the Cora Kelly Recreation Center.
A copy of the full Environmental Impact Statement can be found at www.alexandriava.gov/PotomacYard and written commentary can be submitted before May 18 via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or by mail to Potomac Yard Metrorail Station EIS, P.O. Box 16531, Alexandria, VA 22302.