Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Wetlands, Toxins: Who Should Pay?

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Wetlands, Toxins: Who Should Pay?

As kids growing up in Alexandria, we knew that the soil around the train tracks in Potomac yard contained toxic wastes. We did not play there. I recall watching workers spray herbicides to clear weeds from the tracks.

Reading the Citizens for Common Cents advertisement (Nov. 1-7, page 9) opposing the Metro station, and the letter "Fresh Eyes on Fresh Water" by C. Dara and Jimm Roberts the following week, leads me to conclude that construction of the planned Metro station is still too risky, because the process lacks due diligence for health and environmental quality and transparent accountability.

We must insist on an independent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as required by Federal law, including an impact study of wetlands, lest these be destroyed. Further Potomac Yard development portends toxic runoff that can kill fish and wildlife up and down the food chain and pose direct health threats to Alexandrians, particularly residents of Potomac Greens. Ultimately this amounts to a negative-sum investment if the health/environmental benefits purchased with our multi-million dollar Combined Sewage System (CSS) project are negated at twice the cost. Such risks should prompt the city to evaluate putative liability costs from legal actions not only by its own citizens but also by residents in downriver communities.

Financial transparency of assets and liabilities are necessary to determine feasibility of Metro station and Potomac Yard plans with complete project budgets and tax revenue projections. Are our taxes meant to subsidize major private developers such as JBG? How can the city let a major housing development such as South Potomac Yard be planned and developed (with North Potomac Yard coming next) without first ensuring capacity for transportation (and school) needs, and then stick taxpayers with the bill for Metro access? If there is to be a Metro station, developers such as JBG or other pertinent developers (such as for Amazon HQ2) should pay for it, but only after due diligence that significant environmental and health impacts have been properly excluded.

The bottom-line: the cost of the Metro station is prohibitive. The city will likely pay closer to $500 million than the $320 million estimated, not to mention the incalculable costs of health and environmental risks. Once the shopping center is demolished to develop North Potomac Yard for mixed-use, the city will lose the $34 million in annual taxes from its retailers, pending new mixed-use revenues. What is the time-lag and effect on the city budget during this time? Will taxes increase to compensate?

The newly-elected council should stop and think. Please get real about risks, costs, liabilities, environmental protection, and regulatory compliance. Align tax funds with priority goals. Without true due diligence and a changed approach, the Metro station will be built at huge citizen expense, diverting funds from other pressing priorities (climate change, school infrastructure, education, etc.). Together with development of North Potomac Yard, the Metro station pits our environment and health against an expected increased tax base at a later time. Is this a good deal?

Mary E. Palmer M.D.